Cowboys Countdown to Giants

Opening Day is upon the rest of the NFL Sunday, and the Cowboys and Giants hook up for the ninth time, the most common Opening Day matchup in Dallas history. Here is a list of factors that could play significant parts in the late afternoon affair.

10: The overall pick of Giants rookie cornerback Eli Apple -- Dez Bryant has already issued a challenge in a very subtle way this week that New York has no true shutdown cornerback. It is a tall order for a 21-year-old rookie out of Ohio State to try to stop one of the league's premier receivers in Bryant, but a little help over the top or double-teaming should give the rookie the confidence he needs to face the challenge. Prince Amukamara was routinely abused by Bryant in 2014, including on Nov. 23, 2014, a game where Bryant caught the game-winning touchdown to help Dallas sweep New York for the second-straight year. Giants general manager Jerry Reese drafted Apple to stop the NFC East's wideouts, and Apple needs to show some potential for this task if New York hopes to defeat Dallas.


© Joe Nicholson / USA Today Sports


9: Jersey number of a franchise quarterback who won't be coming out that tunnel -- I had to throw Tony Romo in there somehow. The fact of the matter is the Cowboys went 1-11 without him when he missed extended time last season. The Cowboys offensive coaches and the team as a whole have to coach and play knowing that Romo won't be sauntering through the Miller Lite Club until well after Halloween. As Alfred Tennyson once wrote: "that which we are, we are." Dallas is a capable team with an All Pro at receiver, a future Hall-of-Famer at tight end, possibly a generational rookie tailback, and the best offensive line in the game. The 46 that dress this afternoon need to realize their season is already on the line and by the time their franchise man returns, the season may be lost.


8: The number of wins the Cowboys have on Opening Day against New York's 0 -- Back in 2013 when our Mike Fisher was doing pregame on 105.3 The Fan for the Week 1 Sunday night match-up with the Giants, back when it was 6-0, Fish said what happened in the '60s that contributed to this stat was "immaterial." While true, it is also true Jason Garrett has coached the Cowboys to three of those eight victories, tying Tom Landry for the most of any Dallas head coach. Since 2012, Garrett has had New York's number in Week 1. Even with a new quarterback under center, history suggests that the ex-Giants backup will find a way to defeat his former team.


7: Amount of total turnovers Dallas surrendered to New York last season -- And to think the Giants were only able to eek out a seven-point victory in the rematch rather than convincing victories and the first series sweep since 2011. Protecting the football will be paramount for the Cowboys especially with a rookie quarterback leading the charge into the 2016 campaign. The Giants were 4-5 when winning the turnover battle versus 2-5 when they did not. Records aside, they lost more games the more they lost the turnover battle. With a Cowboys defense that finished dead last in takeaways in 2015, a way to mitigate their lack of production, should it continue through to 2016, would be to eradicate the giveaways.


© Tim Heitman / USA Today Sports


6: Dak Prescott's preseason completion percentage ranking -- Over the course of three exhibition games, the fourth-rounder out of Mississippi State completed 39/50 of his passes, good for a 78.0 completion percentage. The players ahead of him were Bruce Gradkowski, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford, and Teddy Bridgewater. The only outlier of that group is Gradkowski, who is slated to be nothing more than a backup for Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. The rest, even if injured for a long time or the whole year or traded to another team, were still starting-caliber quarterbacks who saw first-team action, same a Prescott. Again, it is preseason, but the majority of Prescott's body of work came against personnel he'll see from now until Romo's return, which adds an impressive dimension to the rookie's capabilities.


5: Eli Manning's losses on the road versus zero wins on Opening Day -- For whatever the case, Manning has not been able to win as part of the away team in Week 1. At home, his ledger improves to a 4-2 record. Though AT&T Stadium used to be a place where Manning could count on a win, going 4-0 in his first four games in the building, the Giants have lost the three there, including two Week 1 encounters. New York will need to fix whatever hiccup Manning has had on the road in initial games to start the season 1-0.


4: Ezekiel Elliott's overall pick in the draft -- Dallas went with the playmaking Buckeye running back with such a premium draft choice because they felt he was the missing ingredient to completing their formidable offense. This was the rationale for why Dallas passed up on dynamic cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end DeForest Buckner. "Ezekiel Elliot had 23 touchdowns last year," Michael Irvin said the day before the draft. "Get the points and then you build the defense. Defense has to be added to someone that can score points in order to win championships." The Cowboys front office saw it the same way and took Elliott. Against the Giants, Dallas must rely on their rookie to carry the rock to control the clock and hide their otherwise vulnerable defense.



3: Giants best receivers versus Cowboys best cornerbacks -- Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, and rookie Sterling Shepard will look to make plays against Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, and Orlando Scandrick. In this game, the trench warfare when New York has the football may be more evenly matched than most realize; therefore, the Dallas secondary's ability to guard these New York receivers is pivotal. Beckham had comparable stats through two games against Morris Claiborne (nine catches, 79 yards) than he did against Josh Norman (six catches, 76 yards, one touchdown). Cruz will play in his first game since Oct. 12, 2014, and his first time against the Cowboys since Nov. 24, 2013. Though Shepard is a rookie out of the second round, he was virtually the lone target at Oklahoma his final year and still caught 86 passes for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns.


2: Number of consecutive games against Dallas Eli Manning has failed to throw a touchdown -- In 2015 the four-time Pro Bowler faced the Cowboys on Opening Day and later after the club's bye week when new backup Matt Cassel made his Dallas debut on Broadway. In the first game, Manning wasn't going against Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain, or Orlando Scandrick, yet he was unable to throw a touchdown pass. With Scandrick returning and McClain gone fishin' and Hardy flirting with Jacksonville, the Cowboys defense is no worse now than it was then. Before we talk pass rush, consider that Dallas only sacked Manning three times during those two games. 2/3 of those sacks were thanks to the Crawford boys. The pass rush is as it was, but now the secondary has arguably improved.


1: Number of wins for Cowboys rookies on Opening Day versus two losses -- All week every Cowboys writer, ordained or otherwise, has parroted our stat about Roger Staubach and Calvin Hill starting as rookies at quarterback and running back respectively in 1969 and coming away with a 24-3 win versus the Cardinals. We get that. But have there been any other Cowboys rookie quarterbacks to debut on Opening Day? Troy Aikman did in New Orleans in 1989 and got shutout 28-0. Quincy Carter premiered against Tampa Bay at home for a 10-6 loss and showcasing his 14.5 passer rating. "Well, that's the Cowboys," right? Check this out: since 2008, rookie quarterbacks are 7-10 in Week 1 starts. The odds are against the Cowboys with Prescott under center.


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