Five storylines heading into “Sunday Night Football” between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium:
1. Giants working out the kinks. Particularly on offense, there was no easing into the season for the Giants when they opened last week against a talented Jaguars team. As Pat Shurmur pointed out after his first game as Giants head coach -- a 20-15 loss at home -- they don’t make excuses or let others make excuses for them. But realistically, the Giants weren’t going to be running like a well-oiled machine after changing their manufacturer, driver, and many of the parts over the offseason. The chances were there to win in Week 1, but the Giants were riddled with penalties, turnovers, and missed opportunities. They will try to clean that up heading into Dallas in Week 2.
“I think the mindset is keep working, keep grinding,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “The way you look at it, it’s the first game of the season with a new coach, new players, new schemes. Not everything is going to be perfect. There’s some good things. Obviously, a lot we’re cleaning up as well. We’ve just got to play better ball. We’ve got to make some plays here and there, clean some things up, get on the same page with how we’re doing things. So, I think each week we’re going to learn a lot.”
2. Saquon vs. Zeke. There were plenty of good things to build off last week, and No. 26 was on the list. Rookie running back Saquon Barkley, the second overall pick, ran for 106 yards in his NFL debut, including a 68-yard touchdown that breathed new life into the Giants at the time. He also added two receptions for 22 yards. Barkley won’t be tackling Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas – and vice versa – but the Sunday night game will be hyped as a matchup between two of the most decorated running backs to come out of college. In their only college meeting in 2015, the Big Ten running backs combined for 347 rushing yards. Penn State lost the game that day, but Barkley outrushed Ohio State’s Elliott, 194-153. Elliott was drafted fourth overall in 2016 and led the league in rushing as a rookie.
“There are a lot of similarities,” Shurmur said. “They’re big, physical guys, they have great collision balance, they’re powerfully built guys. When I say collision balance, in the hole, guys bouncing off, and they can keep their balance. That helps them in pass protection, because they drop their weight, they’ve got a little weight to them. There’s a lot of similarities between the two. His production in his first two years had nothing to do with us selecting Saquon, but they’re similar in a lot of ways.”
3. Dallas O-Line still Dallas O-Line? Shurmur certainly thinks so. Since drafting perennial Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin between 2011 and 2014, the Cowboys have boasted the most respected offensive line in the NFL. This year, however, they have two new starters. Joe Looney is filling in for Frederick after the center announced just before the start of the season that he had been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease, and rookie Connor Williams made his NFL debut at left guard last week against Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short, who had two sacks in his team’s 16-8 victory. The Cowboys allowed 10 quarterback hits and six sacks overall against the Panthers in Week 1 and rushed for 94 yards, well below their 2017 average of 135.6 per game.
“It starts with the run for them,” Shurmur said. “Certainly they’ve got an outstanding running back. I don’t know about the narrative about their O Line, but they look pretty good blocking to me, especially in the first week. They’ve got an outstanding run game. When you have the threat of the quarterback (Dak Prescott) as a runner, that adds another element to it because the so-called zone read game shows up and they don’t worry about him running with the football. They do a good job of kicking the ball to the perimeter in their run game on their RPO stuff, so there’s yardage there, as opposed to just turning around and handing the ball off. They’ve got really good concepts in the passing game and if they do drop back to pass and we don’t corral the quarterback, that’s when he gets outside of the pocket and I call them ‘60-yard check-downs’, he’s outrunning the route, he’s got a strong arm and if he sees somebody open, he can get the ball down the field. That makes him also dangerous.”
4. Shep (back) added to injury report; OV “out there running around” at practice. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard was added to Wednesday’s injury report with a back issue. The third-year wide receiver, who had five catches for 48 yards in Week 1, was listed as limited along with running back Wayne Gallman (injured knee vs. Jacksonville) and linebacker Tae Davis (inactive last week with a hamstring). Meanwhile, outside linebacker Olivier Vernon did not participate but was “out there running around today,” as Shurmur alluded to when he spoke before practice. Vernon missed the season opener as a result of the ankle he sprained in practice on Aug. 26. “He’s making good progress,” Shurmur said. “He’s going to do more this week than he did last week and we’re hopeful that he’ll be back soon.”
5. Shurmur experiences Cowboys rivalry from a different NFC East viewpoint. Before New York and Minnesota, Shurmur’s NFL coaching career began in Philadelphia, where he was an Eagles assistant for 10 seasons under Andy Reid (1999-2008). He also did another three-year stint as their offensive coordinator (and interim head coach for the 2015 regular-season finale) before moving onto the Vikings. So he has already been indoctrinated in the rivalry with the Cowboys.
“I remember when I was in Philly, I was putting my trash out one morning early my first year, and we weren’t very good,” he said. “It was early in the morning, and I was surprised by this person. They said to me, ‘Listen, you can go 2-14 if you beat Dallas twice.’ So, that was Philly’s take on it. I don’t have the full feel here, I understand it’s important to beat everyone and, certainly, Dallas is our next one.”
The best images from the historic rivalry between the Giants and Cowboys.