Players to Watch: Cowboys @ Giants

A road victory this coming Sunday night at the Giants would clinch the NFC East crown for the Cowboys. The Cowboys (11-1) have won 11 games in a row, but their one loss this season came in Week 1 against the NY Giants (8-4). A few things have changed between then and now, however, especially the play of the NFL’s leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott.

Zeke is one of five players/matchups we’ll be watching on Sunday:

Here’s our list of “5 Players/Matchups to Watch”:

11 Sept 2016: Ezekiel Elliott (21) of the Dallas Cowboys during their 20-19 loss to the New York Giants in the 2016 NFL week 1 regular season football game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, #21 vs Giants’ run defense

He is the league’s leading rusher and a leading candidate for NFL Most Valuable Player honors, but Zeke Elliott’s first game as a pro was against the Giants who held him in check in Week 1. Zeke carried the ball 20 times for only 51 yards, a puny average of 2.6 yards-per-carry. He also caught 1 pass and gained just 1 yard. Yes, he had an 8 yard touchdown run in the Cowboys’ 20-19 loss.

“I just wasn’t comfortable with the system yet,” Zeke said of his game 1 performance against the Giants. “It was definitely frustrating because it’s not how I imagined it. But I think it definitely helped shape me into the player I am today. It definitely put a chip on my shoulder early in the season just to make up for it, to go out there and show what I really can do.”

The Giants run defense has continued to play well. They are currently ranked 5th overall versus the run, allowing an average of 91.4 yards-per-game and 3.6 yards-per-carry. The defensive line will be without one of their starters, however.  Defensive End Jason Pierre-Paul will miss the remainder of the regular season after undergoing surgery on Wednesday to repair a sports hernia. Another starter on the d-line, Defensive Tackle Jonathan Hankins, missed practice on Wednesday & Thursday with a quadriceps injury.

September 11th 20160911_DAL_vs_NYG

Giants WR Odell Beckham, Jr., #13 vs Cowboys CBs Carr/Brown/Scandrick

You won’t be able to avoid Beckham on Sunday night, even if you try. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” cameras will be trained on him the entire evening because he can make spectacular plays as a one-man human highlight film. He also has a combustible personality, so he’s made plenty of highlights for his on-field behavior, positively and negatively.

Beckham is electric and a play-maker. He’s already topped 1,000 receiving yards this year. Through 12 games, he’s caught 75 passes for 1,015 yards (average 13.5) and 8 touchdowns.

The Giants move Beckham around the field pre-snap. He will line up in different positions. Will the Cowboys decide to use Brandon Carr #39 as a shadow on Beckham?

Normally, the Cowboys do not use one cornerback to trail the opposition’s top receiver. The cornerbacks stay on their respective sides. But Sunday night could be an exception.

Will Carr flip-flop from right to left, depending on where Beckham lines up? And if Beckham goes inside to the slot, will Orlando Scandrick #32 take him in the nickel? Will Scandrick be healthy enough to play (he’s slowed by a sore foot/plantar fascia)? Or will the Cowboys let rookie Corner Back Anthony Brown #30 go head-to-head against Beckham and keep Carr at right cornerback?

There are interesting decisions the Cowboys’ defensive coaches have to make. Let’s watch how they defend a dangerous Giants receiving corps that also includes Victor Cruz #80 and standout rookie Sterling Shepard #87.

Collins

Photo Credit: SNY TV

Giants S Landon Collins #21

Collins, the second-year safety from Alabama, has emerged as one of the top young defensive players in the NFL. Watch him on Sunday night because he’s an up-and-comer. Or maybe that’s a poor term to describe him because you could argue that he’s already arrived. After all, he’s getting some hype as a possible candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Collins was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November. He already has 5 interceptions which is more than the entire Cowboys defense combined (4).

Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott #4 has done a terrific job of protecting the ball this season. He has thrown only 2 interceptions. But he needs to beware of a ball hawk like Collins. Look out for Collins in the pass rush, too, because he can blitz. He already has 3 sacks this season. As the strong safety, Collins is also important to the Giants run defense.

Vernon

Photo Credit: NJ.com

Giants DE Olivier Vernon #54

Vernon leads the Giants with 8 sacks. But the Giants will be relying on him even more this week in the pass rush because the other starting defensive end, Jason Pierre-Paul, is out with the aforementioned sports hernia.

Vernon normally lines up at right defensive end, so that means he will go head-to-head with Cowboys perennial Pro Bowl Left Tackle Tyron Smith #77.

I know that it’s hard to watch the play of the offensive linemen and defensive linemen during the course of the game, especially when the television cameras usually follow the player with the ball. But if you focus on these two guys, you’ll get to see two of the top players in the league go mano-a-mano.

Vernon is the guy who signed the massive, record-setting 5 year, $85 million deal with the Giants in free agency this past spring. Will the Giants get their money’s worth this weekend?

dez

Photo Credit: Fansided.com

Cowboys WR Cole Beasley #11 and Dez Bryant #88

When the Cowboys & Giants played in Week 1, Cole Beasley had a big game and finished with 8 catches for 65 yards.  Dez Bryant caught only 1 pass for 8 yards. The Giants’ defense took away Dez, but it opened things up for Beasley as well as tight end Jason Witten #82 who caught a season-high 9 passes in that game.

Will the Giants continue to focus on Dez? Or will they give more attention to Beasley and Witten, thereby possibly opening things deep for Dez?

When an offense like the Cowboys has so many weapons in their arsenal, opposing defenses have to “pick their poison”.  You know that Dez will be itching to have a big game, especially after being limited to catch in the season opener (and with Odell Beckham Jr. watching from the opposite sideline).

Sunday night’s Cowboys-Giants kickoff at Met Life Stadium is set for 7:30pm central.