Cowboys' investment in cornerbacks will be tested early

IRVING -- When Morris Claiborne exits the tunnel tonight at MetLife Stadium, with the night lights shining and a fanatical crowd celebrating their world championship team, the scene won't be all that different from anything he has seen before.

He played in a national championship game at LSU.

Big-time stage.

He played in the SEC.

Big-time league.

But what will be new is the job he, along with fellow cornerback Brandon Carr, will be asked to do -- carry the load in helping the Dallas Cowboys' defense stop Eli Manning.

That is the reason he is here.

To see to it that the Giants quarterback does not throw for 746 yards in two games against the Cowboys this season, as he did last year. To see to it that the Cowboys don't settle for one interception in 80 pass attempts against them by Manning, as they did last year. To see to it that the secondary produces coverage sacks, as it did too little last year.

All that was part of the rookie's job in college, also.

But now he is being asked to do it in the NFL, against the reigning Super Bowl champions, at their place, in a nationally televised night game in which they get their rings and fly their banner.

Big-time assignment.

"I know it's going to be way bigger. Way bigger than the national championship game," Claiborne said. "It's the NFL."

But for a rookie whose first NFL game will be a road start against the Super Bowl champions in prime time, Claiborne has about the best background possible.

"He's played the best level of competition for the last three years," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We got to the hotel every week, and there's this SEC game of the week on. They're unbelievable players, unbelievable environments. ... He's matured beyond his years because he's played against that tough competition, really the elite players in college football."

"I know they're coming," Claiborne said. "I've been preparing myself for this moment."

So has Carr, his partner on the left side. The Cowboys invested a $50.1 million free-agent contract in him even before they traded up from No. 15 to No. 6 to draft Claiborne, the top defensive player in the draft.

"It's our first chance to show the world who we are," Carr said of the Cowboys' defense, which did not give up a touchdown in preseason with the starters. "To show the world all the hard work we put in and what we have to show for it."

What Carr has to show for it so far is two preseason interceptions. He picked off Philip Rivers in San Diego twice in one game. Claiborne did not get as many chances, playing in only two preseason games after recovering from off-season wrist surgery and a knee that slowed him down in training camp.

But the Giants have seen enough.

"I saw Carr make a couple of interceptions," said Manning, who passed the Giants to two touchdowns in the last 5 minutes to win at Cowboys Stadium last year. "I think they feel good about playing man-to-man and that kind of thing. They'll probably play a little more man, be more aggressive, but I thought they were pretty vanilla in preseason."

The Cowboys must expect to be in a situation where Manning will have the ball with a chance to tie the game, get a lead or extend a lead. But that's why Claiborne and Carr are here.

For better pass defense. To stop Manning.

Big-time assignments.

"We feel like a lot of times at the end of games last year, when teams were throwing it every down, we didn't defend the pass as well as we needed to," Garrett said. "When we were ahead in some games, we didn't run the ball as well as we needed to. We tried to address those needs with personnel. We tried to get better in those areas. But hopefully we can do better when we're in those situations again."

That's why Claiborne and Carr are here.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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