We’re just an hour away from the kickoff of the Dallas Cowboys annual trip to Washington. The longtime rivals, both sitting at 0-1, seek to avoid panic mode with a victory.
Here’s an assortment of questions, concerns, and hopes that I have for today’s game. If you’re reading via Twitter, Facebook, or other social media than please share your own thoughts. You can also use our Comments section below.
Will the Real Ezekiel Elliott Debut?
If you watched the Cowboys’ third preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks then you know what I mean by “the real Ezekiel Elliott.” The guy we saw last week against New York looked more like a rookie than a phenom. Still, I know the electric runner who earned Kam Chancellor’s respect a few weeks ago is ready to break out.
Last week, the Giants’ defense loaded up to stop Elliott and tried to force the Cowboys to win through the air. Washington may try to do the same but don’t have the same resources. Even after Pittsburgh built a large lead and went to conservative offense in Week One, Washington was unable to do anything against the Steelers’ ground game.
While many would like to see Alfred Morris have a big game against his former team, Ezekiel Elliott needs this one badly. Confidence is key for all athletes but especially a young guy trying to prove he was worth the fourth overall pick in the draft. If the Cowboys are going to have success during Tony Romo‘s absence and even after his return, Elliott needs to be having a great rookie season.
Who Covers DeSean Jackson?
A lot of attention is being paid to the receiver-cornerback matchup between Dez Bryant and Josh Norman. Ultimately, I think the more important matchup may be when Washington has the ball.
During his time in both Philadelphia and Washington, DeSean Jackson has often been covered by Dallas’ Orlando Scandrick. However, Scandrick is battling a hamstring injury and may not be at full speed. And, in the words of Mickey Goldmill, “speed is what we need” against the still-electric Jackson.
Granted, Dallas plays a lot of zone defense and that negates some of the worry about matchups. Still, there are plenty of times when man defense is needed. Depending on Scandrick’s capacity, Morris Claiborne may wind up the better option for covering Jackson.
Last week, Claiborne saw the majority of the work against Odell Beckham Jr. and he had a fairly quiet game. The one big play came against Scandrick. Otherwise, O.D.B. has just 28 yards on 3 catches.
Last week Dallas had two sacks on Eli Manning. One came on a corner blitz with Orlando Scandrick out of the slot. The other was a coverage sack by Benson Mayowa. Outside of these plays, though, Dallas still appeared unable to generate much pressure in the pocket.
Last year, Washington was one of the league’s top teams in not allowing sacks. That has continued thus far as Kirk Cousins was not sacked at all in Week One and only hit twice.
Given some of the matchup concerns we just addressed against Washington’s receivers, the need to pressure Cousins is vital. We cannot allow Jackson, Pierre Garcon, or Jamison Crowder time to get behind our coverage.
Personal Foul Potential of Bryant vs. Norman
The NFL’s new rule about personal fouls and possible ejection could come into play as two aggressive players go to war. The ultimate winner in the Dez-Norman matchup may be who doesn’t hurt their team the most.
I certainly hope that Scott Linehan will work Dez into the game far more than he did against the Giants. That means more short-yardage throws and giving Bryant opportunities to break tackles and make dynamic plays. However, that also means more likelihood for big hits and tight, physical coverage.
Hopefully, both guys can keep it professional. Unfortunately for Dallas, Dez may have the shorter fuse of the two.
Byron Jones‘ First Turnover
Despite playing in all 16 games last year and having a significant role, Byron Jones did not record a single turnover. The corner-turned-safety has yet to pick off a pass or force a fumble.
Jones may get a shot this week. Kirk Cousins threw two interceptions last week against Pittsburgh, although he only threw 11 total during the 2015 season. Cousins may now be easier to pick off with a full season of tape to study.
Dallas was able to dominate the clock last week but failed to finish their drives with touchdowns. If they can correct that this week and build a lead, it could force Washington to go to the air more. Perhaps Byron Jones will finally snag that first pick.