FRISCO, Texas — The first two weeks have been relatively smooth for the Dallas Cowboys as they completed the New York sweep of the Giants and Jets and will now carry that metro-sized momentum out west to the desert to take on a young Arizona Cardinals squad.
Despite the youth and inexperience on both sides of the ball, challenges await for specific Cowboys players as they look to help push the squad to 3-0 on the young season.
Here are the key matchups for the Cowboys' first of many trips out west in 2023.
Brandin Cooks vs. Marco Wilson
It's been a slow start for veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks who was only able to haul in two receptions for 22 yards in the storm-ridden season opener against the Giants and was forced to miss the Jets' contest in week two with a knee injury. However, Cooks is healthy and ready to go for week three and will have an opportunity to break loose over the top of Arizona's zone-heavy defensive scheme.
Most likely being matched up with third-year cornerback Marco Wilson on the outside, Cooks' speed and twitch may be too much for Wilson to handle, but the young cornerback's physicality off the line in man coverage could help win him some battles – with the assumption that he's able to play man against Cooks at any point.
If you're looking for a big game from Dak Prescott's newest weapon in 2023, this should be the first big opportunity for Cooks to make up for his first two weeks as a Cowboy.
DeMarcus Lawrence vs. Paris Johnson Jr.
Arizona's entire offensive success will be predicated on what they can accomplish in the run game with James Conner – who rushed for over 100 yards against New York last week – and backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs who set a career high with 41 rushing yards against the Giants in week two.
With that in mind, Dallas' premier run defender on the defensive line in DeMarcus Lawrence has an opportunity to limit that production from the Cardinals' backfield if he's able to dominate his matchup against right tackle Paris Johnson Jr.
Johnson, who was Arizona's first-round selection in April at No. 6 overall, has elite size and length at 6-foot-6, 313 pounds. His youth and athleticism will pose a unique challenge for Lawrence, but his veteran tendencies and knowledge could prove to be more valuable off the edge.
Lawrence enters Sunday with three tackles and two tackles for loss and will look to build on that total against a run-heavy offense and a rookie matchup up front.
DaRon Bland/Stephon Gilmore vs. Marquise Brown
With Trevon Diggs being done for the season, an opportunity awaits for DaRon Bland to step into a big role in 2023 and flourish amongst an elite defense around him. Up first, he'll see a matchup against one of the bigger downfield speed threats in the NFL in Marquise Brown.
Brown, a fifth-year receiver who famously ran a 4.33 40-yard dash while attending community college, has only improved his speed at the NFL level and is looking to provide a downfield option for Joshua Dobbs until Kyler Murray is able to return at quarterback.
While Bland will draw the matchup against Brown for the majority of snaps, Brown's variance in alignment in lining up on the left and right side will also give Stephon Gilmore an opportunity to try and neutralize Brown's speed one week after experiencing similar battles against Garrett Wilson.