We Made it. It’s here, and if you’re anything like me the only thing as high as your optimism about this Cowboys team is the very legitimate concerns about the team entering Week one. Personally, I really like this matchup for the Cowboys because I’m very confident in the ability of the Dallas defense at slowing the run game and rushing the passer with a beat up offensive line for Carolina. I also really like the Cowboys opening up on the road at an unfamiliar stadium. Jason Garrett always has his team ready to go on the road, and the change of scenery after the Cowboys have been sleeping at home and practicing at The Star will do them well.
Here’s what the Cowboys must do to be 1-0 when the Giants come to AT&T next week.
If you’re reading this its too late. That was as ugly of a Cowboys performance as I can remember, unfortunately, last season had a couple of games like this for Dallas and it seems like not much has changed offensively in 9 months since the Cowboys beat the Eagles 6-0 in Week 17. The defense, however, looked pretty good against Cam Newton’s group who run the ball as well as anyone. Cam Newton had a nearly identical stat line as Ezekiel Elliott, which is far from ideal when he is not the opposing running back but rather the unaccounted for QB. On offense, the Cowboys picked up right where they left off in 2018, as Dallas has only scored 4 touchdowns in their last 4 games, with only one of them being a passing touchdown from Dak Prescott. This is a huge problem.
The law office of Lawrence and Gregory needs to serve up some justice
What a wonderful position to be in to begin the season, not only is there not widespread panic about where the pass rush is going to come from, there are expectations to be one of the best in the league. If there was ever a week to kick-start that campaign, it’s against the banged-up offensive line that the Panthers will field on Sunday. All-Pro Right Tackle Daryl Williams’ status is very much in doubt, but the Panthers remain optimistic that he will be able to play. If Williams is unavailable, Cory Robinson, who was acquired on cutdown day, will have to start, just a week after joining the team. At right guard, the Panthers could be without their top 2 options at the position, with Amini Silatolu (Knee) and Brendan Mahon (Neck) with less than ideal health situations. The injuries don’t stop there on the O-Line as Left Tackle Taylor Maton will make his first career start in place of Matt Kalil who will begin the season on IR. Randy Gregory, making his first start since the Obama Administration, should be quite comfortable rushing around the edge. With help expected with a backup tackle on the right to stop DeMarcus Lawrence, Gregory should have ample opportunities at sacks.
Result: Lawrence had one sack but did get some pressure on Newton throughout the game, Gregory exited without a stat. The Cowboys defense did a sufficient job slowing down the Panthers offense. Hard to find a complaint about the defense after yesterday. I’ll give this key a check.
Ezekiel Elliott is going to need to have some big gains
Cowboys fans have to be excited about Ezekiel Elliott entering Year 3 after a very silent offseason for their star player. Elliott has experienced a couple of slow starts in his career but Dallas needs him in midseason mode facing off vs Luke Kuechly and a stout interior D-Line in Carolina. It’s going to be tough to pound away inside all day, so Dallas is going to have to find ways to get Kuechly blocked and free Elliott to the second and third levels of the defense. If Elliott can break free for 2 or more carries of 20 plus yards, it will force Carolina to load up and open some lanes for Dak Prescott and his new receivers.
Result: It was tough sledding for Elliott. He never found his rhythm in large part due to the fact the Cowboys had many second and 10+ situations and a lot of penalties early in the game. Elliott finished with 15 carries for 69 yards, which closes at 4.6 yards per carry, which is well above sufficient. However the Cowboys needed him to provide some chunk plays and with a long of 17, the Cowboys running game missed the mark. Their longest passing play was a 20-yard catch from Allen Hurns, not good.
Brett Maher needs to make all his kicks
Brett Maher is facing a heavy task of replacing a Cowboys’ legend in Dan Bailey. To his credit, his play has landed him in this position, so the pressure of just doing his job shouldn’t be too heavy after he just dealt with beating out Bailey. Maher has been looking for his shot in the NFL for years, and now that he has his place Maher needs to get off to a great start to avoid the narrative of the Cowboys missing Dan Bailey. Pencil Maher in for a 2/2 day with a long of 49 on the Carolina grass field.
Result: You had to know what was going to happen when Maher lined up for his only attempt of the day. Bad start for him. Hopefully he bounces back in the Giants game, because if not the Cowboys are going to be in some serious Kicker limbo going forward.
Dallas needs to pick Cam Newton off more than once
The Cowboys’ defense is as hyped up as ever coming into this season. Corners Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones give the Cowboys their best opening day pair in quite some time. Byron Jones has faced a lot of criticism the last couple of years playing all over the defense at a few different positions but he looks to have a permanent home at cornerback. Cam Newton is an up and down quarterback and he will have all kinds of adrenaline pumping for Week 1 after a relatively so-so year in 2017. The Cowboys need to force him into making some bad decisions, and they need to capitalize on them. Newton will throw you one or two during each game that could be picked off, the Cowboys need to catch them, and give their offense a short field against a tough Carolina D.
Result: Dallas got a key red zone turnover out of the Panthers on the McCaffrey fumble but never got their gloves on a Cam Newton pass. Their best chance was on a Sean Lee tipped pass that fell through the arms of Jeff Heath. Lee said this morning on 105.3 The Fan that the Cowboys have to make those plays when the ball is tipped. Heath is good for one dropped pick a year, so hopefully, he got it out of the way early this year and will enter ballhawk mode next week.
We need to forget that Joe Looney is playing center
This is the furthest thing from a dig at Joe Looney, in fact, recognition of this accomplishment is about as big of a compliment as one can give. Cowboys’ fans have been able to forget about how important the center position is for years now thanks to the excellence of Travis Frederick. During the game, the FOX cameras will undoubtedly flash over to Frederick who will be on the sideline in a Cowboys T-shirt and shorts and mention his battle with Guillan Barre Syndrome. As the game goes on, Joe Looney needs to give them a reason to cut that out, because if all goes well, we once again will forget about the center position as we watch Dak Prescott throw from a clean pocket or watch Ezekiel Elliott burst through the A Gap.
Result: This one might be a wash. The entire O-Line played poorly, and the real problems that should worry Cowboys fans were the penalties from Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. Connor Wiliams played fine, he just mistimed his breakdowns. I’m sure Travis Frederick would have improved the performance from the line, but it wasn’t as if moving the ball was an impossible task with Williams and Looney in the game.
If the Cowboys can check off all 5 of these keys, you can almost guarantee a Week 1 victory, and a very loose team entering Week 2 against the Giants.
So the final tally leaves us with 2.5/5 performance from the Cowboys, which will not get it done, especially against a good team like Carolina. Next week’s game could determine the fate of the rest of the season, especially if the Cowboys come out as flat on offense as they did on Sunday. See you Thursday for the Week 2 checklist.
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