2023 OPENS WITH NFC EAST MATCHUP
The Giants begin with a tough divisional matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. It's no secret the Giants struggled against the NFC East last season. Despite the team's overall success, the Giants went 1-4-1 in the division, including two losses to both the Cowboys and Eagles. However, head coach Brian Daboll insists last year's results have no impact on Sunday night's game.
"I don't really think what happened last year or any other game really has any bearing on this game," Daboll said during Tuesday's media session. "You take a look at it, you look at the players they still have, you look at their schemes. Obviously, they have the same defensive coordinator; but again it's a new season, they'll be a bunch of new stuff that we will have to adjust to, and we've got to focus on ourselves and make sure we are ready to go."
After losing against the Giants twice during his rookie season in 2016, Cowboys QB Dak Prescott has won 10 consecutive games in this rivalry. Athough Dallas' recent success in the series has not gone unnoticed, the Giants are keeping their focus on themselves.
"It's a big divisional game for us," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "All the divisional games are certainly big and match up with a lot of tradition and history so yeah, it's a big deal. But it's about what we do, it's about how we play and taking care of our business first."
Sunday's contest between the Giants and Cowboys will be the 123rd all-time meeting between the two teams, with Dallas holding a 73-47-2 lead in the series. The Giants have dropped 11 of the last 12 outings against the NFC East rival, including each of the last four.
Doubtful: CB Cor'Dale Flott (hamstring), S Gervarrius Owens (hamstring), WR Wan'Dale Robinson (knee)
Questionable: LB Cam Brown (ankle), DL D.J. Davison (knee), TE Darren Waller (hamstring)
Doubtful: G/T Tyler Smith (hamstring), S Donovan Wilson (calf)
Questionable: T Tyron Smith (ankle), DE Sam Williams (foot)
YEAR 2 IN WINK'S DEFENSE
The Giants' defense found some success last season under defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. The unit finished the year with the fifth-best third down (35.1 percent) and red zone (49.2 percent) defense, but ranked 17th in points and 25th in yards allowed.
One of the biggest reasons for the Giants' struggles against the NFC East last year was their run defense. In the five contests against the Cowboys and Eagles (including the playoffs), the defense surrendered an average of 200.2 rushing yards per game. This led to the offseason acquisitions of linebacker Bobby Okereke and defensive linemen Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A'Shawn Robinson, as the Giants made it a priority to boost their run defense. Additionally, the Giants also acquired two defenders in recent trades – versatile linebacker Isaiah Simmons and edge rusher Boogie Basham. The team hopes both acquisitions will help increase the unit's sack total from last season (41 sacks, 13th in the league).
The Cowboys had one of the league's top rushing attacks last season, ranking sixth in attempts, ninth in yards and second in touchdowns on the ground. Despite the hype that surrounds a matchup against a division rival, defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence said the Giants are locked in.
"A little more juice knowing it's a division team, but I think the mindset is the same for everybody," said Lawrence. "We've been preparing through camp and we're going to prepare well this week. We're going to go out there and play football and do our best."
BANKS 'AHEAD OF SCHEDULE'
Cornerback Deonte Banks is set to make his NFL debut on Sunday against the Cowboys after a strong performance throughout the summer. The rookie started the first two preseason games and did not allow a single reception across 33 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. It was the most coverage snaps without surrendering a catch among all rookie corners through the first two preseason games, as Banks recorded a passer rating against of just 39.6.
"I think that each player is different and he's ahead of schedule as far as that, you know, being ready to go and being excited about going," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale told the media. "You know there is going to be hiccups, we all know. That's being a rookie. That's both for he and (cornerback) Tre (Hawkins III). They are just two strong-willed individuals that I think they are going to be just fine…
"I just think (Banks') maturity and his confidence, is probably what makes him (ahead of schedule), and his skillset obviously."
The No. 24 pick in this year's draft will be faced with a tough matchup right out of the gate. With veteran Adoree' Jackson likely to cover Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb in the slot, that leaves Banks and Hawkins to guard veterans Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup on the outside. Regardless of who the rookie lines up across from, Martindale likes the way the 22-year-old conducts himself.
