IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys are determined to prove that 2013 is different from the previous two seasons, which both ended at 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
A good start would be to beat the New York Giants at home.
The Giants are 4-0 at AT&T Stadium, including the first regular season game played there in 2009, when it was known as Cowboys Stadium.
The Giants’ unbeaten streak in the Cowboys’ new home is brought up every year. The 4-0 record will be repeated relentlessly until the teams kick off Sunday night in Arlington, despite Cowboys coach Jason Garrett’s effort to downplay it.
“The Giants are a good football team. We’ve had some great games with them. We’ve gone up there and played some great games with them. They’ve come down here and played some great games. They always seem to be close, they’re always competitive,” Garrett said.
“Regardless of where you play them, it’s going to be a great challenge. We’ve had great battles with them at both stadiums.”
Garrett would probably like to point out that the Cowboys have never lost a season opener to the Giants.
The Cowboys are 6-0 against the Giants in curtain-raisers, including last season when they beat the then-defending Super Bowl champions at MetLife Stadium.
“We’ve won some games up there, they’ve won some games down here,” Garrett said. “They’re a good team. We’ve had good battles with them. Each of the teams has had success at their own place and had success at the other team’s place, too. That’s just the nature of it.”
What Garrett tells his team behind closed doors may be completely different. There may be a “defend our house” speech coming.
Regardless, the anxiety level was raised at the Valley Ranch practice facility this week with the start of a new season.
“It seems like there’s a buzz around here, a certain level of excitement and a certain level of expectation,” rookie center Travis Frederick said. “It feels the same way it felt for me at Wisconsin. It was always an expectation to win. You never were the underdog. I feel that same level of expectation here.”
For the Cowboys to realize those expectations, developments in the off-season have to work out in their favor.
It started with the drafting of Frederick to help solidify the offensive line and better protect quarterback Tony Romo. While Frederick has so far looked like a solid pick, injuries forced the Cowboys to try right tackle Doug Free at right guard during one preseason game.
Veteran Brian Waters was signed this week to help shore up the concerns at guard. Waters hasn’t played in 18 months, but is considered a better option than what was available in-house.
The offense is also counting on receiver Dez Bryant to have the kind of full-on breakout season he showed at the end of last season. So far in preseason work, Bryant appears poised to become one of the NFL’s dominant receivers. If running back DeMarco Murray can stay healthy, the Cowboys’ offense appears ready to put up some big numbers behind Romo, who was given a $108 million contract extension in the off-season.
As for the defense, the switch to a 4-3 alignment under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will get its first test. However, not all the parts will be available.
Defensive end Anthony Spencer isn’t expected to play and tackle Jay Ratliff is out. Both have lingering injuries from the preseason. Cornerback Morris Claiborne, last year’ s No. 1 pick, also missed the entire preseason but is expected to return.
Depth on the defensive line has been a concern all through preseason, starting with a season-ending Achilles tendon injury to Tyrone Crawford in the first practice of training camp.
On the other hand, much like Bryant on the offensive side, middle linebacker Sean Lee appears poised to have a breakout season. But like Murray, the issue with Lee is staying on the field.
The Giants have their own injury concerns. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is questionable with a back injury. Fellow defensive lineman Justin Tuck and receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have had preseason injuries.
The Giants also revamped their offensive line, mimicking the concerns the Cowboys have up front. First round pick Justin Pugh is expected to start at right tackle for New York.
The Cowboys could eliminate a lot of their own concerns by beating the Giants. They would also never have to hear again that the Giants are undefeated in their home stadium.