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Giants-Cowboys preview: The battle to avoid starting 0-2

The Giants and Cowboys both lost their opening contests, meaning that (barring a tie) the loser of Sunday's clash of division rivals will have a miniscule chance of making the playoffs. 

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants runs off the field after a loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sep. 9, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

One of these teams is going to find itself in a very deep hole after the game.

The Giants and Cowboys both lost their opening contests, meaning that (barring a tie) the loser of Sunday’s clash of division rivals will have a miniscule chance of making the playoffs. Since 1990 there have been 231 teams that started a season 0-2. Only 28 of them, or 12 percent, have advanced to the postseason.

“We don’t worry about that,” Pat Shurmur insisted. “All that stuff is fun for everybody to talk about, but we don’t worry about that.”

Maybe they should. Since 1990 the Giants have started 0-2 in eight different seasons. Four of them have come in the last five years. While one of them did result in a magical run to a Super Bowl in 2007, the combined record for the remaining seven seasons was 39-73.

“It’s a big hole,” Giants S Landon Collins said, having experienced it twice in his first three NFL seasons. “Especially with this a conference game, we need this game, we need this win.”

So do the Cowboys, of course. They know the stakes, too, even if they are trying not to think about them as well.

“What you try to do is, you try to focus on each day of preparation and go play your best game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “If we were 1-0 at this point, we’d want the same thing from our team.”

But they’re not. Neither are the Giants. And after Sunday, at least one of them will still be looking for their first victory of what promises to be a very long season.

WELL, THAT'S A RELIEF

When the Giants line up against the Cowboys’ offense on Sunday, they might be asking themselves: Where’d everybody go? Two of the biggest Giants nemeses in recent years – WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten – are no longer with the team. Together they had combined for 23 touchdowns and 2,568 receiving yards against the Giants since 2003.

“Without Witten, it looks very different,” Giants S Landon Collins said of the Cowboys’ offense. “Honestly, Dez was a big influence in their offense and somebody that kind of took a lot of pressure off their running game. Now that those two guys are gone, it’s kind of phenomenal that they’re giving the ball to Zeke and trying to keep the run game going.”

The Giants aren’t the only ones adjusting to the changes.

“We feel good about the group that we have right now,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “They’re some different faces and time on task always helps. The more you do something together, hopefully the better you’ll execute it… Hopefully we’ll do a better job this week and get more and more comfortable with the new guys that we have playing.”

THE X-FACTOR

The Giants seem more wary of what Dak Prescott will be able to do with his legs than with his arm. The Cowboys’ quarterback has a history of being able to run for first downs or more – last year he had a 10-yard touchdown run against the Cardinals and current Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher – and they’ll have their pass-rushers focused not only on getting to the quarterback but bracketing him.

“The pass rush is important, but controlled rush is just as important with him,” Bettcher said. “Just like we did last week (against Blake Bortles and the Jaguars) we were trying to make him throw from tight levels, make him field a pocket, close in on him.”

The Giants were burned by Bortles for one 41-yard run. Might they use a spy on Prescott?

“It’s not about whether you say the word spy or don’t spy,” Prescott said. “It’s eyes. Who has eyes? Who is the guy that has eyes on the quarterback as we’re trying to still aggressively rush with four or five, or whatever that might be?”

FIRST ONE'S FREE

There are some teams that would have cut Kaelin Clay after he muffed the final punt of Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars, robbing the Giants of a chance to score in the final minute of the game. Certainly more than a few would be considering using someone else to field their punts going forward. But the Giants say they are going to stick with Clay, a player they claimed off waivers just last week.

“You’re not just going to give him one chance and throw him away,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said. “There’s a lot of things that happen over the course of the game that we all kind of want to get back, but Kaelin is a pro. He’s made a lot of plays in this league, and I expect him to do that moving forward.”

Said Shurmur: “We feel like he’s a bona fide punt returner… Everybody’s got to clean up their mistakes and we just move forward.”

68

Years since a Giants rookie had 100+ rushing yards in back-to-back games. Saquon Barkley will attempt to become the first to do so since Eddie Price in games on Dec. 3 and Dec 10, 1950.

TOUGH CHOICE

DeMarcus Lawrence can line up on either side of the defense for the Cowboys. This week his coaches will have to decide whether to line up the pass-rushing linebacker against LT Nate Solder or RT Ereck Flowers. “I don’t know what to expect there,” Shurmur said when asked where he anticipates Lawrence being over Flowers, who struggled in the opener. “But it sounds like you’d put him over there.”

Most people probably would after Flowers’ performance against the Jaguars, particularly early in the game when he committed two penalties on the first three snaps. The Giants insist that Flowers had some good plays to go along with the visibly bad ones, but they’re also likely to try to give him a little more help schematically this week whether he’s up against Lawrence or not. That could come from tight ends of extra linemen.

Ultimately, though, Flowers will have to stand on his own against whoever he’s facing. Even if it is Lawrence.

“The guy assigned to block him has to block him,” Shurmur said. “You’ve got to block him 65 or 70 times, or he’ll disrupt the game.”

6

Cowboys’ winning streak on Sunday Night games. Dallas holds the record for most games (63) and most wins (32) on Sunday Nights.

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