The Dallas Cowboys have a big game against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night. It’s a big game for a lot of reasons. Getting to 4-4 is the first step in climbing back in the playoff race, whereas dropping to 3-5 will bring dark clouds over this Dallas team. The Cowboys have recharged themselves with some extra rest from the bye week, but they’ve also made a couple moves to help recharge their offense. They kicked things off by trading for new wide receiver Amari Cooper. Head coach Jason Garrett also took matters in his own hands and brought over the guy he wanted to help fix the offensive line as Paul Alexander is out and Marc Columbo has been promoted with the guidance of offensive line guru Hudson Houck.
Hopefully, these changes will bring about positive results. Only time will tell, but Monday night will give us our first taste. Here are five things to keep an eye out for when the Titans travel to AT&T Stadium to face the Cowboys.
1. The new toy
Let’s face it, we’re all excited to see Amari Cooper in a Cowboys uniform. Don’t act like you’re not. The first time he makes a big receiving play, the room is going to erupt in cheers. At least, that’s how it will go down at my house.
The Cowboys didn’t give up a Day 1 draft pick for Cooper to just be “one of the guys.” Look for Scott Linehan to get his new offensive weapon every opportunity to contribute. That’s not the say they are going to force-feed Cooper double-digit targets, but he’s definitely going to get looks. All eyes will be on how well Dak Prescott is able to utilizing his new receiver.
The Cowboys are hoping Cooper can help carry the workload for the offense, like he carried all these Titans defenders to the end zone.
2. Mariota on the run
The Titans don’t have a lot of offensive weapons. The threat of a running game isn’t really there. And they don’t have a star receiver that worries defenses. So how can Tennessee do any damage against the Cowboys defense? Well, they have a wild card in quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The former second-overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft (two spots ahead of Amari Cooper) is not having a good year. Cowboys fans know first hand how frustrating it can be watching your quarterback throw for less than 200 yards, but Mariota has thrown for less than 130 yards in four of his six games this season. And his low volume numbers isn’t because he’s super cautious. Mariota actually has thrown two more interceptions this year than he has touchdowns.
But just because he’s had his struggles this season, doesn’t mean he can’t hurt the defense. Mariota likes to roll out of the pocket a lot which always makes him a threat to run. Tennessee runs plenty of read-option plays where Mariota keeps it so look for his legs to be a part of their offensive plan. The Cowboys struggled containing Cam Newton in Week 1 so the Titans might feel they can exploit the Cowboys defense for some extra yardage.
Mariota’s legs also allows him to roll out of the pocket and launch passes down the field. While he struggles with accuracy at times, he’s not afraid to take deep shots. Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe are two receivers Mariota loves to air it out to and the Cowboys defense has to be careful not to be hit up for big plays.
3. Double-Nickel, double the fun
In 2014, the Cowboys went to overtime against the Houston Texans, smoked the Jacksonville Jaguars, and made a trade that gave them a former Oakland Raiders top-10 draft pick from Alabama. Coincidentally, the Cowboys have done those same exact things this season. In 2014, that former Alabama player was Rolando McClain and he made a lot of fans happy when this play happened the last the Cowboys faced the Titans:
Man, those navy blues sure look nice.
McClain’s been gone for a while now, but his number lives on through the breakout performance of rookie Leighton Vander Esch. The Cowboys now have the same great athleticism they got with Ro, but without the headache. LVE’s ability to swarm and keep players like Dion Lewis (who leads the Titans with 476 scrimmage yards) in check will be key in getting the Titans offense off the field.
But Vander Esch won’t be the only no. 55 who will be running all over the field. Titans linebacker Jayon Brown is having a great season and is making plays for the defense. Whether its stopping the run, helping out in coverage, or rushing the quarterback on a delayed blitz, expect to see a lot of Brown in this game.
4. The battle inside
Not only will people be expecting to see a lot from Amari Cooper, but the performance of the offensive line will be under the microscope as well. It’s not like the new coaching authority can do a whole lot in short notice, but hopefully some improvement can be seen. It will be very important for rookie Connor Williams to take a step forward as he looks to improve as the season progresses. This week, he’s going to have his work cut out for him as the Titans have a fierce defensive tackle in Jurrell Casey. Bryan Broaddus had this scouting report for Casey:
Casey is a thick, powerful player that shows disruptive quickness off the snap. He has a knack for ruining blocking schemes, both run and pass. He will sacrifice himself in order to get a teammate home on a rush. He has some similarities to Tyrone Crawford in the way he plays. Casey will purposely slam into blockers, knocking them off balance and giving his teammates a clean path to the quarterback. He is also a nightmare to block in the running game, especially when he’s on the move.
The Cowboys have struggled against good run defenses and there appears to be a cutoff that corresponds to the whether or not they win the game. The Titans run defense happens to be right in the middle of things, so the only question is - where is that cutoff at exactly?
5. Another low scoring nail-biter
I’d love to watch another game like the Jacksonville contest where the Cowboys were strong out of the gate and kept rolling them throughout the game. Unfortunately, there’s been too much other type of football played that makes me feel that’s not a likely scenario. For the fourth-straight game, the Cowboys will face a top 10 defense, yet at the same time go against a team that is struggling offensively. In fact, the Titans are the worst team the Cowboys will face offensively this season based on points per game up until this point.
But as we all know, the Cowboys are in a similar situation. The defense has been keeping teams out of the end zone, whereas the offense can’t seem to find it. All things are leaning toward a low-scoring affair.
As much as I’d love the excitement of a late-game field goal attempt to decide the winner, it sure would be nice to get a little breathing room in this one.
What things will you be watching on Monday night?