EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- The New York Giants have waited nine months to erase the sour taste of last season’s failed title defense.
On Sunday night, they finally get back on the field looking to find consistency and a chance to do something they didn’t do last season –- start off on the right foot against the Dallas Cowboys.
Here are five things to watch for:
JPP’s back: Will Jason Pierre-Paul play and, more important, will his surgically repaired back hold up? The defensive end says he is a game-time decision, but Giants coach Tom Coughlin says a decision will be made well in advance about the team’s best defensive player. Considering that JPP practiced all week on a limited basis, but did everything he was asked and is making the trip, the Giants should have Pierre-Paul on the field barring an unforeseen setback.
But if he plays, how effective will he be and how many snaps will he play? Will he start, or rotate in behind Mathias Kiwanuka? Having him on the field, even if on a situational basis, could make a big difference. Remember, JPP once practically beat Dallas by himself with two sacks, a safety, a forced fumble and the block of a potential overtime-forcing field goal in a 2011 victory.
Big Blue got back: After finishing 31st overall in total defense last season, the Giants added a lot of beef on the front line. Or, as defensive coordinator Perry Fewell likes to say, “We’ve got bigger butts. … The butts are a lot bigger.”
Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud. The Giants are hoping Cullen Jenkins', Linval Joseph's, Shaun Rogers', Johnathan Hankins' and Mike Patterson's big rear ends will help the defense be much stingier against the run than last season, and help spark the pass rush as well. Justin Tuck came into the season in terrific shape and is determined to perform in a contract year. Kiwanuka is back at his natural position and Jenkins will be used as an extra pass-rusher as well. The Giants’ front line has to have an impact on this game. Otherwise, the secondary could have another long night against Dez Bryant and Jason Witten.
Cruz and Nicks: Victor Cruz says his bruised heel is ready to go. Hakeem Nicks says he feels as good as he has in a long time. Quarterback Eli Manning will need his two star receivers to get back to doing their normal damage against the Cowboys. Last season, Nicks had only eight receptions for 84 yards in two games against Dallas while dealing with foot and knee injuries. And Cruz totaled just eight catches for 81 yards in two games against Dallas.
The Giants need more from those two and Rueben Randle against the Cowboys' secondary on Sunday night if they’re going to remain a perfect 5-0 at Jerry World. We’ll see how in tune Manning is with Cruz and Nicks after having their offseason and training-camp practice time repeatedly interrupted by injury and a contract negotiation.
Wilson’s revenge: A year ago, David Wilson fumbled the second carry of his pro career against the Cowboys -- and it cost him dearly, as he was locked in Coughlin’s doghouse for the next 11 games. On Sunday night, he’ll open his second NFL season with the role of starter and Giants feature back. With Andre Brown out for the first eight weeks, Wilson is the man. He has to stay healthy. He must protect Manning in pass situations. If he can do both, he’ll get his share of touches and opportunities to deliver big plays, starting against the Cowboys.
Front line: Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride isn’t sure if he will have to alter his game plan according to his offensive line. If all goes well, he won't. The Giants will have two inexperienced starters on the line in first-round pick Justin Pugh at right tackle and James Brewer at left guard. Left tackle Will Beatty, center Kevin Boothe and right guard Chris Snee will surround the two with plenty of experience. The Giants hope the revamped line will get the ground game going and keep Manning clean.