COMMENTARY | Forget Tony Romo.
He's not the one I'm worried about.
Eli Manning has matched him throw for throw in the past and will do it again when the New York Giants visit the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, September 8. The Giants' chances of beating the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, and running their record to a perfect 5-0 in that building, will come down to slowing down three key players: Dez Bryant, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Witten.
Here's a look at how Big Blue matches up against each of these play-makers:
DeMarcus Ware vs. Will Beatty -- With Jay Ratliff on the Physically Unable to Perform list and Anthony Spencer listed as doubtful for the game, the Cowboys' defensive line has lost some of its juice. But Ware, who has 111 career sacks, remains a huge threat. The QB-killer has 13.5 career sacks against the Giants.
Beatty has the difficult assignment of keeping Ware out of Manning's face. Last season, the Giants' steady left tackle allowed three of the New York's league-low 20 sacks and registered a stellar 96.3 pass-blocking efficiency rating, according to ProFootballFocus.com. The Giants rewarded Beatty with a five-year contract worth up to $38.75 million and here's where he can start earning his money.
Dez Bryant vs. Cornerbacks -- In years past, Corey Webster has drawn the opponent's top wide receiver, but Prince Amukamara may run with Bryant on Sunday.
There aren't many ball-catchers more dangerous than the dynamic Bryant. The Cowboys' rising star has improved in every major offensive category in each of his first three seasons, checking in last year with 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. And he's poised for a monster campaign in 2013.
Webster, on the other hand, is coming off his worst professional season. He surrendered 988 yards in coverage and a league second-most eight touchdowns, according to ProFootballFocus.com, as the Giants were burned for numerous big pass plays last year. Amukamara is coming off a strong training camp and preseason, but lacks the experience of Webster. With ball-hawking safety Stevie Brown out for the season, Webster and Amukamara must step up and take away the deep ball from Bryant.
Jason Witten vs. Outside Linebackers -- Big Blue had no answer for Witten the last time these two rivals played each other. The pass-catching tight end went crazy with 18 grabs and 167 yards, even though the Giants won, 29-24. The Jints may not be so lucky if Witten has another big game.
Antrel Rolle may slide down from his strong safety position to help defend Witten, who has 101 catches for 1,100 yards and six touchdowns in 20 career games against New York, but stopping him ultimately will be the responsibility of Big Blue's outside linebackers Keith Rivers, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger. Williams has the best range and speed of the group, but has struggled defending the run.
Taking away Romo's favorite target (and security blanket) may not totally disrupt Dallas' passing game, but allowing him to get loose will open up the field for the Cowboys' offense.
Adam Martini is a freelance sports writer with more than 15 years of experience covering amateur and professional sports for several print and online media outlets. He tracked the New York Giants for Yahoo! Contributor Network during the team's Super Bowl run in 2011-12. Adam can be found on Twitter @Pegcitysports.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- New York Giants
- Dallas Cowboys
- Jason Witten
- Dez Bryant
- DeMarcus Ware