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Cowboys could surprise Giants in opener

It's not December, so the Cowboys' best chance of beating the Giants comes Wednesday night.

Since Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones constantly measures his organization against the New York Giants, it makes total sense for the rivals to open the season together. Using Jerry's twisted logic, the Cowboys were only a win away from doing exactly what the Giants did last season in winning another Super Bowl.

 

The fact that both the Packers and Giants have won Super Bowls in recent years as No. 6 playoff seeds has deluded Jones into believing the Cowboys are just a play or two away from winning at that level. And if you want him to become more insufferable than ever, watch what happens if the Cowboys knock off the Giants in Wednesday night's season opener at MetLife Stadium.


The truth is the Cowboys have a good shot to make that happen against a Giants team that isn't anywhere close to full strength. Of course, the Cowboys have been too focused on their own injuries to notice how much the Giants have suffered. One member of Dallas' medical staff who has been around the team for 20 years told me recently the Cowboys have never had this many injuries to starters in a training camp. Despite what's coming out of Valley Ranch as we get closer to kickoff, it would be a complete shock for Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (spleen) to be active for the game. He's remained hopeful this week, but he knows he won't be able to talk his way into the game, as he's done a time or two in the past.


Former Cowboys bust Martellus Bennett, now with the Giants, did have a good line in regard to Witten's toughness.


"I wouldn't be surprised if he picked up his spleen, held it in his hand and tried to run routes," Bennett told reporters in New York.


It also looks like Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ankle) will miss the opener. But based on how many starters missed time in Oxnard, Calif., the Cowboys have to feel pretty fortunate at this point.


The Giants could actually be more compromised than the Cowboys. Veteran Sean Locklear, who spent most of his career with the Seahawks, will likely start at left tackle Wednesday. Will Beatty was the projected starter, but he's still coping with a bad back. The Giants thought seriously of moving right tackle David Diehl back to the left side for Wednesday's game, but they decided to stick with Locklear.


Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will look to exploit this weakness by giving the Giants multiple looks up front. And with the additions of Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne at cornerback, Ryan believes his defenders will have more time to pressure the quarterback.

 

On the other side of the ball, it appears Michael Coe will start at cornerback opposite Corey Webster for the Giants. He picked up some experience last season before injuring his shoulder in November, but he's certainly not the long-term answer. Former first-round pick Prince Amukamara will be spending even more time in the cold tub (check YouTube) as he recovers from a high ankle sprain. And former starter Terrell Thomas has been placed on injured reserve after aggravating a knee injury. There's a decent chance veteran safety Antrel Rolle will have to move over and play the nickel corner position, something that he wasn't pleased about last season.


If the Cowboys' revamped offensive line (featuring two new starters at guard) can give Tony Romo time, he should be able to do some damage in the passing game. And running back DeMarco Murray has a chance to become one of the most valuable players in the league. He was a tremendous receiving threat at Oklahoma, but his concentration lagged as a rookie. Running backs coach Skip Peete told me recently that Murray had spent the offseason paying more attention to detail and should be a huge part of the passing game.


What came as a pleasant surprise to the Cowboys was Murray's emergence as a leader on this team. He set the tone in training camp with his punishing runs and head coach Jason Garrett used him as an example for younger players.


Murray carries himself like a veteran player and Romo truly believes he's on his way to becoming a star. But maybe the best thing about the running back is that he's never sought the spotlight. When Julius Jones busted out as a rookie for the Cowboys seven years ago, he became enamored by all the attention. And Marion Barber's career faded in a hurry, in part because he had no idea how to be a leader. If Murray can stay healthy — he suffered a broken ankle last December — he'll quickly make fans forget about those previous running backs.


This game will also feature two of the most heralded quarterbacks in the league. Eli Manning has surpassed Romo in the minds of everyone except Amani Toomer (oddly enough), but the Cowboys quarterback still has time to alter his all-hat, no-cattle reputation. In training camp, Romo showed that his patience was growing thin. When young wide receivers or offensive linemen made mistakes, he would spike the ball in disgust. Even Garrett, who loves Romo's competitive spirit, had to ask him to dial it back a bit. And that's a great sign for the Cowboys.


The Giants have shown the Cowboys the way. On Wednesday, we'll see if Dallas has been paying any attention.


And since this game isn't being played in December, the Cowboys have a legitimate shot at the win.