The Teams: The Giants beat the Redskins in last week's opener 23-17 as Eli Manning spread the ball around to seven receivers in a 20-of-29, 256-yard day with a touchdown and an interception. Big plays were made by second-year receiver Mario Manningham on a 30-yard touchdown catch and defensive end Osi Umenyiora on a 37-yard touchdown return of his sack and strip on Jason Campbell.
The Cowboys' 34-21 win over the Bucs was highlighted by one of the best passing days in Tony Romo's career, as he went 16-of-27 for 353 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. But more than 200 of those yards came off four plays -- an 80-yard scoring toss to Patrick Crayton, a 66-yard touchdown to Roy Williams, a 42-yard touchdown to Miles Austin, and a 20-yard non-scoring throw to Jason Witten. Romo wound up with an ankle sprain, but he has practiced throughout the week and should be ready to go.
The History: The Cowboys lead the series 55-36-2 and are 31-19 in games played in Dallas. This one will open the brand spanking new Cowboys Stadium, capacity 100,000, and promises to be one of the most raucous games the Giants will be involved in this year. Plus, it's at night, a time frame well outside the Giants' comfort zone. They're 13-15-1 on Sunday nights. But they were 2-1 once the Sunday sun went down last year.
Injury Report: Giants -- CB Aaron Ross (hamstring), T Adam Koets (ankle), LB Clint Sintim (groin), WR Hakeem Nicks (foot), RB Danny Ware (elbow) and DT Chris Canty (calf) are out. CB Kevin Dockery (hamstring) and S Kenny Phillips (knee) are questionable. LB Michael Boley (hip) and S Michael Johnson (shoulder) are probable.
Cowboys -- S Mike Hamlin (wrist) and LB Jason Williams (ankle) are out. LB Curtis Johnson (hamstring), QB Stephen McGee (knee), QB Tony Romo (ankle) and S Gerald Sensabaugh (chest) are probable.
WATCH THIS: The biggest issue with the Cowboys is their offensive explosiveness, something the Giants will have to counter. Exactly how is the question. They'll want to be defensively aggressive, as always. But it's exactly that which leads to big plays. But if the pressure gets home, everything Romo wants to do can be short-circuited. "We want to be aggressive on every snap," linebacker Danny Clark said. "We're trying to keep the balance. We want to run to the ball and defend the big play, too."
The best way to do that, of course, is not defensively, but offensively. To accomplish that, the Giants will have to do something they couldn't do last week, which is to run the ball. Dallas is vulnerable there, as Tampa Bay proved with a 174-yard ground output that included a 35-yard run from Cadillac Williams and a 22-yarder from former Giant Derrick Ward. The Bucs also scored two rushing touchdowns. Brandon Jacobs will have to have a bigger day than the 16-carry, 46-yard effort he had against the Redskins. Running away from do-it-all linebacker DeMarcus Ware should help. But the offensive front and Madison Hedgecock will also have to take care of inside linebacker Bradie James (12 tackles last week) and defensive end Igor Olshansky to have real success. Expect Ahmad Bradshaw (12 for 60 vs. Washington) to get his share of the carries, too, especially if the Giants are leading in the fourth quarter.
As far as the passing game goes, the Giants know all too well what happened the last time these teams met in Dallas, a 20-8 loss. Eight sacks, three by Ware. Two picks. No touchdowns. "We have to be able to run the ball to slow them down on the pass rush," Manning said. "Get the ball out quickly and timely, guys have to get open. But we’ve got to know where (Ware) is."
Mario Manningham got himself off to a great start with that touchdown catch, and will need to continue. Finding Domenik Hixon downfield for more than one catch is a must. And Steve Smith will remain Manning's go-to guy after a six-catch, 80-yard performance. But the overall offense will have to do better than settling for two field goals and coming away empty once in three trips inside the Red Zone. And they'd be advised to do it early, as there's nothing like a couple of quick, efficient touchdown drives to take a noisy crowd out of the game.
The Cowboys are going to be paying close attention to Justin Tuck, the NFC's defensive player of the week after his five-tackle, 1 1/2 sack performance last week. If anybody can stop Marion Barber, it's him. And even if the Cowboys run away from him, they'll still have to deal with a run-stopping front 7 that held Clinton Portis to just 62 yards and no touchdowns on 16 carries. Countering that is a gargantuan offensive line of 338-pound Flozell Adams, 307-pound Kyle Kosier, 318-pound Andre Gurode, 353-pound Leonard Davis, and 318-pound Marc Colombo. So, if anybody asks "Where's the beef?" just tell them it's all down in Dallas.
It will be incumbent on Tuck and his pass-rush cohorts to pressure Romo, however, since the secondary may be in bad shape. Kevin Dockery and Kenny Phillips may both be slowed by their injuries, if they make the game at all. C.C. Brown had a good game in spot usage last week, but his mental mistakes in training camp remain cause for concern. And we'll have to see how Terrell Thomas holds up at right corner for a second straight game. He did just fine against the Redskins.
The secondary held Campbell to 211 yards and Corey Webster scored a TKO on Santana Moss. At least they both got their $5,000 league fine's worth for unnecessary roughness. But now the unit faces a Cowboys attack that has become more diversified and, as a result, potentially stronger since the departure of Terrell Owens. Crayton and Williams are their downfield flyers, and Jason Witten appears to have returned to being one of the league's most dangerous pass-catching tight ends. Meanwhile, Owens gets to freeze his toches off in Buffalo. But hey, I'm sure he's just tickled to death over Trent Edwards.
Tuck would like nothing better than to hit Romo repeatedly, as the quarterback does tend to get gunshy when he's constantly picking himself up off the ground. But there's a danger to going all-out against his mobility. "He gets short in the pocket and that makes it hard to look around him," Tuck said. "You've got to be careful about how you rush him because his feet allow him to get the ball downfield. That's when you have trouble."
Prediction: No doubt, the Giants have been road warriors the past couple of years, following their Super Bowl season's 7-1 regular-season road record with a 5-3 mark last year. But the Cowboys may be too much for them on this particular night, especially in light of the lingering aches and pains in the secondary. It'll be a good one, though. Real close. Cowboys 21-20.
Molly's Pick: New feature alert! We're going to try to get a guest prediction each week. With any luck, all my guys on the beat will chip in, and maybe we can filter in a couple from you folks, too. But this week, we start with Molly, who's mommy is my good friend Patti Traina. As you can see, she's a real mutt. But Molly's way too sweet to be ignored.
Patti and Molly have their method down to a science. She breaks a doggie biscuit in half, designates one half as the Giants, the other as the opponents, and whichever one Molly eats first is the pick. This week, it was resoundingly -- GIANTS. No score. Dogs don't do math, silly.