Much has changed since the Cowboys left the field a week ago. After the Cowboys hard-fought road loss versus the defending Super Bowl champions left many to feel optimistic about this teams prospects going forward, the rest of the week following has felt much like a gut punch.
La’el Collins is facing a five-game suspension that has left everyone including himself and the people around him with more questions than answers. Randy Gregory has contracted COVID-19 and his availability is very much in doubt for week two, and DeMarcus Lawrence broke his foot in a routine pass drill and is expected to miss upwards of two months. That now brings the highly likely scenario the Cowboys will be without their top two pass rushers to face a tough Charges offensive line who put a stop to a much respected Washington Football Team defensive line.
What we know is the Cowboys will be with out a few key starters and contributors for a tough week two clash against the Chargers, however the show goes on and the Cowboys will look for any way to leave Los Angeles being able to even up their early season record to 1-1.
Here are five things to watch this week:
1. Where does the pass rush come from?
No DeMarcus Lawrence, and no Randy Gregory, but does that mean no pass rush? It is going to be a tall task for this Cowboys defense to face a young quality quarterback in Justin Herbert in any scenario, but add the fact that neither of your two best pass rushers will be suiting up it leaves nothing but question marks as this team heads into week two.
The Cowboys will lean on Dorance Armstrong and Tarrell Basham to bare the brunt of the load at defensive end Sunday. Look for Bradlee Anae to get his most extensive work as a pro as well, however it is safe to say the Cowboys will need to get creative in how they attack Herbert and his tough offensive line. You will want to keep your eyes on Micah Parsons and Jaylon Smith as they work both of them in a variety of different ways to try and drum up pressure as well.
No matter how they do it, the Cowboys will want to get in Herbert’s face and effect his comfortability in the pocket. This will be a massive test for this defense and it isn’t a stretch to say how this unit preforms Sunday afternoon will be a huge indicator of how far this team can go this year.
2. How Terence Steele fares against Joey Bosa will be key to the offense success.
Cowboys brass have not hidden their admiration for Terence Steele. They believe in the young man’s future and see him staying with this team for years to come. While having a strong belief in Steele’s future is well and good, what matters most is the here and now. Steele will see a healthy dose of Joey Bosa and he better be ready for a four quarter fight.
History tells us that the Cowboys will provide help to Steele by way of tight end chips and running back help through out the night, but on the downs where it is an obvious passing situation and the Cowboys are looking to deploy their usual weapons to convert, Steele is going to need to hold up, assistance or not. The belief is Steele has developed and has gotten stronger and better in his second year. We are going to find out just how much stronger and better on Sunday.
3. Can Greg Zuerlein do his job?
You need to rely on your kicker in the NFL. The fact of the matter is history tells you that most NFL games are within one possession at the finish, and when your kicker leaves points out on the field it typically doesn't end well for you, as the Cowboys know all too well. That's exactly what Zuerlein did on opening night and as a result the Cowboys head into week two 0-1.
The pressure is, and should be on Zuerlein heading into week two. The Cowboys have signed kicker Lirim Hajrullahu to their practice squad as a contingency plan if need be and if Zuerlein is to have a similar outing this Sunday, its safe to say Hajrullahu is breathing down his neck and his job might be taken by the start of week three.
4. Can Trevon Diggs duplicate his week one performance versus Keenan Allen?
One of the bright spots for the defense in week one was Trevon Diggs. Diggs found himself matched up one-on-one versus one of the leagues premiere wide receivers in Mike Evans and did not flinch. Evans tallied one catch for ten yards when matched up against Diggs, and was a virtual nonfactor all night.
A similar performance is going to be asked of Diggs once again as he looks to face another top tier receiver in Keenan Allen. Allen is an outstanding route runner who possess an ability to make a wide variety of catches and plays with a relentless motor. Diggs and the Cowboys will try and make the Chargers find another way to beat them other than with Allen. If Diggs can complete the task he will be well on his way to solidifying his ranks among the leagues upper echelon of corner backs, but more importantly it would go a long way in helping the Cowboys secure a W in week two.
5. We are going to need to see more Dak magic.
As long as Dak Prescott is on the field the Cowboys have a fighting change to beat anyone. The Cowboys once again face an uphill battle against a good Chargers football team and its going to take every bit of what Dak has to will them to victory.
The Cowboys haven’t played with their entire starting offensive line intact since Thanksgiving of 2019, and Sunday that trend will continue. It doesn't have to be pretty and it doesn't have to be a stat-stuffer, but Dak as the leader and heart of this team will need to once again put this team on his back and find a way to secure a W by any means necessary.