Commentary

Stage is set for Giants-Cowboys

Rekindled Jets-Pats rivalry, Eagles-Saints matchup among other Week 2 highlights

Originally Published: September 17, 2009
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

NFC East games are for the big stage, so it's fitting that the Giants and Cowboys will open up Jerry Jones' new Cowboys Stadium.

Including standing-room-only purchasers, Jones wants more than 100,000 Cowboys fans to attend Sunday night's game against the Giants. Talk about home-field advantage. The crowd will be loud and massive. The setting should be amazing. And then there is the scoreboard.

No punter is affected by the low-hanging scoreboard more than the Giants' Jeff Feagles. He's a directional punter who needs high punts and long hang time to get his coverage units to make tackles. Feagles might have to change some of his punting angles on certain areas of the field.

The Cowboys got off to a great start by blowing out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-21 in Week 1, but the Bucs are expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFC. The Giants are a potential Super Bowl contender. They opened with a 23-17 victory over the Washington Redskins.

The key to this game will be the play of Dallas QB Tony Romo, who threw for 353 yards against the Bucs and hit long pass after long pass. Roy Williams played like a No. 1 receiver, catching three passes for 86 yards. Patrick Crayton caught four passes for 135 yards, and Miles Austin had a 42-yard touchdown catch.

The Cowboys are catching the Giants at a good time. Cornerback Aaron Ross might have to miss his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury. Safeties Michael Johnson (shoulder) and Kenny Phillips (knee) are banged up and so is backup cornerback Kevin Dockery (hamstring).

With the Eagles struggling with injuries on offense, the Giants-Cowboys winner will be viewed by many as the early leader of the NFC East race, which should be fascinating. Only two of the 12 NFC East showdowns this season are set for 1 p.m. ET starts . The rest are featured either at 4 p.m. or in prime time.

Welcome to the Big Show.

Here's the Week 2 First and 10:

1. New England Patriots at New York Jets: Bill Belichick versus new Jets coach Rex Ryan should be great theater. Ryan makes statements that make rivalries.

"For me, the thing is I'm not here to kiss the rings,'' Ryan said of meeting the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots. "We're not conceding anything from a team standpoint.''

The Jets lived up to Ryan's bold words in Week 1 by easily handling the Houston Texans on the road. Now, the Jets are at home, and the Patriots come in limping. Some people in New England are comparing the temporary loss of inside linebacker Jerod Mayo to last year's loss of Tom Brady. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but the loss of Mayo is significant. The Patriots simply don't have enough linebackers right now, which is forcing them to go to a 4-3 scheme. They've lost Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Mayo from last year's team, although Mayo should be back in 3-6 weeks. The Patriots will have to win by establishing their offense. Rex will try to put a hex on that with his aggressive defense.

Drew Brees
David Stluka/Getty ImagesDrew Brees brings a lot of momentum into the Saints' matchup with Philadelphia.

2. New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles: Sometimes, you just have to be lucky. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley is suspended for four games. Halfback Pierre Thomas opened the season with a knee injury that kept him on the sidelines in Week 1. Left tackle Jammal Brown needed sports hernia surgery and is out for six weeks. Saints coach Sean Payton is fortunate all these issues haven't derailed his team to start the season.

Some in New Orleans were hoping the Saints would be at 2-2 by the Oct. 11 bye week. Now, they have a chance for a great start. Eagles QB Donovan McNabb has a fractured rib and should miss this game, leaving inexperienced Kevin Kolb in charge. Next week, the Saints play a Bills team that released a left tackle and fired an offensive coordinator a week before the season and blew an 11-point lead in the final two minutes of the Monday night opener against the Patriots. Eagles defensive players don't have much experience going against Saints QB Drew Brees, who started the season by throwing six touchdown passes. What looked to be a great Brees-McNabb showdown could turn into a one-sided affair.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers at Chicago Bears: Fans and critics have been on Bears QB Jay Cutler all week after his four-interception performance against Green Bay. With the loss of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, more of the pressure will fall on Cutler. Chicago coach Lovie Smith must worry about a possible 0-3 start because a loss to the Steelers would put the Bears in a tough spot for a Week 3 game at Seattle.

What's becoming clear is that the Bears' defense is crumbling. Urlacher is gone for the season. Pisa Tinoisamoa is out with a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury. Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach are their replacements.

Cutler faces the tough challenge of going against defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's aggressive blitzing schemes. An even tougher challenge will be Bears left tackle Orlando Pace going against Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, whose low-leverage rushes are a nightmare for tall left tackles.

4. Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: 49ers coach Mike Singletary is winning over players and fans in San Francisco. His opening upset of the Cardinals on the road was huge. Now, if he can establish a home-field advantage against the Seahawks, the 49ers can start touting themselves as contenders for the NFC West title.

Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck and coach Jim Mora know they can't fall into the trap of playing a low-scoring game against the 49ers. Hasselbeck is at his best when he gets into a good tempo on offense and keeps moving the chains. The 49ers are built to be competitive in games dominated by defense. They don't have enough offensive firepower to win shootouts. Hasselbeck must come out and put points on the scoreboard early for the Seahawks to be effective. He had a slow start against the Rams in Week 1 before getting hot and rolling to an easy 28-0 victory. Expect a physical game.

5. Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers: So much for an easy Chargers season. Instead of blowing out the Raiders on Monday night, the Chargers had to sneak out of the Black Hole with a last-minute, come-from-behind victory and serious injury concerns. LaDainian Tomlinson sprained his left ankle and will miss this week's game. The offensive line may be down two starters (center Nick Hardwick and guard Louis Vasquez). Linebacker Shawne Merriman was a nonfactor in Week 1. The Chargers' defense was pushed around by the Raiders.

The Ravens enter the game with the confidence that QB Joe Flacco is hot. He threw for 307 yards in the season opener and gets the ball out quickly when he's pressured.

[+] EnlargeJake Delhomme
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesAfter a disastrous Week 1 performance, Jake Delhomme is under siege in Carolina.

6. Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: No player in the league needs a win more than Carolina's Jake Delhomme. In his past two games, the 34-year-old quarterback has nine interceptions and has two lost fumbles, and now he's facing a road game against a team that many consider to be the favorite in the NFC South. It's pretty clear Delhomme lost confidence in his six-turnover playoff loss to Arizona last season.

Falcons coach Mike Smith will sense the confidence problems and probably try to blitz Delhomme early to get him out of any kind of rhythm.

This could be a bad matchup for the Panthers. The Falcons are one of the best running teams in the league and the Panthers have too many holes at defensive tackle to be able to stop the run consistently. Delhomme can take solace in the fact that he has won four of his past six starts against the Falcons and has five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three meetings against them.

7. Indianapolis Colts at Miami Dolphins: These teams haven't met since 2006 and plenty has changed since then. The Dolphins have a completely new organization run by Bill Parcells and coach Tony Sparano. The Colts no longer have coach Tony Dungy or wide receiver Marvin Harrison. Now QB Peyton Manning has to make another adjustment to his passing offense. Anthony Gonzalez, Harrison's replacement, will be out until midseason with a PCL knee injury, leaving Reggie Wayne and TE Dallas Clark as his main receiving threats. Inexperienced receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie must step up and fill the receiving void.

The Dolphins are still reeling from their 19-7 season-opening loss to the Falcons in which their offense was invisible.

8. Cincinnati Bengals at Green Bay Packers: Chad Ochocinco vows to do the Lambeau Leap if he scores a touchdown. Considering how poorly the Bengals played on offense in the season-opening loss to the Broncos, the wide receiver might not get that chance. The Bengals need to stick with a running game that worked well in the first half last week. In the second half, the Bengals went to more passing sets and it simply didn't light up the scoreboard.

The Packers have a hot quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and a solid 3-4 defense coached by coordinator Dom Capers. If the Bengals couldn't do anything with the Broncos' 3-4, they probably will have more trouble with what the Packers and Capers will plan.

9. Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos: This is a matchup of two former Belichick assistants who are trying to win over their players. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels got off to a good start with a fluky but fun victory over the Bengals. It wasn't a surprise that QB Kyle Orton and the offense got off to a slow start. Orton was playing with an injured right index finger and halfback Knowshon Moreno was playing with a sore knee.

Eric Mangini and the Browns got off to a bad start against the Vikings. The Browns' offense couldn't do anything. Although it's not embarrassing to give up 180 yards to Adrian Peterson, it has to worry Mangini that his run defense struggled so much in the opener.

10. Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: A stunning opening loss to the Jets at home suddenly has the Texans wondering if they can ever have a winning season. It hurts that they have to play the Titans on Sunday. The Titans have won seven of their last eight meetings against the Texans and are 11-3 overall against Houston. The hope for the Texans is that they have home games against the Jaguars and Raiders the following two weeks to turn around what might be an 0-2 start.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer