We are almost there. It has been 236 days since the Dallas Cowboys last played a football game that counted, and as we all know, it didn’t end well. As Dak Prescott slid to the ground, time ran out on the Cowboys' season as they came up short against the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in the Wild Card round.
But that is ancient history.
We discussed all of these things and more on the latest episode of The Star Seminar on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Sunday marks a new slate with a new arrangement of football players to cheer on for the 2022 season. For the second straight year, the Cowboys will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That’s a tough draw for Week 1, but hey, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. These two teams came down to the wire last year, and we could be in store for another nail-biter. Here are five things to watch when the Cowboys kick off the season against the Buccaneers.
1. Left side
strong side weak side
All eyes will be on the left side of the offensive line for the Cowboys. Rookie Tyler Smith is expected to make his NFL debut at left tackle, a position he played at Tulsa, however, the Cowboys have been using him mostly at left guard in training camp and in preseason games. A recent injury to veteran Tyron Smith means Tyler Smith will now have to hold down the edge. The Cowboys did sign 40-year-old veteran tackle Jason Peters, but it’s going to take him a couple of weeks to get his body ready. So, for now, the Cowboys have handed the keys to the rookie to protect Dak Prescott’s backside.
And it’s not just Smith who has his work cut out for him. With Smith sliding over to tackle, Connor McGovern will be starting at left guard. We all remember McGovern’s number being called mid-season last year when Connor Williams was struggling, but that experiment didn’t last long as the team went back to Williams shortly thereafter.
Smith and McGovern will have to deal with blocking interior beast Vita Vea and free agent signee Akiem Hicks who had an outstanding training camp. Vea does a lot of the dirty work that doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet, allowing his rush-mates to pin their ears back. Hicks will be one of those guys looking to benefit from this matchup.
2. Feast for Micah
The Cowboys won’t be the only team with offensive line worries on Sunday night as Tom Brady will be relying on some new faces to protect him. After Pro Bowler Ali Marpet retired, Alex Cappa left in free agency, and Ryan Jensen suffered an injury, the Bucs are without three starters from a year ago (sound familiar?). The Bucs will now rely on rookie left guard Luke Geodeke and second-year center Robert Hainsey (who has yet to make an NFL start) to help fend off pressure from the interior.
This opens the door for the Cowboys to attack these weaknesses, and who better to do that than second-year defensive sensation Micah Parsons. Look for the Cowboys to use Parsons in a multitude of ways as they attack from all directions. We all have an extensive history of what the results look like when Brady has time to operate, so getting after him quickly will be key for this Cowboys team.
3. The Quinn/Bowles chess match
Last season the Cowboys and Buccaneers were first in the league in points scored and yards gained respectively. While both teams are capable of putting up points, this game could be more of a defensive battle as the coaching staff looks for ways to take advantage of the other team’s weaknesses. Todd Bowles has turned the Bucs defense completely around in his three years as the defensive coordinator to where he’s now earned the head coaching gig after the departure of Bruce Arians. And we all got a front row seat to the amazing turnaround of the Cowboys defense under Dan Quinn.
Expect both of these defensive minds to be creative in the way they attack the opposing offense with a lot of disguises and come crafty safety blitzes.
4. Yards after the catch
With protection being a key concern for both teams, look for offensive coordinators Kellen Moore and Byron Leftwich to find ways to get the ball out early. For the Cowboys, this could mean a lot of what we saw a year ago with quick passes allowing the receivers to work after the catch. Look for CeeDee Lamb, Tony Pollard, and even KaVontae Turpin to see some action as the team tries to get them in space.
For the Bucs, Brady has an assortment of weapons. While his receiving group now consists of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, and Russell Gage, he also has a trio of tight ends in Cameron Brate, Kyle Rudolph, and rookie Cade Otton. Expect Brady to look for matchups he can exploit and put additional pressure on the Cowboys' safeties to show up in coverage.
5. Penalty watch
This will be the first game action many of the starters have seen in a long while, so we should all expect a little bit of sloppiness in Week 1. The Cowboys were the worst team in the league in terms of getting flagged for penalties last season, so it would be nice to see this team play a somewhat clean game. Holding penalties, false starts, or any violation from this young offensive line could turn a third and manageable into a third and incredibly long. Those mistakes could be drive stallers.
The Cowboys did themselves no favors by inducing a lot of laundry in the preseason, but those are practice games where mistakes are more tolerable. If they continue to be plagued by penalties on Sunday, this will not be a good start to the 2022 season.