It’s finally game week at The Star in Frisco (for one that will actually count, anyway), and although the Cowboys are keyed in on a very familiar foe, head coach Mike McCarthy says that doesn’t give them any sort of a leg up for Sunday’s 2023 opener.
The Cowboys will travel to New York to face the Giants for the 122nd time in a regular-season setting. Dallas leads that all-time series 73-46-2, having swept their NFC East rivals in each of the past two years and claimed 11 of the last 12 meetings.
But none of that will mean much come Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. This week will be a normal practice week, says McCarthy, with one key difference.
“You normally have comparables when you start the week versus who you’re playing: this is what they’ve done,” he explained at Monday’s press conference. “Well, no one’s done anything; this is the first game. There really are no comparables. There’s reputation, based off what you did last year; doesn’t mean much. But the reality of it is, 35% of these plays in these first four weeks will be unscouted looks. So one out of three plays in a game are going to probably be something that’s a little different from what we’ve seen on film.”
The players running those plays for Big Blue will largely be different, too. Of the 22 Giants currently listed on the team’s website as offensive and defensive starters, only 14 saw the field in last year’s Week 3 Cowboys win. And for their most recent matchup, on Thanksgiving Day, that number was just 11.
Of the Cowboys’ projected 2023 starters, 15 of 22 played in Week 3 last year; 18 of 22 suited up on Thanksgiving.
Among the new faces wearing Giants blue will be first-year cornerbacks Deonte Banks and Tre Hawkins III, who will make their NFL debuts guarding the likes of Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup. Second-round draft pick John Michael Schmitz will start at center and face intense pressure right out of the gate from Dallas’s defensive line. Highly-touted rookie Jalin Hyatt figures to see some action at wide receiver as a target for Daniel Jones, and ex-Cowboy Cole Beasley is also now in the mix for the Giants. Tight end Darren Waller is also a significant addition to the New York offense.
So while a portion of the Cowboys coaching staff and quarterback Dak Prescott have already been prepping for the Giants, there’s a heavier-than-usual dose of the unknown that comes with any season opener.
“We’ve had extra time to spend on the Giants. They had the same coordinators come back, so we feel like we have a pretty good bead on what to expect, but 35% of these looks will be different, so we’re preparing for that,” McCarthy added. “Winning that first game, especially on the road, always seems a little tougher than the others.”
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And for the third straight season, Dallas will kick off their regular schedule against an opponent who made the playoffs the year prior. McCarthy knows that this first of two games against the Giants will likely have ramifications further down the line.
“It’s Week 1, and it’s a division game,” he pointed out. “These division games are so important. The success of your division record usually affects your playoff opportunities.”
But while there’s a lot on the New York side that will be different for this latest installment of the Cowboys-Giants rivalry, McCarthy says he has reason to believe that there’s a key change in his own locker room, too; one that could bode well for a Week 1 win.
“I think the competitive spirit of the team is higher than I’ve ever seen it in my four years here,” the coach said.
“You could see it from Day One in training camp, and they’ve been very, very consistent with it.”
Now it’s time to see if it carries over to the real games and is enough to help the Cowboys overcome a familiar opponent who brings a ton of X-factor into the 2023 season.