Any time the Dallas Cowboys lose a game, it's a tough pill to swallow. Losing Week 1 last season to the Buccaneers was tough, but fans left that game feeling optimistic about what was seen on the field.
This time around, the loss feels like a heavy downpour.
Not only did the Cowboys lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19-3, but they also left the game with injuries at key positions, specifically at quarterback with Dak Prescott.
On Monday, Prescott underwent surgery to repair his right thumb and is estimated to miss six to eight weeks. Other players like Connor McGovern, Jayron Kearse, and Tarell Basham are also expected to miss time.
While the sky seems to be falling in Dallas, some players stood out on Sunday night, which should be a positive sign moving forward. Here are the top ten players from Week 1 heading into the second game of the season.
Honorable Mentions: S Malik Hooker and DE Demarcus Lawrence
In the locker room after the game, Demarcus Lawrence was asked how he would keep everyone together after a tough loss. He mentioned how everyone in the locker room is still focused on improving, and it's still a long season. When teams face adversity, the leaders must step up big time, and Lawrence seems like he can answer the call.
While Lawrence didn't have the best statistical night, he showed up when defending the run, specifically on a third and one in the red zone in the first quarter. There were points where he got pressure on Tom Brady, but the 45-year-old quarterback quickly got rid of the ball.
Malik Hooker had a great play in the third quarter, breaking up a deep pass to Breshad Perriman along the sideline. It looked like he was tracking the ball, but he lowered his shoulder instead. It would have been close, but he could have made a better attempt at getting an interception. Hooker was active all night and will look to build upon his first start of the season.
10. Bryan Anger, P
Bryan Anger was called upon a lot in this game. The 2021 second-team All-Pro punter averaged over 50 yards a punt, with the longest of the night being 58 yards.
He had five punts on the night, each pinning the Bucs offense to start in their own territory. His punts had Brady begin at his own 31, 39, 10, 21, and 13-yard line.
With Prescott missing significant playing time, Anger will be needed to reverse field position if the Cooper Rush-led offense can't get it going.
9. Brett Maher, K
At the start of the game, it seemed like it would be the battle of the kickers for both teams. Maher was up for the challenge. All offseason, there was the discussion of who would be the Cowboys kicker for the season. Maher ended up winning the battle, and fans got a glimpse at the reason why on Sunday.
When the opening drive for the offense stalled, Maher was asked to kick from 51 yards out. He lined up alongside the right hash mark and nailed it dead center. According to the SNF broadcast, Maher's kick had enough distance to be good from 60 yards.
With the defense keeping games close for the offense to try and reach the red zone, No. 19 will get his opportunities to score this season. If his one kick showed anything on Sunday, he seems to be better this time around.
8. Osa Odighizuwa, DT
The second-year defensive tackle was disrupting the pocket all night. His game speed was displayed like it was at the beginning of the season last year. He gave Tampa Bay's rookie center and young left guard problems all night.
Yes, the defense gave up many yards to Leonard Fournette, but Odighizuwa was stout when the runs went in his direction in the middle. A few times, particularly on a reverse, Odighizuwa was in the Bucs backfield.
The young defensive tackle also helped free Micah Parsons on his two sacks and met him at the quarterback for both plays. While there was hope the defensive tackle group could get more pressure on Brady, Odighizuwa did his part from start to finish.
7. Dalton Schultz, TE
Dalton Schultz had a rough opening drive. He was out of place on the reverse to Pollard and didn't drive on his block of Antione Winfield, which caused an incomplete pass to CeeDee Lamb.
After that, he settled down and was one of Prescott's guys when a play needed to be made. Schultz finished the night with seven receptions for 62 yards averaging almost nine yards a catch.
Outside of Lamb, who had a rough night himself, there are no weapons for this offense. Schultz will have to help Cooper Rush as he takes over at quarterback and be someone he can rely on as Prescott did moving forward.
6. Noah Brown, WR
The Cowboy’s front office decided not to sign a significant free agent receiver in the offseason because they had confidence in “their guys.” Well, Noah Brown proved them right on Sunday.
