Knowing the enemy is half the battle as it pertains to sports, in this case the NFL. It's one of the reasons why the New England Patriots have been so successful for the past several years. They're known for taking away the opponents best weapon, whether it's on offense or defense, and this is something the Dallas Cowboys definitely need to do a better job of.
With that in mind, I thought I would go through all the teams the Dallas Cowboys are scheduled to play in 2019 and identify which ones they should try to neutralize the most each week. For me, these are the players who can take over a game pretty much by themselves. Probably better known as game changers.
Let's get started…
Weeks 1 & 9: New York Giants
As a division rival, the Dallas Cowboys will see the New York Giants twice in 2019. These two teams are very familiar with one another, which makes identifying the most dangerous player to contain that much more easy. For the Giants, I believe that player is Running Back Saquon Barkley, especially since they traded away Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns this offseason.
The Cowboys did a pretty good job at containing Barkley in 2018, and must to the same once again this season. Dallas held him to a total of 137 yards on the ground and 113 yards through the air with just one rushing touchdown in two games last season. That's pretty impressive considering the damage Barkley inflicted on other teams last season.
Weeks 2 & 17: Washington Redskins
Much like the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins are yet another division foe the Dallas Cowboys are very familiar with. These two teams played each other pretty tough in 2018 splitting the series, and there's no reason to believe they won't be a tough opponent yet again in 2019. That's why knowing the most dangerous player is all that more important. I believe that player to be none other than RB Derrius Guice.
I thought about going with Adrian Peterson here because he put up some pretty respectable numbers against the Cowboys last year, but I believe Guice will end up being “the guy” for the Redskins this year. The talented LSU RB didn't have the rookie season he was hoping for due to an unfortunate knee injury he sustained, but it looks as if will make a full recovery and bounce back this year.
Week 3: Miami Dolphins
If I'm being completely honest, there's not a single play on the Miami Dolphins team who I believe should give the Dallas Cowboys any trouble in Week 3. This is a team in the midst of a rebuild, and because of that probably won't be all that competitive this year. But for the fun of it, I thought I would go ahead and identify who I think the Cowboys should focus most of their attention on.
I thought about going with CB Xavien Howard, who is arguably their best player, but the Cowboys can easily avoid him if they believe he's a difference maker. Then I started to go with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who the Dolphins signed to a two-year, $11 million contract this year, but I don't believe he's going to be their starting QB. I believe that's going to be Josh Rosen. He's probably the most dangerous adversary as far as Dallas is concerned, but should be easily contained with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn coming off the edges.
Week 4: New Orleans Saints
The Dallas Cowboys did a masterful job against the New Orleans Saints in 2018 to come away with the victory and will have to do so once again this year. In order to accomplish this, they are going to have to contain the Saints most dangerous player. Figuring out who to focus their attention on is a little more difficult then the teams we previously discussed though.
WR Michael Thomas is definitely a difference maker in the receiving game, and we all know RB Alvin Camara is a huge threat anywhere on the field as a runner or receiver. But, if the Cowboys can contain QB Drew Brees that will severely hamstring the entire offense. Dallas was able to do just that in 2018, but it won't be as easy this go around now that the Saints have the home field advantage.
Week 5: Green Bay Packers
Things have a way of going the Green Bay Packers way just about every time they face off against the Dallas Cowboys. I think it's time things shift more in the favor of the Cowboys, but in order to do so they have to do a better job of containing the Packers most dangerous player. For me, I believe that player is none other than their QB, Aaron Rodgers.
Much like the Saints, the entire Packers offense depends on the arm and the legs of Aaron Rogers. We don't yet know what their offense will look like this season now that they have a new head coach in Matt LaFleur, but I can 100% guarantee Rogers is the focal point. If the Cowboys can shut him down or contain him, that will go a long way with putting the W in the win column.
Week 6: New York Jets
The New York Jets is another team on the Dallas Cowboys 2019 schedule who shouldn't give them too much to worry about. Although, they do have a few players they need to keep track of. Second-year QB Sam Darnold is a promising player who the Jets believe they can build a franchise around, but with lack of weapons in the passing game he shouldn't be a huge factor. That's why I believe RB Le'Veon Bell is the player Dallas must contain.
Bell may have set out the entire 2018 season due to a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but in no way do I believe that has caused him to lose a step. He's still probably one of the best RBs in the NFL and I don't expect that to change just because he's taking his talents to New York. His ability to be a factor in the running and passing game is something the Cowboys defense will have to be aware of on any given play. If they can limit him though, the Jets entire offense should falter.
