In a couple days, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants will do battle at Jerryworld in Arlington, Texas. There will always be the air of familiarity between these two, but Sunday’s game feels like a new book in the series.
Week 1 is Chapter 1. Big Blue has turned the page from Coughlin to McAdoo, and by no choice of their own, the Cowboys have a new leading man in Dak Prescott. These are new main characters being introduced to the story (or secondary characters who were promoted), and usually when that happens in a book or movie, it’s memorable. They might come off as caricatures of who they really are, or what you see at first might not be their authentic self. Giants vs. Cowboys in Week 1 is a hell of a stage, and people react to big moments differently – especially with the unique sort of expectations that reserved for the new guy.
The kind of pressure that Ben McAdoo is facing in his debut as head coach isn’t the same as what Dak Prescott will go through. McAdoo hasn’t had and won’t get the same kind of air time or attention as Prescott, because he’s not actively doing things on our screens like that. Instead, we’ll see him holding the play sheet up to his face, firing off some fist pumps after touchdowns, spreading his arms out while rocking the “are you serious?” face (Coughlin’s old standby), and bending forward with his hands on his knees while squinting in an attempt to track the football. Fun stuff. But really, he’s going to be under a microscope until the offense makes its first statement of the year. The new regime needs to show some improvement over Coughlin’s team from last year in certain areas, especially clock and game management. There are five running backs on the roster, and last year McAdoo and his staff had trouble establishing a rhythm on the ground. He has to change that. He also has to keep the passing offense – his darling – running on all cylinders, because otherwise we’ll start hearing “What are they paying him for then?” chatter.
We’ll be watching him more intently than we would be an established head coach like Coughlin, but McAdoo has less pressure on him than Prescott in the sense that when we’re gauging his ability to coach, we’ll be judging him by the performance of his players. Prescott will be center-stage for all his big plays and mistakes and he knows it. All of it will be replayed, cut into highlights, and consumed by the masses. It’s the difference between a director and an actor. McAdoo was given control of this project from the jump. Prescott is essentially stepping in for a high-profile actor as the leading role of a movie, and as much as we realize it isn’t quite fair to hand him the ring and tell him to take it to Mordor, he kinda has to.
Luckily for Dak, he has a stellar surrounding cast to fall back on. Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliot, the best offensive line in football, and Jason Witten will be there for him to lean on. Jason Garrett will simplify the game for his rookie and he’ll do what he can to keep him confident and composed. The game can be won or lost here. Not that the other positional groups and matches are sure things – nothing should be taken for granted at this point – but Dak Prescott is the NFL’s great wild card. Half of fans could see him being a revelation, and the other half thinks he’s just a rookie. Both arguments are valid until we have something to go off of.
As a Giants fan, I’ve seen it both ways. While young, unproven passers struggle all the time, there have been two guys in this division’s recent history who’ve kicked the door off the hinges on their way in: Tony Romo in 2006 and Robert Griffin III in 2012. Romo was an unheralded backup and RG3 the second overall pick, but both of them wielded the same kind of swagger – the stuff that has propelled many a sports movie montage. They were both young, there wasn’t a lot of data on them, and suddenly they had you on your heels. Prescott may be in possession of said swagger, and that idea makes me uncomfortable. Here’s the first half of Willie Beamen’s first game. I feel like it’s relevant.
Here is Forrest Gump’s football beginnings. Less relevant maybe, but still very much worth a minute and twenty-three seconds of your time:
Back to Dak Prescott. I have no idea what quality of player he is and neither do you. I think the game will largely be decided by his ability or inability to: 1. be chill and safely hand the ball to Ezekiel Elliot 2. avoid turnovers 3. make a couple big plays that help swing the game. There are a couple of other variables I have my eye on, but none as important or as high-variance as Mr. Prescott.
It will be interesting to see how Dak’s protection holds up against the new and improved defensive line of the Giants. Dallas boasts the best group of blockers in all the land, and they’ve been running things.
Imagine running behind an O-Line like this 😨😨 https://t.co/2atdaRcD2R
— The Football Bible™ (@TheFBBible) September 4, 2016
New York did go out and spend 100 million or so dollars in free agency, but the Cowboys undeniably have the belt right now. That being said, I’m all in on Olivier Vernon as a pass rusher and I expect JPP to play better than last year. Another year removed from that fateful summer, another year with Spags, and the talent around him helps. The way I see it, the ‘Boys should be able to run the ball fairly well, and the x-factor is whether or not Spags can cook up some pressure on Prescott and force him into rookie mistakes. My biased opinion is that they’ll get some hits on him and Owa Odighizuwa will have his name mispronounced two out of three times he’s in the backfield.
If Dak is capable of keeping the offense afloat, and the Cowboys have complete control in the trenches, it could be a sign of bad things to come for the rest of the NFC East. It could also be only the first of 16 games, and winds are bound to change. Probably a little bit of both.
On the other side of the ball, I’m most curious about the line play again, but for the opposite reasons. When gametime arrives, we may be watching two sorry looking units. The Cowboys are missing Greg Hardy and Demarcus Lawrence, their two best pass rushers. New York’s current tackles are the infamous Ereck Flowers and the soon-to-be replaced Marshall Newhouse. Get your popcorn ready.
I’m sure the line play of the Giants will frustrate me, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the running game proves to be elusive, but I still expect McAdoo’s offense to move the chains. Shepard and Cruz are question marks (Cruz more so) and so are the cornerback’s they’ll be facing. Otherwise, Eli is surrounded by most of the same guys and the unit is surprisingly healthy. In an about-face from years past, the Giants have had good injury luck in this young season. Consistency, Beckham Jr., and Eli will drive Big Blue down the field against a suspect defense devoid of a pass rush. Sean Lee might make a play just to remind us he’s out there.
Dak might have a couple weeks where he completely steals the show, but not yet. The moment is going to be too big for him, and that should be something that’s ok to say about a fourth-round rookie, but much like becoming Spiderman, inheriting the Dallas Cowboys quarterback gig comes with great power and great responsibility. He’s not quite ripe yet.
– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor