FRISCO, Texas – We're finally back.
I know, I know – we've technically been back for a while. This team reported to camp back on July 25, and we've been talking about them every day since.
But this time it's for real. Starting Sunday, it counts in the standings.
As always, here's my preview of what I expect to see for Week 1's game against the New York Giants.
- This is a game where the coaches will have to be mindful about the snaps that some of their players get. Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence are the guys I am focusing on. With two of the three having no training camp practice, throwing them in the lineup and saying "have at it" is not the approach they will take. This medical staff does a great job with these players, making sure they're ready to play and are capable of protecting themselves.
- A player that might not fall into that snap count situation is Zack Martin. It's a little different for offensive linemen, who require continuity with the group. Switching them out or giving them plays off requires more difficulty. Martin was listed as limited during the week and this was accurate. Generally, Martin will not miss a snap during practice unless he's subbed out. I was told Martin did split time with Xavier Su'a-Filo this week to save some wear and tear on him. From all indications I've heard, it sounds like Martin practiced well and is good to go.
- We need to keep an eye on Byron Jones this week. With how well Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis practiced during training camp, there really isn't a reason at this time to push Jones back into his starting role. Jones practiced all week and, like most of the guys coming off injuries, has looked solid. Where Jones was getting most of his work has been as a backup to Brown. Where we might see Jones is in some sub or nickel package snaps. With Jones' history of dealing with athletic tight ends, we might see him work against Evan Engram in coverage.
- We're going to see how much confidence this staff has in Tony Pollard as a blitz pickup man. Ezekiel Elliott is not going to see his normal snap count that we're all accustomed to. Pollard is willing but just doesn't have the experience. If I were the Giants, I would attack him every opportunity to see if he can hold up and not be a liability. Where the Cowboys could counter is by using Jamize Olawale on obvious passing downs, in those snaps where they don't want to use Elliott or expose Pollard to what the Giants might throw at him.
- This staff will have to make a decision about which defensive linemen they dress in this game. I mentioned DeMarcus Lawrence, but Tyrone Crawford falls in this category, as well. How they manage the snaps -- especially in this first game -- will be important. The staff could decide to dress nine instead of eight to protect themselves. I could see them dressing Kerry Hyder for sure, but now comes the tough part -- Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong or Joe Jackson? What's interesting is that Armstrong took the majority of the snaps while Lawrence was out. Charlton has improved, while Jackson can play both tackle and end. The staff might get all those guys up and decide not to dress Trysten Hill and go light at tackle. If they go that route, both Hyder and Jackson could play the under tackle position.
- I expect to see Kellen Moore come out with some tight formation looks like we've seen from the Los Angeles Rams -- where they bunch receivers up and scatter at the snap to create that confusion. How often have we seen a secondary completely blow the coverage, allowing a man to be running free? Randall Cobb has made a career playing out of bunch formations and finding space. I see this being no different with the Cowboys. Cobb is a master working off picks and screens and catching the ball on the move. The Giants defensively had trouble in the preseason when receivers played out of this type of grouping, so I expect we'll see it.
- The Cowboys list three starters at linebacker, but it might as well be four. Joe Thomas can play all those spots at linebacker, and as the backup to Sean Lee he will see more than his share of action. It's not that think Lee's play is going to slip, it's just that Thomas has been that good. There is no question he could start for plenty of teams and this one is very fortunate to have him on the roster. He might not have Lee's instincts, but he is every bit as physical and he has proven that he can finish when he gets in position.
- C.J. Goodwin finished the final preseason game playing as the emergency safety when Donovan Wilson left the game. With Wilson and Darian Thompson both likely missing the game with injuries, Goodwin took some snaps back at safety during practice this week. Goodwin will be ready just in case some happens to one of the starters or Kavon Frazier. The squad is a little light there at the moment, but hopefully Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath will be able to make it through the game without issue.