Football is back! For the second year in a row, the Dallas Cowboys will kickoff the NFL season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last year they hit the road and narrowly lost to Tom Brady and Company in the season opener, but this year they will have the home-field advantage, hosting the Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium with their fans cheering them on.
With the Cowboys starters playing very little to none in preseason, there’s a lot of unknown still surrounding this team entering the 2022 season opener. Because of that, it’s difficult to gauge what this year’s team is going to look like. On the other hand, Dallas’ starters should look much the same as they did in 2021, minus a few players who moved on elsewhere.
Knowing what we know about the Cowboys projected starters, and the role we expect them to play, we’re going to attempt to identify an offensive and defensive player who could be an X-factor in Week 1 against the Buccaneers. For some clarity, an X-factor is generally someone who alters the course of the outcome in the game in some form or fashion.
Offensive X-factor: Tony Pollard
Tony Pollard had 14 of the 60 rushing yards for the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year. He also added four catches for 29 yards through the air. Although his role has yet to be defined entering the 2022 season, he is expected to see a larger amount of touches as both a runner and receiver this year.
Where No. 20 may make the biggest impact early on is as more of a traditional wide receiver until Michael Gallup returns to the starting lineup. Because of that, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kellen Moore use him as a mismatch type of weapon out of the backfield and split out wide to try to get him the ball in space.
Due to Tony Pollard’s dual-threat ability as a runner and receiver, and the fact the Buccaneers will be zeroing in on limiting CeeDee Lamb in the passing game and Ezekiel Elliott in the running game, Dallas’ RB2 could slip through the cracks. Don’t be surprised to see him have one or two explosive, game-changing plays in prime time on September 11.
Defensive X-factor: Micah Parsons
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady were fortunate in the 2021 season opener they didn’t have to face off against Micah Parsons before he found his footing. Yes, he did accumulate seven total tackles, but he wasn’t utilized much as a blitzer either as a traditional linebacker or pass rusher like he was a little later in the season.
This time around, Tom Brady and Company will have to account for the 2021 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year on every single play. No. 11 is one of the few defensive players in the entire league who has the ability to change the course of the game on any given play. He is also someone who is grown by leaps and bounds from the last time these two teams met.
Whether it’s as a traditional LB or as a pass rusher coming off the edge, Micah Parsons should be a thorn in Tom Brady’s side from start to finish. If Parsons can get to TB12 early and often, the future Hall of Famer could be thrown off his game. That in itself could dramatically impact the game in the Cowboys favor and perhaps earn them the “W”.