Can you believe that Cowboys football is almost here? The team will start the 2015 season off by hosting the New York Giants on Sunday night in a prime time affair. Last year when these teams met for a Sunday night game, Odell Beckham, Jr. vaulted himself into celebrity status by making the best catch Cris Collinsworth has ever seen. Unfortunately for OBJ, it only counted for six points and the memorable catch wasn't enough to help the Giants win the game as the Cowboys won, 31-28.
While many will be looking to see if Beckham, Jr. can follow up his notorious play against Brandon Carr, here are five things that I will be looking for:
1. Pressuring Eli
The Giants starting left tackle, Will Beatty will miss significant time with a torn pectoral muscle. This will force them to rely more on their first-round draft pick Ereck Flowers to help fend off the Cowboys pass rush. Greg Hardy will not be in the mix as he serves game one of his four-game suspension, but the Cowboys will have a slew of pass rushers at their disposal. Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jeremy Mincey, and Randy Gregory will all get shots going after Eli Manning. The Cowboys new and improved pass rush is one of the key factors for success in 2015 and it's finally time to see just what they can do. The Giants offensive line is going have their hands full trying to keep Eli off his back. And while Manning's receivers are becoming more accustomed to hauling in some off-target passes, it is important that he limits the amount of times he just heaves it up for grabs.
Which leads to the next thing...
2. Quick passes from Eli
If you looked at the success the Minnesota Vikings' offense had against the Cowboys defense, you would find a lot of quick passes. Whether it be a quick out, slant route, or dump off passes to the running back, the key to moving the ball for the Giants will be their ability to make positive plays in this department. The Giants are going to have problems dealing with the pressure of the Cowboys improved pass rush and Eli Manning is dreadful under pressure so it is imperative for him to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Defensively for Dallas, tackling is going to be critical in these instances. A four yard completion needs to stay a four yard completion and not turn into a bigger play because of poor tackling. The ability to win these battles on first and second down is going to play a large role in whether or not the Giants can effectively move the ball. If New York is constantly getting themselves in third-and-long situations, then they are in trouble because the Cowboys will be coming after the quarterback and they'll be getting to him a little quicker than they have in season's past.
3. Cowboys' running backs popping to the outside
All eyes are going to be on the Cowboys running game. Who is the starter? Who is getting the most reps? How effective are they going to be? Finally, some answers will be given. As good as Dallas is at grinding out the dirty yards between the tackles, the real excitement will be when they find the sweet spot and are able to turn outside. The Giants are good in the middle, led by young defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. If the Cowboys running backs can bounce to the outside, they could find some room to accelerate and break off a nice run.
It may start out frustrating when some of the running plays only produce small gains, but patience is key. Dallas is going to establish its running game and slowly impose their will inside the trenches. And with every unproductive run, people may be calling for the other RB to be getting the touches, but everyone should remain calm. When Darren McFadden or Joseph Randle get into the second level, one swift cut and they can break off a huge run.
4. A rusty start for the offense
The Cowboys were extremely cautious in the preseason as many of their offensive players were nicked up. Dez Bryant didn't play. Tony Romo only played a little. And Travis Frederick was the only starting offensive linemen that saw a decent amount of action. With all these players being held out, the Cowboys missed out on opportunities to get the offense on the field working together. One of the side effects of limited reps could be that they are a little slow out of the gate. Similar to the dress rehearsal game against the Vikings, the team could see some early drives stall with some mental mistakes and players not being on the same page.
But all that will be easily forgettable once the offense gets clicking. The Beckham, Jr. one-handed grab is what fans remember the most, but the biggest play of the game came when Tony Romo had seven seconds in the pocket and hit Dez Bryant for the game-winning touchdown. The Cowboys offensive line gets better as the game progresses so while a slow start may give Giants fans a sense of hope, look for Dallas to start throwing their weight around in the second half.
5. A special teamer with something to prove
The Cowboys struggled on special teams during the preseason. The coverage in the kicking game was horrible as the San Francisco 49ers had big gains on punt returns and the Minnesota Vikings returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Hopefully, none of that spotty play will carry over to the regular season. Should that type of breakdown occur on Sunday night, it's could sting a little more because the player doing the damage may be a familiar face. The Cowboys special team's ace last season, Dwayne Harris is now playing for the Giants. Harris would like nothing more to take one to the house against his former team.
Those are the things I will be watching for. What about you?