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Cowboys' Depth Already Being Tested

In the first game of the season, Dallas is going to find out right away whether they have any depth in some areas.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys roll into the first game of the season against the New York Giants looking to find out if they have answered some of the many questions surrounding the team. One of the biggest, that will be a major factor all the way, is how much depth the team has. And in a few areas, that is going to be tested from the opening kickoff.

There are already a few key players who are not going to be able to go. How well the next men up handle the job will have a lot to do with whether the team can finally get a win over the Giants at AT&T Stadium, who have treated the home team rather rudely there since the facility opened.

The biggest test is undoubtedly going to be for the defensive line, where Jay Ratliff is going to miss a good part of the season, and Anthony Spencer is not likely to be active as he recovers from his knee problems. With Eli Manning and company facing them, the Cowboys will be severely tested against both the run and the pass. They are about to find out if Ben Bass, George Selvie, Nick Hayden and the other rushmen can get the job done for Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli. With half the starting defensive line out, there is a chance for things to be rough for Dallas.

However, the Giants are also going to be throwing some backups against the Cowboys, with center David Baas and tackle David Diehl both expected to be out. This is looking like a case of weakness against weakness, and both teams are going to find out how well the backups can handle things. In one way, Dallas has an advantage in that the new defensive scheme asks the linemen to rush the passer first. This may allow the players filling in along the D line to keep it simple and be effective. Also, the team can make some adjustments, such as lining DeMarcus Ware up against Justin Pugh to get more pressure on Manning. The biggest problem for the Cowboys may be stopping the run. They will have to rely on the linebackers, particularly the standout duo of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, to make sure they do not get gouged too much by David Wilson and his backups.

Another player who will be missed by the Cowboys is Lance Dunbar. Although he is not the starter, he is a potent runner as a change of pace back, and was widely seen as the number two man behind DeMarco Murray in the pre-season. Phillip Tanner is almost certainly going to get a chance to prove he has stepped his game up in relief of Murray, and rookie Joseph Randle also may get significant snaps. The depth at running back is a big thing for Dallas with Murray's injury history so far in his short career, and we are likely to find out a lot about it in a hurry.

The biggest story for the Cowboys the past couple of days was the acquisition of guard Brian Waters, but it is highly doubtful that he will even dress for the game with only a handful of practices under his belt after sitting out the 2012 season. While he is likely to be a major cog in the offensive machine once he gets back in football shape, for now the Cowboys will have to depend on Mackenzy Bernadeau at RG. Waters will probably relegate Bernadeau to a backup role in a week or two, but for now Bernadeau has the job to handle against a Giants pass rush that is always fierce, whether or not Jason Pierre-Paul is able to go in the first game. How he fares will show just how thin the offensive line is despite the Waters signing.

And special teams is impacted as well, with Danny McCray, the special teams ace, likely to miss the game, and last year's leading ST tackler Eric Frampton gone to make room for Waters on the roster. Dallas had a horrific performance out of the special teams in the pre-season, and the moves to add Kyle Bosworth, Edgar Jones and Caesar Rayford were all made with a mind to bolster Rich Bisaccia's unit. It is not going to take long to find out if that plan is successful.

2012 showed that the Cowboys did not have anywhere close to adequate depth, with too many players like Ernie Sims and Frampton coming off the street and straight onto the field as injuries mounted. The couch Cowboys, as KD Drummond refers to them, did well under the circumstances, but the team needs to be able to move up backups who are already familiar with the schemes and not depend on players who are sitting at home waiting for a call. The very first game is going to show if they can do that or not in some important spots. How it goes will have a lot to do with setting the tone for the entire campaign.


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