How NFL teams actually prepare for game day during the week, and how the media does so drumming up storylines, talking points, and expectations before the ball is kicked, can be two drastically different things. Week two in Arlington is absolutely one of these cases. The Cowboys and Jets will meet for the first time since they did at MetLife Stadium in 2019, the site of the Cowboys dominant 40-0 win in week one.
After an entire offseason of hype for not only the seasons both these teams could have, but this specific matchup being a rematch of Mike McCarthy vs. his former QB in Aaron Rodgers, the Jets plans for 2022 were thrown out the window when Rodgers’ season ended on Monday night against the Bills. Though they rallied around Zach Wilson for an emotional overtime win, Rodgers’ torn Achilles is still the main story for a Jets team that looks to find out what they really have on offense against a tenacious defense like the Cowboys.
This game flipping from one that would be a real measuring stick for the Cowboys to another game they’re expected to handle with relative ease does little to change the home team’s mindset coming into Sunday. The Cowboys proved against the Giants that they’re playing this season to regain their championship standard, never letting up in a rainy 40-0 effort to make arguably the loudest statement of week one around the NFL.
The Jets win was also a statement that Rodgers wasn’t their only calling card for victory this season, as their plan to surround him with All-Pro talent on both sides of the ball paid off against the Bills. New York also takes a three-game winning streak against Dallas into this game, winning all three by a combined eight points. Robert Saleh’s group is hardly going to roll over as they lead the AFC East at 1-0 alongside the Dolphins.
The Jets major weakness from the season opener was pass protection, this is an obvious point of concern going against a Cowboys defensive line that got to Daniel Jones seven times already. It could be another game where the Cowboys offense just has to do enough to give their defense the lead and let them pressure Wilson into mistakes, something they couldn’t do in those recent one-score losses to the Jets.
It was Kellen Moore’s offense that managed just three field goals through the first three quarters in the last meeting between these teams, which featured an eerily similar QB situation for the Jets. Sam Darnold was making his return from illness and ignited the offense with a 92-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson in the first half. The Jets led 21-6 at halftime, with only a pair of fourth quarter rushing touchdowns from Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott drawing the Cowboys closer to the final disappointing score of 24-22.
The Cowboys offensive line was manhandled in the trenches this game, as the Jets wiped out the run game entirely and forced Prescott to drop back 40 times. Prescott was efficient enough in week one in a new offense to potentially give Dallas life in this style of game going forward, but on this day the loss of Amari Cooper also proved too much to overcome. Cooper exited after just three snaps, making the eclectic group of Tavon Austin, Cedrick Wilson, Jason Witten, and Elliott the Cowboys leading receivers all with five catches.
Clearly, the gap between 2019 to today is an eternity in the NFL, and though more than enough changes have occurred with personnel and in coaching for the Cowboys, they go into this game versus the Jets with similar questions on offense. How the offensive line can dictate the pace of play with the run game, with or without Tyler Smith again at left guard, will be something to watch for against a New York front that held the Bills to 97 total rushing yards - 36 coming from quarterback Josh Allen.
Who can step up at receiver outside of CeeDee Lamb, who draws Sauce Gardner in man coverage this Sunday, is another concern, as well as Prescott continuing to avoid turnovers against a defense that took the ball away four times in week one.
Even the most optimistic of all Dallas fans can’t expect a lopsided, shutout win every week, and the idea that the Jets could hang around this game long enough to put the Cowboys in their first real game pressure situation of the year might be a welcome one. The only question for Dan Quinn’s defense might be just how historically great they can be this season, but the offense left the Giants game without much of a feel for what’s really changed going from Kellen Moore to McCarthy as play-caller.
The Cowboys are in a position where they could be looking ahead at an early season schedule that’s fallen favorably in the first three weeks before a playoff rematch on Sunday night at the 49ers in week four. The Jets are taking life without Rodgers day-by-day and stand to come into this game loose, knowing they still have a former first-round pick at QB and the defense to buy him time to keep them in contention.
Dallas may not receive the same boost in power rankings with a win this week as they would if they beat Aaron Rodgers head-to-head for the first time since October 2016. That McCarthy coached Green Bay team would avenge the loss in a Divisional Round playoff win from AT&T Stadium, ending the Cowboys season as the top seed in the NFC. The time will come to discuss playoff scenarios and NFC East positioning for this Cowboys team too, and even if it hinges less on this Sunday’s outcome, this is still a meeting of hopeful 1-0 teams looking to keep pace with other strong contenders in their divisions - with both the Eagles and Commanders matching the Cowboys first win.