Giants/Cowboys: Giants Run Defense vs. Ezekiel Elliott

GMenHQ.com breaks down what could be the most significant challenge for the Giants and this Sunday, stopping Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott.

Eli Manning is “confident” heading into 2016. He told Dan Benton of USA Today’s Giants Wire as much on Sept. 6, 2016. What you saw in the preseason doesn’t matter according to Eli (and most experts), the Giants are ready to go this Sunday against the Cowboys. Entering his 13th year in under center, you could probably say he knows what he’s talking about.

He’s seen the lows of 6-10 and the highs of hoisting a Lombardi trophy, but he seems particularly excited about his offense this year. And he should be. The line still has much to prove, but Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard are the type of weapons the Giants have never had in tandem. A top-10 offense is the expectation and the Giants will look to get off to a fast start at Jerry’s World.

“You have a few snaps in games but you have a lot of practice, a lot of reps. Guys are doing good things, guys are making plays and so I just feel good about what we have with the play-makers that we have and their ability to go out there and put them in a position to make plays.”

Eli Manning

Make no mistake however, stopping Ezekiel Elliott is Big Blue’s chief concern. The Cowboys’ line is already one of the NFL’s best. They brought in Alfred Morris and spent the fourth-pick of the NFL Draft on Ezekiel Elliott, the class’ top rated rusher according to Walterfootball.com, to significantly upgrade running back. The Giants could be in for a long day. Or, with Tony Romo out, they might load the box and dare Dak Prescott to make plays. It can go either way, and Big Blue obviously hopes for the latter.

Run Defense vs. Cowboys in 2015

The Giants gave up 156.5 rushing yards per game in the two meetings with Dallas. Consequently, the offense wasn’t on the field much. Dallas dominated time of possession, 37 minutes to 23 in Week 1 and 38 to 22 in Week 7. Sans Romo, they’ll again look to move the ball down the field methodically. That means run, run and run some more.

Aug 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;New York Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison (98) sacks New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) in the 1st half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

The good news is Damon “Snacks” Harrison. The 6’4″, 350 lb. brick wall wasn’t wearing blue last season. He was stuffing the run for the New York Jets, the second best run defense in the league in 2015 (83.4 ypg allowed). More good news, Jason Pierre-Paul is back. JPP, whose always played the run well on the edge, missed both games against Dallas last year. The linebackers have been revamped too. Jon Beason and Uani’ Unga are out, Kelvin Sheppard and rookie B.J. Goodson are in. Jonathan Casillas will start on the weakside this year, and he’s been flying to the ball all preseason long.

The game plan

It must translate to the field, but on paper the Giants match-up better with Dallas’ o-line than they did a year ago. Jason Garrett won’t want Prescott to throw the ball more than 24-28 times. They’ll ease their inexperienced QB into the game by asserting the run early. If New York can stop them, Prescott will drop back more often than Garrett would like and may make mistakes.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will take chances to try and dictate the tone of the game. If the defense holds Elliott in check early, and the offense can make Dallas play from behind, the Giants will get their first season-opening win since 2010.

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