Giants vs. Cowboys: Preview, prediction, what to watch for

An inside look at Sunday night’s Giants-Cowboys NFL Week 1 opener at MetLife Stadium:

Marquee matchup

Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence vs. Giants RT Evan Neal

We all know what happened the first time these players went at each other.

It was Lawrence in a knockout, punishing the rookie Neal during Week 3 last year for three sacks — half of Lawence’s total for the entire season.

Neal said it was the worst game he has ever played.

Evan Neal
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

Neal worked diligently this offseason, changing up his pass protection set to more quickly engage with onrushing defenders.

Lawrence, 31, knows all the tricks and the Giants cannot afford to swing much help Neal’s way, with sack-happy Micah Parsons going at left tackle Andrew Thomas on the other side of the line.

DeMarcus Lawrence

Paul’s pick

Go with the Giants in this matchup at your own peril — especially if Darren Waller is unable to play or limited by a tight hamstring. Brian Daboll succeeded on so many levels in his head-coaching debut season, but finding a way to beat the Cowboys and the Eagles was not among the achievements. Have to figure the Giants are better equipped to deal with the Dallas ground game and more capable of putting heat on Dak Prescott. Now, can the offensive line keep Daniel Jones on his feet long enough to find all those upgraded weapons?

Giants 27, Cowboys 23

Four Downs

Calling the shots: Mike McCarthy made his name in the NFL calling plays on offense as the Packers’ head coach, and it was a surprise when he ceded play-calling responsibility to Kellen Moore three years ago when he took over in Dallas.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy is seen on the sideline in a preseason game in a preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Getty Images

Now, however, Moore is the offensive coordinator for the Chargers, and McCarthy is the Cowboys’ play-caller.

“I feel like I’m back in my element and doing what I feel like I do best,” he said.

Expect McCarthy to incorporate some of his West Coast offense philosophies.

“It’s the first game and even the first part of the season, there are a lot of unknowns,’’ Brian Daboll said. “Got a lot of respect for coach McCarthy, I mean he was a coordinator back in 2000 [with the Saints]. 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.’’

Tale of the tape: Dak Prescott is 10-2 starting against the Giants and 10-0 in his past 10 starts. The Giants are 1-7 when facing the Cowboys since Daniel Jones arrived in 2019, and Jones is 1-5 in his six starts against the Cowboys.

Prescott was intercepted a career-high 15 times in 2022, raising questions as to his status as a franchise quarterback after he signed a four-year, $160 million contract prior to the 2021 season.

Jones last season had the lowest interception rate (1.1 percent) of any quarterback in the league.

The Giants this offseason secured Jones with essentially the same deal — four years, $160 million — as Prescott received, and this is the first game for Jones since he got paid.

With tight end Darren Waller (dealing with a hamstring issue), classy receiver Parris Campbell and rookie speedster Jalin Hyatt, Jones has more firepower than any time in his career.

New role: Adoree’ Jackson does not get his hands on the ball often enough — just three interceptions in 69 career games — to rank among the NFL’s top cornerbacks.

Adoree’ Jackson breaks up a pass to tight end Darren Waller at Giants Training Camp.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

He is, however, the best the Giants put out on the field, and his speed and savvy as a perimeter corner make him a challenge for opposing wide receivers.

He selflessly and enthusiastically agreed to move inside to fill the slot corner role after rookie sixth-round pick Tre Hawkins stunned the coaching staff and won a starting job.

“I was ecstatic and excited about the opportunity that I was going to be able to have in that position and at the end of the day it’s all about ‘we over me,’ that we talked about,’’ Jackson said.

In the slot, Jackson will see plenty of CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys’ best receiver.

Hit the sack: Tucked into the Cowboys’ 2-0 series sweep of the Giants in 2022 was this tidbit: Dallas sacked Jones eight times in the two games.

The Giants did not get a single sack against the Dallas quarterbacks.

That is … unacceptable. “I think that we played well, just couldn’t finish them, and this is a new year,’’ defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said.

Edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari were on the field together for just seven games last season.

“It was rare,’’ Thibodeaux said. “I told him, ‘Listen, somebody asked me, are we gonna have a meeting at the quarterback?’ And I told him I’ll carpool if I have to.’’

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