ARLINGTON, Texas — Eli Manning has never lost to the Dallas Cowboys in their fancy $1.2 billion stadium. Tony Romo is perfect in two season openers against the New York Giants.
Something figures to give Sunday night.
“I don’t think there’s anything to it,” Manning said of his 4-0 record in Arlington, which allegedly included the Giants quarterback scribbling his name, the score, the date and the words “First Win in the New Stadium” on a concrete column in the visitors’ locker room after a 33-31 victory in 2009. “We’ve had some tight games. Hopefully we can just find a way to hang in there and put ourselves in a situation to win the game at the end.”
The Giants are trying to bounce back from missing the playoffs a season after Manning won his second Super Bowl. The Cowboys are trying to bounce out of an 8-8 rut in coach Jason Garrett’s two full seasons and a three-year postseason drought.
Dallas’ dominance over New York in season openers predates Romo by quite a few years. The Cowboys are 6-0 all-time in openers against the Giants, including the last time they started the season at home in 2007 — Romo’s first full season as the starter.
“More than anything, we need to make sure that we create a home-field advantage,” Romo said. “Our fans have done a great job. We need them to be at their best on Sunday night. When they are, they’re very tough to deal with here in Dallas.”
Here are five things to know heading into the 102nd regular-season meeting between the Giants and Cowboys:
DEFENSIVE CHANGES: The Cowboys decided to switch to a simpler four-man front after failing to stop the Saints’ passing attack and the Redskins’ running game in season-ending losses that kept Dallas out of the playoffs. The change will highlight DeMarcus Ware’s pass-rushing skills and could lead to big years for Sean Lee and Bruce Carter if they stay healthy. “It’s still a matter of execution and blocking up DeMarcus Ware and running good routes off of their cornerbacks,” Manning said.
The Giants released linebacker Michael Boley and tackle Chris Canty and signed tackle Cullen Jenkins after finishing 31st in defense. End Jason Pierre-Paul needed back surgery and missed the preseason, and there are other questions with cornerback Corey Webster coming off a sub-par season. “Who won’t be anxious? I’m just coming off back surgery and I just want to be out there,” Pierre-Paul said.
JUGGLING LINES: Injuries have led to uncertainty for both offensive lines. Giants center David Baas has been battling a sprained knee, and tackle David Diehl is out with a thumb injury. First-round pick Justin Pugh is starting at right tackle. “You’d like to think that you’re going to be able to put that same group together with a year’s experience and what they’ve learned and the way they communicate with each other, but it doesn’t always happen that way,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
The Cowboys have a first-round pick starting at center in Travis Frederick and have had injury problems at guard all of training camp. This week, Dallas finally signed 11-year veteran Brian Waters, who is unlikely to play in the opener. Ron Leary is another potential first-time starter at guard. “I have a tremendous amount of faith in them,” Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray said. “One of the hardest working groups on our team.”
ON THE RUN: Murray is trying to make it through a full season without getting hurt and wants to revive a running game that had the worst per-game average in franchise history last year. The new starter for the Giants is 2012 first-round pick David Wilson. The importance of Wilson grew with Andre Brown going down with a broken leg in the preseason for the second straight year. The Giants cut Ahmad Bradshaw after a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in the past three years.
THE DEZ FACTOR: Dez Bryant nearly beat the Giants with a miracle catch late in last year’s 29-24 Giants victory, and he followed that with a wildly productive second half. Romo says the loss to the Giants was something of a tipping point for Bryant, who also ran an imprecise route that led to an interception. Bryant has looked strong throughout training camp and seems ready to surpass last season’s career bests of 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns. “There are no expectations for Dez,” Romo said. “He can be as good as he wants to be.”
CRUZ CONTROL: Victor Cruz has been out with a heel injury but should be ready to go after a third straight 1,000-yard season. He had 1,536 yards in a breakout 2011, including a season-high 178 yards and a touchdown in a 31-14 win over the Cowboys in the finale with a playoff berth on the line. He dropped off to 1,092 yards last year but still led the team and set a career high with 10 touchdowns. “My heel has been feeling right and now I’m just worried about getting the timing down with Eli, getting my tempo back,” Cruz said.