The Dallas Cowboys take on the New York Giants Wednesday night, in a renewal of a classic NFC East rivalry, to begin the 2012 NFL season.
Recent meetings between the two have usually been shootouts, with the Giants enjoying the better of the rivalry. However, the defending NFC East and Super Bowl champions do have personnel issues, specifically at cornerback and along the offensive line, that the Cowboys can take advantage of.
Aside from last year's season finale, games between these two teams are usually close, so Dallas should feel confident about their chances. Here are four things Jason Garrett's team must do to spring a mild upset on opening day:
Target CB Michael Coe
According to ESPN New York, Michael Coe will start at cornerback for the Giants, replacing injured duo Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara.
The Cowboys have to exploit the player who has not recorded a meaningful statistic and has played for three teams since 2007.
Coe does possess above average speed, so the Cowboys may be best served using their size advantage at wide receiver. Coe stands at 6,0" and 187 pounds, which does not compare well to Miles Austin's 6'2" 217-pound frame, or Dez Bryant at 6'2" and 220 pounds.
The Cowboys should have a favourable matchup against Coe and must target him from the start.
Press Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks
The Cowboys have to be physical with prolific Big Blue wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. That means utilising plenty of bump and run concepts and denying the pair a clean release off the line of scrimmage.
Nicks has been injured during the offseason, but Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, recently reported he should feature in the opener. That's bad news for the Cowboys who have been torched by the Giants' passing game in recent meetings.
However, with new arrivals Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at cornerback, the Cowboys can hope things will be better. Both are big, physical cornerbacks who specialise in aggressive press coverage.
Use Max Protection against the Giants Defensive Line
Alongside limiting Eli Manning and his receivers, stopping the Giants' relentless front four, has to be a priority for the Cowboys.
Their best hope might be to use maximum protection schemes as often as possible. Although it limits the number of receivers running pass patterns, max protection should slow down ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
They are a dominant trio of pass-rushers and unless Garrett schemes to limit them, Tony Romo will struggle to stay in the pocket and make throws. Keeping tight end Jason Witten in to block and having one or two running backs regularly step out and chip Big Blue's edge rushers, would be wise choices by Garrett.
DeMarcus Ware has to Dominate
That probably reads like a statement too obvious even to make, considering DeMarcus Ware dominates most games. However, given the fact he will be going up against a stand-in left tackle, the Cowboys need Ware to have a monster game Wednesday night.
The Star-Leger reports that journeyman Sean Locklear will line up at left tackle and be charged with protecting Manning's blindside. Originally a right tackle, Locklear has spent time with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, before joining the Giants this offseason.
The Cowboys have to do all they can to isolate Ware against him. They could drop a safety down into the box, or have the defensive end on that side take a slightly wider alignment.
That would force Locklear to make a decision and may momentarily draw his focus away from Ware. That split second would be all the finest pass-rusher of his generation would need to get to Manning.
If the Cowboys are going to finally slow down the Giants offense, Ware has to have a big game.21114