EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants always expected to face Ezekiel Elliott in their season opener, so when Dallas' star running back signed his contract extension and officially reported to the Cowboys today, it registered zero on the team's shock meter.
"It's not a surprise," said coach Pat Shurmur, whose team will meet the defending NFC East champion Sunday in AT&T Stadium. "That just adds another outstanding player to what's really an outstanding offense. They have an outstanding offensive line, they have an outstanding quarterback, they have really outstanding receivers, and they added Jason Witten back to the mix. Like I talked about on Monday, we have to defend that offense, and they've added another outstanding player to the mix. We'll get ready to play."
"I'm definitely happy for him," Giants safety Jabrill Peppers said. "I personally think he deserves it. As far as game plan wise, they have a lot of weapons that we have to prepare for, and with him being there now, we're prepared for him as well. That's the National Football League. There's a guy every week you have to prepare for— they just happen to have a couple of them."
The Cowboys' group includes Dak Prescott, the first quarterback in Dallas history to start all 16 games in each of his first three seasons; wide receivers Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb and Michael Gallup; and tight end Jason Witten, who un-retired after a year in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth to play a 16th season.
But Elliott is the lead Cowboy. He topped the NFL in rushing in two of his first three seasons, including 2018 when he ran for 1,434 yards. He also caught a team-high 77 passes and accounted for an NFL-best 45% of Dallas' offense. Elliott did not report to camp while waiting for a contract extension, which he agreed to yesterday.
Although Elliott's presence improves an already formidable attack, the Giants defenders are confident in their ability and scheme and welcome the challenge. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree made that clear on Monday, before Elliott's deal was finalized.
"I hope he does show up," said inside linebacker Alec Ogletree. "In order to be the best, you have to play everybody that's the best, and he's one of the best in the league. It's about us going against the top groups and showing why we are a good defense and a good team."
Shurmur said the Giants did not have separate with and without Elliott defensive game plans.
"I think you play team defense," he said. "You're certainly well aware where the outstanding players are on their team. But they sort of simplify it for you because they have outstanding players everywhere. So, you play defense. That's not the first time I've been asked that question about Zeke. … You have to play team defense, and you have to defend everything the Cowboys present. It's going to be a big challenge."
*Witten has 1,152 career catches – 402 more than Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, who is second on Dallas' all-time list. In 30 games against the Giants, Witten has 154 receptions (including a franchise-record 18 in a 2012 game) for 1,568 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Peppers has never faced Witten but will be one of the Giants defenders tasked with minimizing his impact.
"He uses his body very well against smaller safeties," said Peppers, who is 5-11 and 215 pounds, compared to Witten's listed dimensions of 6-6 and 263 pounds. "I think he's faster than a lot of people give him credit for. He's established at the game. He knows what he's doing, he knows how to get open (and) he's been there forever. They have a guy who can get him the ball, and they have guys around him who can stretch the defense out and let him sit in those soft coverages. We are definitely going to take the challenge."
*Three Giants did not practice today: right tackle Mike Remmers (illness, back), tight end Garrett Dickerson (quad) and rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton (hamstring).