"I think that he is a very competitive person," the defensive coordinator said. "I like his attitude. I've used the Ted Lasso quote to nauseam now, but that's just who he is. He loves to compete, he loves this defense, he loves the system, and you can tell the way his teammates have grown close to him already that he's an all-around good guy that's going to have a lot of success in this league."
KAFKA: HYATT 'EAGER TO IMPROVE
Sticking with the rookies, wide receiver Jalin Hyatt is another first-year player who stood out during training camp. The 6-foot, 185-pound receiver seemingly made at least one highlight reel play at practice every day over the summer. He then caught a 33-yard touchdown pass in his MetLife Stadium debut against the Panthers on a play in which he used his speed to blaze by the defender, getting himself wide open for the easy touchdown.
Hyatt's play has stood out to offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, who told the media Wednesday that the rookie wide receiver's growing confidence is palpable.
"I think he's getting more confident in himself just being inserted into the offense and identifying the things that we're going to ask him to do on a week-to-week basis," Kafka said about the rookie receiver. "So, you know he's a young player, he's learning, he's growing but he's taking all the necessary steps. He's spending extra time watching tape, spending time reviewing, so from my standpoint, from my chair, I'm looking at that and saying this kid, he's eager to improve, he's eager to work out those things and you're seeing it show up at practice."
While not listed as a starter on the first unofficial depth chart of the regular season, Hyatt is likely to see extended action Sunday night. The Cowboys boast a talented starting cornerback duo in Trevon Diggs and Stephon Gilmore. Diggs has racked up 17 interceptions across his first three seasons, two of which he was selected to the Pro Bowl, while Gilmore is entering his 12th NFL season having made five Pro Bowls.
View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
GROWTH OF THE OFFENSE
One of the biggest storylines throughout training camp was the potential growth of the offense in Year 2 under Daboll and Kafka. The Giants finished the 2022 season ranked 15th in points and 18th in yards per game. However, the unit featured a top-5 run game (in both yards and touchdowns) along with the seventh-best red zone offense. The Giants added several new pieces during the offseason, including tight end Darren Waller, wide receivers Parris Campbell and Jalin Hyatt, and center John Michael Schmitz. With another year in the system, the offense expects to make a big jump, starting Sunday night.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the offense's success is the development of Daniel Jones. The 26-year-old is coming off his most efficient season in which he set career-marks with 3,205 passing yards and a 92.5 passer rating. Jones also set several franchise QB records, including completion percentage (67.5), interception percentage (NFL-best 1.06), rushing yards (708) and rushing touchdowns (seven), while his 119.3 passer rating on deep passes was the third-highest in the league. The fifth-year quarterback drew rave reviews from his coaches and teammates all summer.
"I think it's a new season," Daboll explained. "We're going to have to do the things we need to do leading up to this week. He's had a good training camp, and now we've got to turn the page and get here on Dallas, which we've been the last couple of days, and go out there and practice and make sure we correct the things that are going to happen and ultimately play well and make good decisions and move the ball down. That's his role. But he's had a good camp."
Jones and the offense will face one of their toughest tests all season in the Cowboys, who ranked fifth in points allowed last season while leading the league with 33 takeaways. Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn also led his unit to a top-10 finish in both third down and red zone defense.
"I think on defense, they're fast," said Jones. "They run to the ball, they attack the ball, they've got a strong pass rush, a couple of guys up front and they're good in the back end. They fly around, run to the ball, make plays, they're disruptive, cause a lot of turnovers, they're a good group – strong group, but we'll be prepared for them. But like I said, it's about what we do and we're preparing to play our best."
SIMMONS A 'PERFECT FIT'
Prior to the roster cut down day last week, the Giants made two training camp trades, one of which landed former No. 8 overall pick Isaiah Simmons in blue. Across his first three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, Simmons played 50 regular-season games with 37 starts, as well as one postseason game, and has not missed a single game. His career numbers include 258 total tackles (181 solo), 7.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, seven forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, four interceptions, 16 passes defensed and one defensive touchdown.
In his first game action with the Giants back in the preseason finale, Simmons was on the field for a handful of plays and made his presence felt. He wasn't credited with a tackle, but he did pressure Jets QB Aaron Rodgers on a third down play, forcing him out of the pocket before the QB threw an incompletion. Martindale spoke Wednesday about how the versatile defender will line up all over the field this season. It's safe to say the defensive play-caller is excited about the trade.
