FRISCO, Texas – Finally, we get to watch a game again.
It’s been two long weeks since that Eagles game, but I’m sure you agree with me that the wait has felt even longer than that. And as if we weren’t going crazy enough, we have to wait an extra 24 hours for Monday night.
Hopefully this notebook will help tide you ever. Here’s what I’m watching for when the Cowboys finally take the field again.
- I will be interested to see how much Michael Bennett plays in his first week with the club. Bennett has slowly worked his way through these practices, lining up at both tackle and end. I expect we will see him primarily playing at tackle in those nickel situations next to Maliek Collins.
- This should be the healthiest the squad has been since these two clubs met in Week 1. If there is an issue to keep an eye on, it’s at swing tackle. Cam Fleming was injured in a non-contact drill last week during practice and will be out two to three games with a calf strain. With Fleming on the sidelines, that means Brandon Knight will assume his role. Knight finished the Packers contest for La’el Collins and then made the start for him the following week against the Jets.
- This might sound strange, but as good as Sean Lee has been throughout his career, playing limited snaps hasn’t been good for him. Sure, it’s kept him healthy, but where Lee is at his best is when he can get into a flow of a game and get a feel for how he needs to play. A great example of this was in the Eagles game when he played for Leighton Vander Esch. Lee was all over the field and that was due in large part to playing those extra snaps. He got a feel for what Doug Pederson was trying to do scheme-wise and he had one of the best games of the season. If Vander Esch is not ready to go Monday night, they will be able to count on Sean Lee to get the job done.
- The lack of a pass rush hurt the Giants in Week 1 -- and to be honest, I don’t see it improving this week even with the addition of Leonard Williams. The Giants just don’t do enough to affect the pocket, and that puts defensive coordinator James Bettcher in a difficult spot. Bettcher has to fear a repeat of what happened to him in that first meeting, where the lack of pressure and free access in routes gashed his defense. Even if Bettcher tries to take Amari Cooper out of the game, that leaves Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb with single coverage – which didn’t work out well for the Giants last time. If I were Bettcher, I’d play press man and disrupt these Cowboys receivers off the line and hope that somehow Lorenzo Carter and Markus Golden get home before Dak Prescott can get the ball out.
- You don’t need a former NFL scout to tell you what a rare player Saquon Barkley is. How Kris Richard decides to play him will be a key element to the Cowboys’ game plan. Barkley reminds me of my days in Green Bay where we faced Barry Sanders twice a year. Stopping Sanders wasn’t about how quickly you got bodies to the ball, but how you were able to put those bodies around him. One of Sanders’ best traits was his ability to bounce the ball to the outside. The minute he felt defenders crashing down inside, he was on the edge. Barkley will do the exact same thing. It takes discipline to play good run defense when you face guys like this -- because if they get into the open field, they’re a nightmare to bring to the ground. Patience, balance and body control will be the defensive key here.
- Kris Richard will need to be ready for the Giants’ screen packages in this game. Having a plan for Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram will be an absolute must. The Giants like to set the formation heavy to one side, then throw the screen back the other way. Both Barkley and Engram do a nice job of making defenders feel as if they’re blocking, then work into the route with no one in the area. It’s a big part of what the Giants do offensively, so expect them to attempt to take advantage of it against this aggressive Cowboys front seven.
- I expect to see Kellen Moore use more creative ways to get both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard on the field at the same time. Both backs have such a unique skill set that it makes defensive coordinators have to rethink how they’re going to account for them. The more movement and deception that Moore can create will cause confusion for a Giants defense that struggled lining up correctly the first time these two clubs met.
- Even though the Giants struggle with their pass rush, I have a feeling the Cowboys will stick with the plan of “max” protection on certain downs. Keeping the tight ends in was something they did last time with good success. The Giants’ best pass rushers are their linebackers, so making them have to fight those extra blockers will not only wear them down but also keep Dak Prescott upright in the pocket.