There is simply no way to cover Hakeem Nicks with the Dallas Cowboys defense.
The Cowboys ranked 25th in pass defense DVOA. Now they have to slow down Eli Manning and company in Dallas to open the season. Manning will be looking for a fully healthy Nicks. When healthy, Nicks has been a monster for the Giants. For the first time in a while, the New York Giants may look to him early and often.
Brandon Carr, who is actually a very good corner, will have to choose between Cruz and Nicks. Last year Carr slowed Cruz down, but two years ago when Carr covered Nicks, Cruz ripped apart the Dallas defense for 178 yards. If Dallas sticks Carr on Nicks the Giants receiver should be Dallas’ Michael Claiborned deep all day. Even if Carr stays on Nicks, the Cowboys have two safeties who may be backups on most teams, and good safety play is necessary to stop Hakeem Nicks.
The Cowboys’ saving grace would normally fall on the shoulders of a great pass rush. However, DeMarcus Ware and company have just switched schemes to play a 4-3 defense from a 3-4. Ware is not a perfect fit to be a defensive end; in fact, he fits much better as a traditional outside linebacker. Ware is more of a speed-based player used to playing on the outside, but as a true defensive end, he will be responsible for inside gaps, making his job much harder.
That focus on the inside gap will take away from what he is best at: attacking the quarterback. Even if Ware transitions well, this will be his first game in a new system, and it could mean he has a slow start. Nicks and the Giants will capitalize.
The Cowboys could overplay Nicks and leave Cruz open, giving him a big game, so if Nicks has a quiet one, expect Cruz to go off. Given how explosive Cruz can be, Dallas will have to be careful double-teaming Nicks, so expect Manning to find Nicks deep consistently.
Prediction: Nicks has over 125 yards receiver and a touchdown. Hopefully he’s on your fantasy team.
Other Previews and Predictions for Giants-Cowboys: