We thought it would never get here, but NFL football has finally arrived as the Dallas Cowboys will open their season under the Sunday night lights against the Los Angeles Rams. There will be a lot of things to be excited about, but here are five things to keep in mind when the 2020 season gets underway.
1. The new look
It took six years and over $5 billion, but Rams owner Stan Kroenke will finally unleash the marvel that is SoFi Stadium. With Cowboys owner Jerry Jones playing a key role in helping push this project along, the final product will be a treat for the 70+ thousand fans that will eventually fill the stadium. Unfortunately, that day won’t be on Sunday night as the league adjust to this new era of sports during the coronavirus pandemic.
While the new stadium will be nice on the eyes, fans will be anxiously waiting to find out how the game will look without the presence of thousands of screaming spectators. We will still have the luxury of TV announcers, but how will things sound with teams trying to simulate the crowd noise of an NFL game? On the plus side, the stadium’s video board, appropriately named The Oculus, contains a 260 speaker audio system. (Check out Ram’s hype video of SoFi Stadium)
2. Protecting the quarterback
If there was a big surprise with this Rams team last season it was the sudden transition from great to dreadful when it comes to their offensive line. In 2018, they had one of the top units, but last season they ranked second to last according to Pro Football Focus. Injuries played a part of that, but the team also has some younger pieces that have yet to pan out. As a result, quarterback Jared Goff had to get rid of the ball in a hurry, and that didn’t work out so great. The Cowboys have an assortment of new pass rushers this season, so it should be interesting to see how things go in trenches.
Of course, the Cowboys aren’t without their own concerns on the offensive line. First, the team will be without Travis Frederick as he retired. Joe Looney will be back in action at center. And recently we learned that the La’el Collins is starting the season on injured reserved. This puts the right tackle duties on free agent signing Cam Erving. With all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Youtube-scout Michael Brockers among those in the Rams’ pass-rushing attack, the Cowboys offensive line is going to have their hands full on Sunday. If for any reason Dak Prescott doesn’t have time to operate, it’s going to limit the effectiveness of all those great weapons.
3. New pass-catching tight ends
For Blake Jarwin lovers, the time has finally arrived to see what he can do in the lead tight end role. Sure, Jason Witten didn’t play in 2018, but Jarwin was still raw and operated second in line behind Geoff Swaim for most of that season. Now, he will be green-lighted to run over the seam and catch touchdown passes. That’s what we’re hoping for at least. And with so much attention given to the Cowboys trio of receivers, don’t be surprised if the Rams get crossed up in coverage while Jarwin roams freely in the secondary.
Speaking of surprises, a funny thing happened to the Rams offense in Week 12 last year as Sean McVay decided to go heavy with 12-personnel. Just like that, tight end Tyler Higbee was on the field for 90% of the team’s offensive snaps. Check out Higbee’s splits between the first 10 games before the change compared to the last five.
Higbee finished the season as one of Goff’s favorite targets. And with Brandin Cooks now playing for the Houston Texans, don’t be surprised if the Rams new pass-catching tight end is a big part of the Rams offense this season.
4. New kids on the block
The Cowboys have plenty of new faces this season, bringing a great deal of excitement. The biggest one will be the new no. 88 on the roster as we’ll finally be able to see CeeDee Lamb in action. But it goes much deeper than that. Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith were signed in free agency to bolster the pass rush, and each of them have some intriguing upside along the edge. Rookie Trevon Diggs will be thrown into action against a talented receiver in either Cooper Kupp or Robert Woods. Welcome to the NFL, rook.
There’s even some returning players who will garner our attention as well as they look to improve upon last season. With Leighton Vander Esch healthy, we’ll get to see the dynamic duo of him and Jaylon Smith. Last year’s disappointing draft pick Trysten Hill has been turning heads in camp, and appears to have landed a starting defensive tackle spot.
5. A special return for some special teamers
The Cowboys special teams were outrageously terrible last season, so they went out and upgraded their ST coach by bringing in John Fassel. The veteran coach has 12 years experience as a specials teams coordinator with the last eight being with the Rams. He will return to Los Angeles to coach against his former team.
Speaking of going against his former team, Greg Zuerlein is now the Cowboys kicker, but like Fassel, he’s also spent the last eight seasons with the Rams. Dallas had all kinds of fits with Brett Maher last season, but Legatron was signed to remedy that problem. Zuerlein is healthy and he’s been on target in camp. A nice showing in the kicking game would sure be a breath of fresh air for Cowboys fans.