We all know who will have to have great games tomorrow night against Washington. As we open up the 2010 season, it's apparent after three years with nearly the same team taking the field who we need to have a big impact in order to win a tough game.
- DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will need to not only put pressure on McNabb, but contain him within in the pocket.
- Miles Austin will have to continue to provide the big-play ability that sparks the Cowboys offense.
- The offensive line will have to do something, anything to give Tony Romo just a small amount of time.
- Tony Romo will have to continue to protect the football and carry over his great 2009 season.
Yet what about the players on the fringe of the team that will have an impact on this team? For the Cowboys, despite their star power, this is a team that will need every player on this roster to have a positive impact at some point. This is the mark of a champion and this is what sets Super Bowl contenders apart from the rest; not only are the star players in top form but the rest of the team is has a big impact as well.
After the jump, I look at some of the not-so-obvious players that need to have a big impact against Washington for the Cowboys to pull off the win. Ok...some obvious ones as well.
This might be a bit more obvious than the others. The Cowboys are putting all of their eggs into the David Buehler basket after he showed in the final preseason game he had the leg strength, accuracy and the cold attitude needed to be a field goal kicker in the NFL. More importantly, it appears that his kickoffs have become even more power on his kickoffs. Buehler has said he wants to have even more touchbacks this season than he did in his rookie year and he appears to be ready to blow his league-leading 29 touchbacks number out of the water.
Yet I'm still not sold on Buehler the field goal kicker. He helped assuage my fears during the preseason with his attitude and accuracy but I still need to see him make his kicks when the games actually count, outside and in a hostile environment. I love his attitude and every player on the team seems to be embracing the second-year kicker as an ice cold kicker, I just need to see it happen.
I'm predicting a monster game for Jason Witten but it's Martellus Bennett who will be key to helping open up the offense for the Cowboys. Because of the matchup problems the Cowboys tight ends will create against the Redskins defense, Witten will be needed to make an impact in the passing game (like always) in order to hopefully open the receivers as the game progresses. With the Cowboys offensive line suspect and starting two backups, Bennett will be asked to provide more of a blocking presence in order to help negate the Redskins pass rush. If he can be effective in this role, then this frees Witten up in the passing game and in the red zone.
More importantly, the Cowboys need Bennett to finally realize his potential in the passing game. Bennett should be a big part of the gameplan for the Cowboys since the Redskins should have all sorts of problems covering him down the field. I know we all want Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to put up big numbers, but it's the tight ends in this game that will be the key to the passing attack.
The Cowboy kept six safeties because of the special teams acumen of this undrafted rookie; he'll need to prove tomorrow night that this team was justified in its decision. He won't (hopefully) be asked to take the field as a safety yet the Cowboys will need him to make an immediate impact on special teams. Sam Hurd will continue to be the leader of this unit but McCray is expected to become a major factor on special teams almost immediately. I really liked what I saw in the preseason -- there's a reason he was kept on the roster -- but like Buehler, I want to see him have the same impact when the games count and when he's playing against the top special teams unit for each team.
We've also seen special teams have a direct impact on the games between the Cowboys and Redskins lately. I'm expecting this to be a close game throughout the contest and any edge on special teams could be the difference in the game. McCray will have a direct impact on the ST effectiveness in this game, thus having a direct impact on this game.
I really like Gronkowski and his overall skill set. He may not be the big blocker that Deon Anderson is just yet, but he's much more of a dynamic fullback than Cricket. He's going to be used in that hybrid TE-HB-FB position that John Phillips had perfected (although certainly not as much in the passing game) and if he can provide a solid blocking presence, then that's one more option for the Cowboys to be able to unleash their tight ends. Against a 3-4 defense, we could see Gronkowski used a chip-blocker who then heads into the flat; his pass-catching ability should provide all sorts of issues for these OLB who aren't used to covering in the flat.
Terence Newman is healthier than he's been in a long time. Mike Jenkins is on the cusp of becoming one of the more dynamic cornerbacks in the NFL. The Cowboys don't need to be worried about their pass coverage on the outside.
Yet with the Redskins having two very capable and very dangerous tight ends in Chris Cooley and Fred Davis, it's Orlando Scandrick whom the Cowboys need to really have a big game. Scandrick had a bit of a down year last season but he's made it known this year that he's determined to prove he can be a shutdown third cornerback. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys match Scandrick up in this game, especially in the nickel, but he's going to have be the aggressive corner he was as a rookie for the Cowboys to contain the passing attack of the Redskins.