DALLAS — Week 1 has arrived, and the regular season begins for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night against the New York Giants.
After months of preparation and tweaking a roster that was already in good shape in hopes of molding it into a squad prepared to triumph in the NFC, the Cowboys finally get a chance to get the bad taste from last year’s bitter postseason exit out of their mouths.
The Giants are the first team on the schedule, a familiar foe that the Cowboys have dominated over the last 10 years, winning 16 of the 20 meetings. Things are different this time around after both teams made and won a playoff game a season ago. The Cowboys and Giants each arrive to a new campaign with better heading. This won’t be an easy win for the Cowboys, who are nevertheless favored on the road.
Here are the keys for the Cowboys to beat their NFC East rivals and open the season at 1-0 for the first time in the Mike McCarthy era:
Attack the rookie corners
The Giants have a solid defensive line, but their back seven isn’t nearly as polished. With the aggressive scheme that New York defensive coordinator Wink Martindale runs, the goal is to not allow quarterback Dak Prescott the time to pick apart a secondary that has two rookies slotted in among the top three cornerbacks.
First-round pick Deonte Banks and sixth-round selection Tre Hawkins III will be starting on the outside, with veteran corner Adoree’ Jackson getting most of his work in the slot. Despite Banks’ play in the preseason that included blanking his opponents on the stat sheet, those are some juicy matchups for Dallas’ trio of veteran wide receivers.
Top target CeeDee Lamb, newcomer speed merchant Brandin Cooks and a fully recovered Michael Gallup should find success against a young CB tandem, and if the Cowboys go with four receiver sets that include Jalen Tolbert, the Giants don’t have the depth to stop the passing game as long as Prescott has time to throw.
It’s a deep and talented WR group who could make life difficult for a couple of rookies playing in their first regular season game. That’s a big advantage for the Cowboys.
Slow down Giant threats
The Giants don’t have an explosive offense, but they do have two of the best players at their respective positions. Running back Saquon Barkley and tight end Darren Waller represent the biggest threats on the New York offense.
Barkley is coming off a career-high year with 1,312 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last year, two of which came against the Cowboys. After three years of injuries, Barkley stayed healthy and returned to top form. The Dallas defense will have to slow down one of the NFL’s best runners if they want to beat the Giants.
Waller, meanwhile, arrived via trade this offseason, and despite a few down years because of injury, he’s looked the part of a top TE this summer. All reports are that quarterback Daniel Jones has found his go-to receiving option in Waller.
Waller hit the injury report on Friday and is listed as questionable. If he plays, he could be a problem. The Cowboys, however, have been successful against TEs since defensive coordinator Dan Quin arrived and were especially efficient last season with just one touchdown allowed to tight ends.
Quinn will rotate his options to slow down Waller, but expect safety Jayron Kearse to get most of the work. If the Cowboys can stop a terrorizing tandem of Jones-to-Waller that looked impressive in training camp, they’ll leave the Giants without many other options to beat them.
Protect Dak Prescott
The offensive line has been a source of contention for the Cowboys all offseason and now their lack of depth could already be rearing its ugly head. Injuries suffered in preparation for the regular season have put the left side of the offensive line in jeopardy of missing the opener.
Left tackle Tyron Smith and left guard Tyler Smith are questionable heading into the game, with ankle and hamstring injuries respectively. Tyler Smith hasn’t practiced all week, while Tyron Smith rolled his ankle a few days ago putting his participation in doubt.
Missing two offensive linemen is a big problem for an offense that will be facing one of the most aggressive defensive coordinators in the game. Martindale would be sending extra pass rushers at Prescott even with a healthy line, now he could ratchet up the attack on Prescott even more with an offensive line that could be thin on its ability to stop the onslaught.
The injuries could also be something that alters the game plan, using extra blockers to protect Prescott against a defensive line that boasts a star defensive tackle in Dexter Lawrence, a veteran defensive end in Leonard Williams – who has an 11.5 sack season to his resume – and emerging edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. That’s a scary thought for a team that lost Prescott for five games at the beginning of last year.
Protecting Prescott needs to be the foremost thought for the Cowboys, even if they can’t line up a healthy offensive line.
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