DALLAS - The Dallas Cowboys football season is finally upon us. The NFC East Champions are set to take on their long-time rivals, the New York Giants, Sunday night in Arlington, Texas. The game will be televised nationally on NBC. With the preseason games finally in the rearview mirror, the team can focus on their ultimate goal which is defending their division title and hopefully bringing a sixth Lombardi Trophy home to Dallas.
For this Week 1 match-up, here are five players to keep focus on. Of course, on the offensive side of the ball, everything begins and ends with second-year quarterback and team captain Dak Prescott.
- During his rookie season Prescott completed 67.8% of his passes overall but against the Giants, he wasn’t as accurate. Prescott threw for 51.2% completion rate against New York in two matchups, each ending in Dallas losses. Of his 23 touchdown passes, only one came in those two games. Prescott also threw for two of his four career interceptions against the Giants.
- A term most often heard in these parts in regards to Prescott has been “sophomore slump.” Given his work ethic, it is difficult to fathom Prescott will hit that wall in year two. He has a few more weapons and a healthy Dez Bryant this go-round. That said, Prescott will be looking to turn the tide against the team that gave Dallas fits in 2016.
- Elliott has been in the headlines daily given his pending domestic abuse suspension and appeal hearings of late. There has been plenty of distraction but head coach Jason Garrett and Dak have gone as far as to say that it hasn’t deterred Elliott during practice. The NFL's leader rusher from 2017 will be hungry to get on the field and he will be suiting up for Dallas Sunday night.
- Last season Elliott ran away with the rushing title despite the slow start to the season and sitting out week 16. Much like Prescott, Elliott wasn’t at his best against New York. Zeke carried the ball 44 times for 158 yards and one score in two games. He averaged 1.5 yards less than his career average. A motivated Elliott will be looking to punish the Giants front seven.
- Bryant has played in 13 career games against the New York Giants with 59 receptions for 884 yards and a total of seven touchdowns. One of those TDs came during his rookie season when he returned a punt 93 yards for a score. Dez produced three touchdowns in that game. 2016, however, was a different story, as Dez finished with just two catches on 14 targets for 18 yards in two games against New York.
- For the first time in three seasons, Dez is coming into the season fully healthy. The Cowboys are hoping he can return to his 2014 form when he led the league in receiving touchdowns (16). A full offseason working with Prescott could help Dez get back to where he belongs. With the addition of Ryan Switzer and Elliott in the backfield, look for Bryant to get some one on one looks versus Janoris Jenkins.
- Without question the Cowboys were in dire need of a pass rusher at the NFL Draft in April. When it was their time to be called to the podium, the Cowboys went with the Michigan Wolverine defensive end, Taco. Charlton showed some flashes in the preseason but the Cowboys need him to be consistent.
- What better medicine for the Cowboys' rookie than to face Erick Flowers in his first professional game. Flowers has struggled with protecting Eli Manning’s blindside at left tackle. The key matchup will be any rusher against Flowers but a solid showing could give some real confidence to Charlton that he can build on moving forward.
- Defensive captain Lee is coming off his first season where he was fully healthy. His good health propelled him to not only his second straight Pro-Bowl season but also being named to first team All-Pro team. Lee didn’t have the turnover numbers that fans have become accustomed to but his consistent play proved his value nonetheless.
- With the absence of middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens, Lee will be counted on even more. Justin Durant is back with Dallas but, given his own injury concerns, the Cowboys will probably give Lee even more responsibilities in the middle of the field. Eventually that role will belong to Jaylon Smith, but the rookie might not be there just yet. In 10 career games against New York Giants, Lee has accounted for 54 tackles and one interception.
Who else will you be watching closely on Sunday? Share your picks with Patrick on Twitter @DraftCowboys.
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