Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 9/5/12

Football season is officially (almost) underway!

With the kickoff of the first game comes the kickoff of the first story-lines. Every team has them, and this year is no exception.

The first story-line is the game itself - the first of 17 Thursday night games this season, all on NFL Network except this one. 

Only one problem - it isn’t being played on Thursday, because the President is giving a speech!

Every group is going to cover the game as Eli Manning versus Tony Romo in a shootout, and a rematch of last year’s regular season finale, etc.

But the real story in this game is the defenses and running games.

These two teams are built to pass early and often, but their run games aren’t to be ignored. Since both teams have also built their defenses to slow down the passing game by putting the quarterback on the ground, the run game will shine. Look for a low-scoring slugfest full of punts and big gains by running backs.

For the Giants, the game plan is to target Morris Claiborne early and often. They will see that he is a rookie, and should be easy to pick on in his first game.

It may not be as easy as they think. Aside from the low “leaked” Wonderlic score (how many would bet against Jerry releasing that to try and get Claiborne at 16?), all signs point to Claiborne being incredibly smart. He has an issue with verbal learning, but according to his old teammates at LSU, he is an incredibly quick visual learner. 

With a full offseason to get up to speed and a talent level to match his learning ability, he could very well play like a veteran. Expect at least one interception and multiple pass deflections.

The Cowboys don’t have Jay Ratliff, so the Giants' run game could get off to a strong start by smashing the ball up the middle, depending on the play of Sean Lissemore. The Giants are without Brandon Jacobs, who went looking for better money with the 49ers after earning two rings with the Giants. 

Their best bet is Andre Brown, who comes in at 6-0 and 227 pounds, now in his third year in the league. It remains to be seen how effective he is, since he has spent these three years bouncing around on waivers and on practice squads.

The Cowboys should know that it will be difficult to throw. Their best bet (and the game plan in the finale last year) is to run the ball early and often to put those monster pass rushers on their heels. 

That will open up room for Romo to breathe with play-action passes. They need the defense to hold up for at least the first quarter to put that plan into action, something that didn’t happen last time these teams played.

Without Jason Witten, or at least with Witten limited, someone else is going to have to step up. 

John Phillips is a good tight end, but he doesn’t have the ability to get open as often. On passing downs and in two tight end formations, expect athletic young rookie James Hanna to be Romo’s target.

In the end, the Cowboys have a more balanced running game. DeMarco Murray is not afraid to run through would-be tacklers, and has the speed and elusiveness to break into the secondary where running over defenders is easier. Combine that with the explosive Felix Jones, back in his best role as third down/change-of-pace back, and the Cowboys have the tools to win a defensive game.

Look for the Cowboys to win 27-24, with late fireworks as the passing games finally figure out the opposing defenses under the leadership of their quarterbacks.


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