The weeks of yearning for football are over. The 2023 NFL season is BACK, and the first full Sunday slate of action will conclude with a matchup of teams that each won a playoff game last season with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. There aren't many people more pumped up for Sunday night's clash at MetLife Stadium than Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy.
"I feel like I'm in a marketing meeting, but I'm fired up," McCarthy said Monday when asked how he feels facing the NFC East rival New York Giants to begin the season. "It's Week 1. It's a division game. These division games are so important. The success of your division record clearly, usually affects your playoff opportunity. That's the way we're looking at it. We have had extra time to spend on the Giants. They had the same coordinators come back, so we feel like we have a pretty good beat on what to expect. However, 35% of these looks will be different, so we're preparing for that. Winning that first game, especially on the road, always feels a little tougher than the others. That's where my mind is at."
Before we break down the matchup between these two upgraded NFC contenders, here is a look at how you can watch the game.
How to watch
- Date: Sunday, Sept. 10 | Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
- Location: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, New Jersey)
- TV: NBC | Stream: fuboTV (click here)
- Follow: CBS Sports App
- Odds: Cowboys -3.5; O/U 45.5
When the Cowboys have the ball
The Cowboys offense carries over plenty of characteristics from its iterations of yesteryears. Under former offensive Kellen Moore, Dallas averaged 27.7 points per game across his four seasons running the offense from 2019-2022, the second-most in the NFL since 2019 behind only the Chiefs' 28.8 points per game. However, head coach Mike McCarthy opted to return to his roots and call plays once again.
He called offensive plays in six seasons as an offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints (2000-2004) and San Francisco 49ers (2005) as well as throughout the bulk of his 13 seasons as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 2006-2018. McCarthy is invigorating the existing playbook with elements of his foundational West Coast offense, which has led Cowboys players and coaches alike to dub the new offense the " ." One of the staples of the scheme will likely be more up-tempo, no-huddle action, a staple of McCarthy's offenses alongside future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers when the two were together on the Green Bay Packers. Dallas averaged 65.5 offensive plays per game in 2022, a number that ranked as the ninth-most in the NFL.
Another, which sounds rudimentary, is synching up the pass-protection and route concepts with quarterback Dak Prescott's footwork in order to streamline the offense. The hope: more touchdowns and fewer than the 15 interceptions Prescott tossed in 2022, tied for the most in the NFL despite him missing five games with a thumb injury.
Dallas is also hoping another reason for Prescott have a smoother season is the offseason trade acquisition of the steady Brandin Cooks, a wide receiver whose six career seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards are tied for the third-most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2014, trailing only Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans (nine seasons) and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (seven). He stands to be a much-needed release valve at their No. 2 receiver spot given Dallas' top wideout, 2022 Second-Team All-Pro CeeDee Lamb -- a player whose growth he coached with the Green Bay Packers --, accounted for 30% of the Cowboys' team catches last season, the second-highest figure in the NFL. The diversification of the Cowboys passing game could play dividends. Cooks flashed a strong rapport with Prescott in training camp.
The final, significant change for the Cowboys offense is they have a Tony Pollard.:
Pollard can't be blamed for champing at the bit to be a backfield's go-to ball-carrier. He split time in college in Memphis with former Rams running back Darrell Henderson and Packers practice squad running back Patrick Taylor. He spent his first four seasons in the NFL (2019-2022) as Ezekiel Elliott's backup after being selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. After Pollard's 5.9 yards per touch led the NFL among players with at least 200 touches in 2022 while Elliott's 3.9 yards per touch was dead last in the league among players with at least 200 touches last season, it was clear 2023 needed to be Tony Time in Dallas. Now that Elliott has been released and signed with the New England Patriots.
Quarterback Dak Prescott has been excellent against the New York Giants of late, winning his last 10 starts against the G-Men. Should he and the Cowboys win on Sunday, he will tie former Cowboys legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Roger Staubach for the most consecutive wins (11) by a quarterback against the Giants. Prescott hasn't been a bystander either in these victories. His efforts have been one of the driving forces behind the streak as evidenced by his 22-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 109.7 passer rating.
Dak Prescott Last 10 Games Versus Giants
When the Giants have the ball
Head coach Brian Daboll's arrival in East Rutherford, in 2022 transformed quarterback Daniel Jones from a passer the team was comfortable declining a fifth-year option for to a quarterback the front office deemed a face-of-the-franchise, as evidenced by his four-year, $160 million contract signed this offseason.
Daboll won the 2022 Coach of the Year Award because he reshaped Jones from one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks in the league (his 1.29 turnovers per game ranked as the third most among qualified passer from 2019-2021) to the best at limiting his mistakes in 2022 (0.50 turnovers per game, the fewest in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks last season). Jones reached this newfound efficiency with Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka designing an offense that led to him averaging 6.42 air yards per pass attempt, the second fewest in the league among qualified quarterbacks, ahead of only washed-up Matt Ryan's 5.99 figure with the Indianapolis Colts.
That training wheels offense also resulted in Jones tossing a meager 15 touchdown passes and a career-low five interceptions, but he did total career-highs in completion percentage (67.2%) and passing yards (3,205). When things broke down in the pocket last year, something that happened frequently as the Giants offensive line surrendered the highest quarterback pressure rate in the entire NFL in 2022 (43.4%), Jones adeptly scrambled, rushing for 708 yards and seven rushing touchdowns on a career-high 120 carries.
"Any time a guy can extend the play, you have to cover longer,:" new Dallas Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year said Wednesday. "We just trust the guys up front to get there, and we just try to play tight coverage on the back end. Everything goes hand-in-hand and it's not one person that is going to stop Daniel Jones."
However, Jones may have a hard time getting away from Cowboys All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons, whose 90 quarterback pressures co-led the NFL alongside 2022 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, and a Dallas front that generated the highest team quarterback pressure rate in the NFL in 2022, 43.3%. Although, McCarthy doesn't just assume the matchup between New York's offensive line and Dallas' defensive line will trend the same way in 2023. The Giants did select arguably the 2023 NFL Draft's top center in Minnesota's John Michael Schmitz in the second round this past April, upgrading the middle of their front five.
This time around, Jones has a second Pro Bowl playmaker to utilize in addition to Saquon Barkley, whose career-high 1,312 rushing yards ranked as the fourth-most in the league in 2022, thanks to trade acquisition of tight end Darren Waller. The G-Men acquired Waller in exchange for a third-round pick, and his presence could be exactly what Jones need to level up. He is one of the more prolific tight ends across the last four seasons. He trails only the last two First-Team All-Pro tight ends -- Kansas City's Travis Kelce and Baltimore's Mark Andrews -- in catches and receiving yards since 2019.
Darren Waller TE ranks since 2019
The Daniel Jones-Darren Waller pairing could create fireworks since Jones had the eighth-highest passer rating in the entire NFL when throwing to tight ends, but he targeted them at the 31st-highest rate in the league last season. Waller could also help unlock Jones' deep ball since he had seven catches of 20 or more yards downfield, the most among all tight ends in 2022 despite missing eight games. The Giants were also one of the top 10 red zone offenses in the NFL a year ago, converting 63.3% of their red zone drives into touchdowns -- the seventh-highest rate in the NFL -- despite not having a go-to big body like Waller's 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame to throw it up to. Safe to say Daboll should have fun with Waller's route concepts.
On Sunday, Jones and Waller won't have quite enough fun to end their struggles against the Silver and Blue.
Prediction: Cowboys 31, Giants 20