Opening night is coming soon and the Dallas Cowboys will be opening up their 2021 campaign in Tampa Bay against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. There are many storylines to watch for on Thursday night, including just who will be the X-Factor for each team. An X-Factor player can take many forms - a player coming back from injury or an extended absence who needs to show things are fine, a player who flies under-the-radar but can have a big impact, a payer who will have a particularly interesting matchup - basically a player that for the purposes of this particular game could turn the tide.
You can pick through several options on either side and have a convincing argument for who the X-Factor could and should be on Thursday night. However, the two individuals below are the chosen X-Factors for the week one matchup:
Dallas Cowboys X-Factor:
This was kind of a no-brainer. It’s not a shocker to think that the star quarterback coming off a gruesome injury, a long layoff, and a massive payday would be the X-Factor heading into week one. Dak Prescott will need to play at a high level for the Cowboys to win this football game. But the real reason he is the X-Factor is everyone wants to see how he performs after such a long layoff.
Rust is inevitable and should be expected, quite frankly. The key will be just how long does it last and when exactly does Dak find his groove. The quicker he finds a rhythm and gets this offense running at a high octane level, the better the chances the Cowboys will have to pull out a victory come Thursday night.
Dak having gaudy passing numbers and throwing the ball 50 times in this game is not what the team wants, and it is certainly not the recipe for success. Where Dak’s presence needs to be felt most is how he controls the game pre-snap. Identifying what the defense is trying to do and checking in and out of certain looks to put them in a better position at the line of scrimmage. Todd Bowles and the rest of staff will throw the kitchen sink at them to gauge just how ready Dak and the offense will be.
The Cowboys will want to find a way to control the clock, win the turnover battle, and have Dak execute the offense the way he is capable of doing. This offense is best when they are balanced, control the time, and efficient on first down. Easier said than done, but when this team plays to the level they are capable of, they can compete with anyone, and it all starts with QB1.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers X-Factor:
It would make sense to say the Buccaneers secondary as a whole is the biggest X-Factor, however Murphy-Bunting will be faced a tall task to try and control this prolific wide receiver group the Cowboys possess. The Cowboys trio might be the closest thing to what Tampa Bay employs themselves, so this very well may be the toughest test for this secondary all season.
Murphy-Bunting will see his fair share of all three of the Cowboys top receivers, but the main match up he looks to face is going to be with CeeDee Lamb. Lamb is an ascending player in this league and was by far the most impressive player coming out of Cowboys training camp this year.
Lamb will be all over the field rather than just his customary slot role he saw the majority of his work in last year, so he very well be matched up with the other members of the Buc’s secondary such as Carlton Davis, but if the Cowboys find a way to exploit Murphy-Bunting in coverage, it could be an important tell to factor in the outcome of this game.
Look for Dak to find Sean Murphy-Bunting early and often as he may be the X-Factor to Cowboys success in the passing game.