Weeks 7 & 17: Philadelphia Eagles
The third and final division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, are expected to be the Dallas Cowboys biggest competitors to win the NFC East division. There is no denying they have a lot of talent on their roster, which makes identifying which player the Cowboys have to contain much more difficult. I'll be honest, I considered a lot of players on both offense and defense for the Eagles, but kept coming back to TE Zach Ertz.
Fletcher Cox, Jordan Howard, Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffrey, and even DeSean Jackson were aall in the running, but out all of those players Zach Ertz is the most consistent. He's a mismatch player against anybody he lines up against in the Cowboys secondary, but if they can contain him they match up pretty well against everybody else. Of course, if the Cowboys pass rush can shut down Carson Wentz none of this matters.
Week 10: Minnesota Vikings
Based on the Minnesota Vikings 2018 record (8-7), you'd think that they are an average to below average team without much talent on the roster. But, that couldn't be further from the truth. They have a lot of talented players on both offense and defense who can make this Week 10 matchup with the Cowboys a slobber knocker. There is one player though who I believe Dallas should focus most of their attention towards containing.
Wide Receiver Adam Thielen has gone from undrafted free agent to one of the top receivers in the NFL in a short amount of time. Stefon Diggs and Dalvin Cook also deserve some credit here, but Thielen has the ability to take over a game almost all by himself. That's why I believe he should be the main focal point for the Cowboys defense to try to contain. It's a tossup though.
Week 11: Detroit Lions
Golden Tate was a thorn in the Dallas Cowboys side last year when they played the Detroit Lions. But, now that he's no longer there they can breathe a sigh of relief and turn their focus to someone else. The Lions have a few players who could give the Cowboys some trouble, but not very much if I'm being honest. One player I'm a little concerned about though is Running Back Kerryon Johnson.
Kerryon Johnson showed flashes last year as a rookie that would suggest he could become a difference maker in the NFL. The Cowboys held him to just 55 rushing yards and a TD, and should be able to do the same once again in 2019. C.J. Anderson is also in Detroit and torched the Cowboys last year while with the Rams, but I believe it's Johnson who could give Dallas' defense the most trouble though.
Week 12: New England Patriots
With Rob Gronkowski's expected retirement from the NFL, the New England Patriots are going to have to find another mismatch player to give opposing defenses fits. They have a number of running backs on the roster, particularly second-year RB Sony Michel and James White, who can make things difficult for defenses around the league, but I think WR Julian Edelman is a bigger concern.
Julian Edelman is not only Tom Brady's favorite target in the passing game, but he's also the emotional leader for probably the entire team. If they can get him going, it makes things really difficult on their opponent. His route running ability and feistiness after the catch makes him a dangerous player for anybody who tries to cover him. He would be a handful for any one of the Cowboys CBs who try to cover him.
Week 13: Buffalo Bills
The storyline between the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving day is probably going to be Cole Beasley's return to Dallas, but I don't believe he someone they really have to game plan too much for. Actually, there's not a lot of players on the Bills roster who I believe the Cowboys should have to pay much extra attention to, except for maybe a rookie. Surprisingly, he's also the first defensive player I've gone with as someone Dallas needs to contain.
You've no doubt already guessed it, but Defensive Tackle Ed Oliver is expected to follow in the footsteps of Aaron Donald in the NFL. He has yet to play a single down in the league, but he has rare athletic ability and can play up and down Buffalo's defensive line, and quite possibly linebacker. If he is as advertised, he is definitely someone the Cowboys need to know where he's at on any given play.
Week 14: Chicago Bears
On paper, the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys matchup pretty close to one another. Both teams have a young, talented defense with several players capable of impacting the game one way or another by themselves. Because of that, I think the defenses kind of cancels themselves out, making this a game likely decided on who performs better on the offensive side of the ball.
With that in mind, I decided to go with RB Tarik Cohen as the player the Cowboys need to do their best to neutralize. He is a triple threat due to his ability to break a game wide open as a runner, receiver, or as a returner on special teams as well. He is what Dallas was hoping they were getting in Tavon Austin, but he's already a more proven and consistent playmaker at this point in his career. Now that Jordan Howard is gone, Cohen will be the featured back in Chicago.
Week 15: Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams thoroughly trampled the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last year in 2018, meaning this could be a revenge game of sorts this time around. The Rams have a lot of talent on their roster both on offense and defense, but there's one player in particular who really stands out from the rest of who Dallas must neutralize to keep him from taking over the game.
No, I'm not talking about RB Todd Gurley, although if 100% healthy could change my mind here. It's hard to imagine him being healthy at this time of year though. The player I'm talking about is DT Aaron Donald. If he is able to get the best of the Cowboys OL it would disrupt the entire offense. In a game where every single point will matter, Dallas can't afford to let Donald impact what they're trying to do offensively. He is the one player I think they must contain for the Rams.