The New York Giants open their 2023 season on Sunday night with an NFC East showdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Here are five storylines for this week.
Just one of 17?
The Giants have taken every opportunity to downplay the significance of Sunday’s game, and NFC East games in general.
“I would just say every week is important. Every team we play, we’re going to want to win those games, so whether it’s Dallas, Philadelphia, whoever it is, each game is equally important.
“They are all important. I mean, we were 1-4-1 in the division last year and we made the playoffs. They are all important.”
“I’d say just, we got 17 games. We are locked on this one. That’s how we always are,” head coach Brian Daboll said. “Got to put everything we have into this week of preparation, practice, how we are in the meeting room, walk-throughs to get ready to play our best game on Sunday.”
Quarterback Daniel Jones gave a little bit more. With emphasis on the “little bit” part.
“All of these divisional games are big, for sure. It means a lot, so it’s a big opportunity for us and we’ll be ready to go,” Jones said. “It’s a big game because it’s the first game, it’s a big game because it’s a divisional game and it’s the next game.”
The Giants say those things because they have to. They know, though, that these games against the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are significant.
The Giants went 1-4-1 in the NFC East a year ago and still managed to make the playoffs. They know that formula is not sustainable.
The Cowboys have beaten the Giants four straight times and in 11 of the last 12 meetings. The Eagles have also beaten the Giants four straight times, and Philly has won 12 of the last 14 games between the two teams.
If the Giants are going to prove that they are truly en route to becoming a consistent contender, one of the league’s big boys, they have to start beating the Cowboys and Eagles on occasion.
They know Sunday could be a significant night for them.
Evan Neal vs. DeMarcus Lawrence
On Sept. 26 of last year, Week 3 of the season, Neal had the worst game of his football life. Lawrence beat the rookie right tackle for three sacks. Neal also gave up a hit and a hurry in that game, the lowest point of a miserable rookie season for the No. 7 overall pick in last year’s draft.
For months, Giants fans have fretted about Neal. Will he be any better? Is he a bust, one of the few mistakes of Schoen’s two offseasons as GM? The Giants’ offensive line, a weakness a year ago and most of the time for more than a decade now, doesn’t get better if Neal doesn’t get better.
Neal spent the offseason reshaping his body — losing weight and adding muscle. He worked hard to refine a stance that would help him get into a better position and have improved balance.
Now, a new season looms and we begin to find out if the work has paid dividends. As providence would have it, Lawrence is the first test of the work Neal has done.
“I think he’s improved,” Daboll said of Neal. “Now, we will go out there and play against a really good defensive front and he’s going to have to trust his techniques and fundamentals and communicate with the offensive line, but he’s done a good job really the whole offseason.”
Neal vs. Lawrence — and sometimes Micah Parsons — will tell us a lot.
The McCarthy effect
Dallas coach Mike McCarthy moved on from highly-regarded offense coordinator Kellen Moore during the offseason, taking over running the Cowboys’ offense and calling the plays himself.
McCarthy isn’t a novice, of course. He ran the offense as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, winning a Super Bowl in 2011.
How McCarthy taking charge changes the offense we won’t know until we see it. Will it look like the familiar Dallas offense? Will it be the ‘11’ personnel-heavy offense MarCarthy ran with the Packers — and Ben McAdoo brought to the Giants?
We won’t know for sure until the Cowboys unveil it. McCarthy has not called plays since 2018.
“I think it’s the first game and even the first part of the season, there is a lot of unknowns,” Daboll said. “Got a lot of respect for Coach McCarthy, I mean he was a coordinator back in 2000, I think, for the 49ers. So, he’s been doing this a long time. Has a good track record, been very successful. What he is choosing to call or how he’s calling it, we won’t know that until Sunday.”
The re-made secondary
Whether they intended to or not, the Giants have completely revamped their secondary.
Two rookies — first-round pick Tae Banks and summer standout Tre Hawkins III, a sixth-round pick — will start at cornerback on the outside. Veteran Adoree’ Jackson, the team’s best cornerback, will slide into the slot.
The changes, though, don’t end there. Julian Love is now with the Seattle Seahawks. Starting alongside Xavier McKinney in Love’s old spot will be Jason Pinnock, whom the Giants picked up on waivers from the New York Jets before the 2022 season. Pinnock started five games due to injuries last season, but this will be the 24-year-old third-year player’s first time entering a season as a full-time starter.
The Cowboys pose a significant challenge.
Quarterback Dak Prescott has accomplished wide receivers CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, and Michael Gallup to throw to. Lamb plays primarily in the slot, and it will be interesting to see how Jackson, playing that spot full-time for the first time in his career, handles the challenge.
As good as Banks and Hawkins were in the preseason, the words “rookie cornerback” and “struggling” can often be found in the same sentence. The Cowboys are going to test the rookies. We will see how they respond.
Will the Giants’ enhanced passing attack generate them?
The Giants spent much of the offseason trying to improve the weaponry of an offense that was last in the NFL in explosive plays, defined as plays of 20 yards or more, last season.
Tight end Darren Waller, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver, is the Giants’ premier shiny new passing attack toy. Jalin Hyatt, the speedy third-round pick, was the 10th receiver taken overall, in Round 3. He spent the summer running past cornerbacks and making the Giants look brilliant for trading up to get him — and making other teams look silly for leaving him on the board that long.
Add Parris Campbell, Wan’Dale Robinson, Sterling Shepard, Isaiah Hodgins, and Darius Slayton and this is a vastly upgraded group.
Can Daniel Jones, he of the newly-minted four-year, $160 million contract take advantage of those weapons? Jones hasn’t thrown for 20 or more touchdowns in a season since 2019, his rookie year. The 3,205 yards he passed for last season is a career high. With what he has around him now Jones will be expected to exceed those numbers. Oh, that and win games.
The Giants spent much of 2022 doing things the hard way on offense — trying to grind out drives and rarely being able to generate the kind of big plays that make it easier to score points.
On paper, that should not be the case this year.