Under-the-radar storyline of the week in the NFC East, and maybe even the entire league? How 'bout Eli Manning versus the Dallas Cowboys' brand-new Tampa 2 defense?
Earlier this week, Jonathan Clegg of the Wall Street Journal called the Tampa 2 Manning's "kryptonite." The cover-based scheme has confounded Manning over and over again during his first nine years in the league.
In fact, in 12 career games against a Tampa 2 defense, Manning's passer rating has eclipsed 90.0 on just two occasions, he has surpassed 200 passing yards in a game only three times, and four of the eight worst performances of his career by quarterback rating came against the scheme Kiffin and Dungy developed in Tampa.
Here, courtesy of Clegg and Pro Football Reference, is a look at how Manning has fared historically against Tampa 2 defenses:
Manning hasn't faced a Tampa 2 defense since 2010, and a lot of those struggles took place before he became the confident franchise quarterback he is today. But that's what makes this matchup so intriguing. Is that 12-game sample size an anomaly, especially since most of those poor performances came in 2006 and 2007, before Manning had won his first Super Bowl? We'll get an initial indication Sunday night.
Now, let's put together some final thoughts on Sunday's opener before making a prediction. Don't worry, Giants fans, we're wrong quite often.
What New York must do to win, offensive edition
Give Eli time. That offense is shorthanded, and while Anthony Spencer is a question mark and Jay Ratliff is already out for Dallas, the 'Boys still pose one hell of a pass-rushing threat with DeMarcus Ware looking fresh at defensive end.
What New York must do to win, defensive edition
Prevent Dez Bryant and Jason Witten from going off. Bryant enters 2013 red hot and riding a wave of momentum. Witten had a ridiculous 18 catches in their last meeting. If these guys are going to beat you, make Miles Austin and/or DeMarco Murray do it.
What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition
Win the turnover battle. That's the key for this team in 2013. They're more talented than the Giants on both sides of the ball, so they simply have to avoid big mistakes while waiting for things to play out the way they should play out.
What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition
Get consistent pressure on Manning so that he can't take advantage of a beatable secondary by finding stud receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. This won't be easy if Spencer and Ratliff are both out, and it's a big reason why the Cowboys could struggle to pull away.
Five most important non-quarterbacks, Giants edition
Justin Tuck: Even if Jason Pierre-Paul plays, he'll need more support up front. And if he doesn't, Tuck will have to step it up in a big way. Beyond him, they're very thin in that pass rush.
Corey Webster: Have fun with Dez Bryant.
David Wilson: Time to put on those big boy pants. Can he pick up the blitz?
Will Beatty: The line's in disarray, so Beatty has to begin to show he's worth the money against Ware.
Whoever is assigned to Witten most often: Need we elaborate?
Five most important non-quarterbacks, Cowboys edition
Ware: And add some emphasis if Spencer isn't active.
Morris Claiborne: First action back after missing the preseason with a knee injury, and now he'll have to try to slow Nicks, Cruz and Rueben Randle.
Brandon Carr: He'll be dealing with Nicks for the majority of the night.
Bryant and Witten: So long as they stay healthy, I'd imagine they'll be on this list every week.
Injury analysis, Giants edition
Cruz and Pierre-Paul are practicing, so it looks as though both will be back. That's huge on both sides of the ball. However, veteran offensive linemen David Baas and David Diehl remain out, while fullback Henry Hynoski is also a big question mark. That's why we're worried about Manning's pass protection.
Injury analysis, Cowboys edition
Spencer was the Cowboys' best defensive player last season. If he can't play due to a knee injury—and it's not looking good—George Selvie will step in. And while Selvie showed flashes this summer, that's a steep decline. Consider, too, that Nick Hayden, who was out of football last season, will start next to Jason Hatcher in place of the injured Ratliff. Not an ideal first look for Kiffin's new defensive line.
On the bright side, it looks as though the offense will be pretty much fully healthy with guard Ronald Leary practicing fully.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Cowboys 38, Giants 31
These things are always high scoring and exciting as hell, and I'm sure that'll again be the case here. But the 'Boys are picking up steam and the Giants had a tough offseason. In their home opener, they should finally break that Arlington hex against the G-Men.
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