It’s finally here. Tonight, the NFL season kicks off with the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs hosting the up and coming Detroit Lions. For many of those reading this, though, things won’t really be underway until the Dallas Cowboys travel to play the New York Giants. Opening games are often a mix of anticipation and trepidation. Dallas appears to have a lot going for it, but there are still questions in our minds.
One thing that affected this was the decision to keep almost all the starters out of the preseason games. This has the major benefit of not losing one of them to a preseason injury. The loss of promising rookies DeMarvion Overshown and John Stephens in the game at the Seattle Seahawks was a powerful argument in favor of the cautious approach. However, there is reason to suspect that the starters would still have been benched in the third game as well. It’s great to have your stars as healthy as possible. The downside is that we have not seen them in any live action. There are always things to look for in games, but this one has more and bigger ones than usual.
Texas Coast debut
It’s been touted, dissected and even given a cute nickname, but all we have seen of Mike McCarthy’s version of the West Coast offense against another team has been with almost 100% backups on the field. Now the big guns get their shot.
That could be a problem. The Giants did give their offensive starters a series in their second preseason game, and it was a ten-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, which was all the staff had to see. There did not seem to be any significant kinks for them to work out, but they are entering their second season under head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. McCarthy made the decision to move on from Kellen Moore. Brian Shottenheimer now carries the OC title, but we all know this is McCarthy’s offense, with him calling the plays. While the familiarity he and his returning players have offers some hope this will be a smooth changeover, there are still some significant changes to how things will be conducted. If there are some real hiccups, New York may be too good to outscore.
We discussed all of this on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
Is this a better fit for Dak?
The new version of the offense does seem very well suited to Dak Prescott. He is mobile, can make quick decisions and accurate throws even under duress, and overall is just much better than the mediocre QB many in the media pretend he is. Further, he has what appears to be much better targets to throw to. But we have to see if Jake Ferguson can fill the safety blanket role that Dalton Schultz did last season. Tight ends are even more important in the West Coast offense, so this warrants close scrutiny.
This is one I’m really hopeful about, because I think McCarthy tailored every alteration in the offensive design to maximize Prescott’s strengths and keep him out of things where he is not so great, like lots of dropback passes with slow developing routes. Moore is very good at running his offense, but it is his offense, structured to suit a quarterback like he was. That was not what he had in Prescott. McCarthy seems far more capable of adapting to the talent he has, with the QB the most important cog in the machine. But now we have the first trial by fire, and hope the Cowboys are not the ones who get burned.
Offensive line health or depth
The old pucker factor has already gone up concerning the offensive line with Tyler Smith having a hamstring issue during Monday’s practice. The starting five for Dallas are very good, but the depth is suspect. Any starter missing time could be a real problem.
This could be a factor in the new offensive approach. With the emphasis on quick passes, it can help counter a good pass rush, which the Giants do bring to the table. And it should also have Prescott moving a lot, which is another way to protect him. We don’t really want to see how that will work out if a backup has to come in to play on the line, but it does look like that might not be a disaster. That is mostly a hope, however. That is hardly enough. This will have us holding our breath every week until we find out the answer.
Beware the dreaded regression to the mean on defense
Cold, hard data shows that year-to-year consistency is much harder to maintain on defense than offense. We love Dan Quinn, but the results of the past year are not assured. We fully expect the Cowboys’ pass rush to keep Daniel Jones under pressure, but he is very good at evading the rush, and the Giants have weapons that can cost you if it does not get home. The secondary looks up to the task of keeping the opponent’s receiving corps from gouging the team, and New York does not have great options outside TE Darren Waller. But Saquon Barkley is dangerous when healthy, and has to be accounted for this week as well. This test will tell us a lot about how things might go this year for the defense.
Watching the new talent
Brandin Cooks is a major upgrade for the receiving corps, and Stephon Gilmore is the same in the secondary. Both are well into NFL middle age, though, and we have to hope they each have another good year in them. Based on training camp, that does not seem an unreasonable expectation.
Mazi Smith is going to be under the microscope, which is where all first-round picks for Dallas wind up. Some are going to be upset that he is listed as the backup to Johnathan Hankins to start the season. This may be a good thing, given that there are some aspects of Smith’s game he needs to improve. But he still is likely to see a decent share of snaps as the team rotates him with Hankins to rest the veteran. In the long run, this may be advantageous to Smith.
Luke Schoonmaker and the other rookies will also be buried on the depth chart, but one position group that you should pay extra attention to is running back. Tony Pollard, now the lead back, is joined by Rico Dowdle, who has seen only seven carries in his injury plagued time with the Cowboys, and rookies Deuce Vaughn and Hunter Luepke. That is a sixth-round pick and two UDFAs providing depth. This is finally Dowdle’s chance to prove he belongs. But both Vaughn and Luepke could be very entertaining to watch. We will find out if Vaughn really can baffle NFL defenders the way he did his college opponents despite his diminutive stature, while Luepke is the opposite, a big man who is expected to play an H-back role, Both are experiments of sorts, and there is also the question of how to divvy up the snaps. This could be entertaining. We just hope it isn’t a disappointment.
Let’s have something fun happen
It could be something along the lines of a KaVontae Turpin punt return to the house, a big man scoop and score by the defense, Ferguson going off and scoring a couple of touchdowns, or Brandon Aubrey coolly nailing a 57-yard field goal to cap a two-minute drive just before halftime. Just something a bit unexpected that helps the team.
Of course, the most fun would be a nice win without any injuries. But those always apply.