He was far from perfect, and the front office is not off the hook either, but this was Brown’s best game to date. While Lamb was struggling, Prescott forced the ball in Brown’s direction.
Whenever the offense needed a first down, Prescott went to Brown. He was great at catching the ball and running forward after the catch. A few times, Brown was behind the first down marker and powered his way through to move the chains. The sixth-year receiver finished the night with five receptions for 68 yards, averaging over 13 yards a catch.
Noah Brown does not solve the team’s issues at wide receiver, but it was nice to see him stand out and could become a solid No. 3 for the offense this season.
We discussed these rankings and much more on the debut episode of The Writer’s Block on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you get access to all of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
5. Donovan Wilson, S
Besides the 2020 game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday's game was one of Donovan Wilson's best. Not only did he have a great interception off Brady, but he was being used all over the field.
Wilson was a sure tackler when the plays got past the front seven. He finished the night with five tackles, a quarterback hit, and a pass deflection to go along with his INT. Jayron Kearse is expected to miss a few weeks with a knee injury. Wilson will have to step up and continue to be an enforcer for this defense.
4. Zack Martin, RG
Zack Martin was tasked with blocking defensive tackles Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks. For most of the night, those two players were nonexistent.
Martin was out of last year's Week 1 matchup due to COVID-19. His presence was evident all night and provided a spark for the running game that the team didn't have in 2021. Not only did Martin keep the pocket clean for Prescott, but he worked well with Biadasz in their pass sets. According to PFF, Martin graded out as Dallas' pass-blocking offensive lineman at 81.7.
Martin, the eldest offensive lineman, will have to lead this young group and help them clean some things up if they want to succeed as a unit in 2022.
3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB
One of the biggest questions facing Dallas all offseason was if Ezekiel Elliott could ever return to being a dominant rusher. His play on Sunday night gives hope it's heading in that direction.
Elliott finished the night with ten carries for 52 yards, averaging over five yards per carry. On the first drive, he looked explosive and seemed poised for a great night. This is what fans have been told. The identity of the offense will be to run the football.
Dallas had success with their rushing attack early in the game, and Elliott was a big reason why. Then the game plan seemed to change, and Elliott was missing in the second half. The blame is not on Elliott but instead on the play calling.
Hopefully, the coaching staff will stick to their word and use Zeke as their bell cow moving forward.
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott gained between 5 and 7 yards on eight of his 10 carries Sunday vs. Buccaneers. Last year, when limited by knee injury, he went 11 straight games (Weeks 6 to 17) without recording that many gains of 5 or more yards in same outing. Good sign for run game. pic.twitter.com/YlroD18lFP— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 12, 2022
2. Tyler Smith, LT
The rookie left tackle did give up a few game-changing plays. However, for his first time playing an NFL game against a defensive end like Shaq Barrett, he proved his doubters wrong.
The Cowboys put Tyler Smith on an island and asked him to go one-on-one for most of the game. According to PFF, he showcased his strength moving defenders in the run game and only allowed two pressures and one sack.
Once free agent tackle Jason Peters was signed, it was all but assumed it would be his position to lose. Now that Tyler Smith has shown encouraging signs he could play left tackle in the NFL, Peters might have to find a new position to see any action. The first-round pick will build on his success before he faces Trey Hendrickson of the Bengals next week.
Tyler Smith looks alright https://t.co/0KnEhKCVdi— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) September 12, 2022
1. Micah Parsons, LB/DE
Last week, a few readers in the comments were debating whether Prescott or Micah Parsons is the "heart and soul" of Cowboys. Now with Prescott missing time this season, the title goes to Parsons.
The second-year defender picked up right where he left off last season. He finished the night with two sacks and five total tackles. When the defense needed to make a stop in critical situations, Parsons stepped up. His first sack in the red zone pushed the ball back far enough for the kicker to miss the attempt and keep the score at 6-3.
Parsons was great as a pass rusher but was also all over the field chasing down Tampa Bay players. NBC showed many plays where Parsons would run sideline to sideline and be in on the tackle.
Now with even more weight on the shoulders of the defense, Parsons will look to help his team in any way possible. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn asked much of the former All-Pro on opening night. Maybe he can take snaps at quarterback.