"I think he's perfect for this defense," said Martindale. "When (General Manager) Joe (Schoen) told me to initially look at him, I loved him coming out of the draft and I spoke to (Clemson head coach) Dabo (Swinney) back then, but then I went to see, a lot of people just go back and look at game tapes and make their judgements. I went back the last three years and looked at his productivity and looked at things he did do really well, and I think it fits our system great.
"It's not what position are you going to play him at, we are going to play him wherever you need him because he can do so many different things. I've talked before about a positionless defense, he fits perfect to that."
WALLER, OKEREKE SET TO MAKE GIANTS DEBUTS
Just prior to the start of free agency back in March, the Giants made their first big splash of the offseason when they acquired tight end Darren Waller in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders. Waller received rave reviews all throughout camp as he worked to build a connection with Jones. The veteran was on the field for only one offensive series during the preseason, when he caught three of four targets for 30 yards from Jones.
Now scheduled to make his official Giants debut this weekend, the 30-year-old, who was voted a team captain last week, is keeping his focus on improving each day leading up to the opener.
"I'm excited man, just trying to stay within the day, you know?" Waller said Wednesday. "Every single individual day of practice leads to a good game on Sunday, so not trying to get too excited, peak before then. Just trying to keep building as the week goes."
Waller was added to the injury report with a hamstring injury Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
The Giants' big offseason addition on defense came in the form of inside linebacker Bobby Okereke. Over his last two seasons with the Colts, Okereke registered a total of 283 tackles while playing every game. The Giants saw first-hand just how impactful Okereke can be when he racked up a career-high 17 total tackles against them in Week 17. The Giants were clear that one of their biggest goals of the offseason was to add speed, and Okereke does just that.
"I've always said this, philosophically, if you have a fast mike, then you have a fast defense and he's a really fast mike," Martindale said last month.
Despite joining the team only a few months ago, both Okereke and Waller were voted team captains in their first season with the Giants.
"I think the players respect them and they have gone about their job the right way and performed out on the field, whether it be in practice or in some of the games and players that voted for them certainly have respect for them," Daboll said about the two veteran additions last week.
SCOUTING THE COWBOYS
The Cowboys' offense starts with quarterback Dak Prescott. The 30-year-old started 12 games last season and finished with 2,860 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and a career-high 15 interceptions. But in his 12 career games against the Giants, Prescott has a 23-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
"Dak is a productive quarterback, he's got a very good skill set, he's won a lot of games, he's been very productive, scored a lot of points. They've got a good football team, so we are going to need a really good week here of preparation," Daboll said.
Dallas has talented playmakers all over their offense. Running back Tony Pollard is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. He finished with 1,007 yards on the ground, 371 yards through the air and 12 total touchdowns. With Ezekiel Elliott now on the Patriots, Pollard is expected to receive a majority of the touches out of the backfield.
Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb leads Dallas' pass-catchers after his breakout campaign last year. Lamb caught 107 passes for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns, setting new career-highs in all three categories, on his way to being named Second-Team All-Pro. He is joined by fellow wideouts Brandin Cooks, a veteran with six 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, and Michael Gallup, while Jake Ferguson sits atop the depth chart at tight end after Dalton Schultz signed with the Texans.
"They have a very good player that plays both inside and outside with CeeDee, but they have some other skill players that are going to be challenging – really their entire package," Daboll told the media. "All their skill guys from their backs, to their receivers, to their tight ends. All of our guys are going to have to be ready to go with the assignments that we ask them to do."
As for the defense, Micah Parsons has racked up 26.5 sacks across his first two seasons in the NFL, both of which resulted in him being named First-Team All-Pro. Parsons had two sacks against the Giants last year, while fellow edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence recorded three sacks in just one game against the Giants last season.
"I think I said it last year, he's a dynamic player," Daboll said of Parsons. "You know, these defensive ends that can rush passer and get a lot of production on the quarterback, they are like skill players, so he's an explosive, dynamic playmaker. They line him up in a variety of spots, he's productive, he's hard to block, he's a really good football player, one of the best in the National Football League."
View rare photos from the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.