For the Dallas Cowboys to make a postseason run, it would help to get off to a great start. Seeing that their bye is in Week 4, a 3-0 record to start out the season would be ideal.
At first glance, Dallas' pre-bye week opponents--the Redskins, Bears, and Texans--don't look too menacing. But two of these three games are on the road. All three of these opponents are led by veteran quarterbacks who can and will sling the ball against the Cowboys.
Let's take a look at which of these three teams will provide the biggest obstacle to the Cowboys heading into their bye week with a perfect record. And then, of course, vote on it!
Week 1 @ Washington
2009 Record: 4-12
Sunday, September 12 at 7:20PM (NBC)
These are hardly the same Redskins that went 4-12 during 2009. McNabb will be facing the Cowboys for the third straight time in games that count. This could be a statement game for him and Head Coach Mike Shanahan. Defeating a division rival in the season opener could go a long way towards digging out of the NFC East's basement.
The offense must prove that its veteran free agent signings (RBs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker; WRs Mike Furrey and Joey Galloway) can get on the same page with the offense that Shanahan is installing. They also have to find chemistry with incumbent starters Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley.
Brown could be the solution at right tackle for the Redskins, who are rebuilding the line under new coach Mike Shanahan after last year's 4-12 season.
Washington took Trent Williams of Oklahoma with the No. 4 overall pick in April's draft to replace retired six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels. Artis Hicks has worked with the first-string unit at right tackle during the offseason, but he could move to right guard to make room for Brown.
The defense, on the other hand, was stout last season, ranking in the top-10 in both overall yards allowed and passing yards. And despite all the talk, DT Albert Haynesworth says he will be in training camp with the team.
When last they met...
Week 2 Home vs. Chicago
2009 Record: 7-9
Sunday, September 19 at 12PM (FOX)
The Bears made two of the early big splashes in free agency when they signed DE Julius Peppers and RB Chester Taylor early in March. Peppers, one of the better players in the league at his position, was brought in to help a Bears defense that ranked in the middle of the league in terms of yards allowed (337.8 ypg). The veteran back, Taylor, should provide a nice complement to third-year pro Matt Forte, who had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2009.
Chicago had a very thin draft because of the trade for QB Jay Cutler. Cutler, as many of us saw, struggled in connecting with his receivers last season and led the league in INTs.
Before the Cowboys' defensive backs start licking their chops, they may have to pick Jon Kitna's brain in regards to the Bears' new Mike Martz-led offensive gameplan. Martz, a coordinator known for his passing attack, is now in charge of revamping not only the offense, but Cutler's decision-making process as well.
Martz's offense emphasizes deeper quarterback drops and passes to spots on the field rather than throwing directly at receivers.
"It is a little bit different," Cutler said. "It's a high-paced, high-octane offense. Guys are flying around. Quarterbacks have to make quick, precise decisions, and you have to be really accurate with the ball. It puts a lot on the quarterback, puts a lot on the receivers."
Cutler led the NFL with 26 interceptions in 2009, his first season with the Bears while playing in a different offense. However, he expects the entire offense to understand the new attack by the July 29 reporting date for training camp.
Week 3 @ Houston
2009 Record: 9-7
Sunday, September 26 at 12PM (FOX)
Will there be enough blue & silver at Reliant Stadium to make this seem like a home game to the Cowboys? It won't matter if the defense doesn't keep Texans QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson in check. Along with TE Owen Daniels, WR Kevin Walter, and RBs Steve Slaton and second-round pick Ben Tate, the Dallas defenders should prepare for a busy day. Behind Schaub, the Texans led the league with nearly 291 passing yards per game, but ranked 30th in rushing (92.2).
The defense was okay (13th in the league in total yards allowed), but they will be missing Defensive Rookie-Of-the-Year, Brian Cushing, because of a suspension. Mario Williams will be looking to terrorize the Cowboys offensive tackles, and those special teams coverage units need to contain dangerous return man Jacoby Jones.
Dallas may want to try to control the clock with the running game; although, this one has all the makings of an old-fashioned Texas shootout!
After the bye, the rest of the Cowboys schedule looks rather daunting. They will face Tennessee, then head back up to Minnesota, and then come home to face the Giants over the three games after their bye. That's brutal.
It's imperative Dallas gets off to a fast start in 2010. Washington, Chicago, and Houston are all winnable games. Can't assume they'll run through all three though. That's, of course, why they play the game.