FRISCO, Texas – Back like we never left, here's my weekly preview of three guys to watch in this week's game against the New York Giants.
As is always the case, a lot has changed since the last time these two division rivals met. Here's a look at two familiar faces and one new guy.
Weapon: RB Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley will be the best running back the Cowboys' defense will face this season. He's coming off an outstanding rookie season where he was the lone bright spot on a dismal squad.
This is a complete player in every sense of the word. The defense must prepare for his running style. He can be difficult to bring down in the open field due to his elusiveness and power. You don't see many tacklers get a good shot on him. He's generally the one delivering the punishment.
You can't go after him half-committed or he will embarrass you. Barkley can be a nightmare to deal with in the passing game. Giants coaches will move him all around the formation in order to create problems in coverage. I will be interested to see how Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli choose to match him. The Cowboys have the linebackers to play in coverage or they could choose to account for him much like they did with Alvin Karmara -- by walking Jourdan Lewis over the top of him.
Other than Evan Engram, Barkley is the Giants' biggest offensive threat. Just studying their roster and film, there is no one on the outside that presents the problems he does. Without Odell Beckham Jr. on the field, the Giants are really limited in what they can do. So Barkley will have to account for that offense, not only running the ball but receiving as well.
Nemesis: TE Evan Engram
Evan Engram will not be an easy matchup for Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli to prepare for. Like Saquon Barkley, they will need a special plan for Engram to eliminate him from the game. My gut feeling is that they would like to treat him like a receiver and cover him that way, but they could always lean on Jeff Heath.
Heath has done a nice job during his career of dealing with Zach Ertz and Jordan Reed. He has matched up well when it comes to the physical elements these tight ends bring to the game. Heath has never backed down from a challenge. His fourth down stop against Ertz last season likely won the division for the Cowboys.
With all that being said, it would not surprise me one bit to see the staff mix some coverages on Engram. These coaches don't want to give him or Eli Manning the same look or read. By mixing those looks, it will create doubt or affect adjustments to their game plan.
What the staff can't allow is for Manning and Engram to get in any type of rhythm. There was a time when Manning looked for Odell Beckham Jr. every time he got in trouble. But with Beckham out of the picture, this is where Engram will take over that role. This secondary needs to be fully aware of where he is at all times and not let him get open -- especially on third down and in the red zone.
Under the Radar: LB Markus Golden
If there is one thing this New York defense lacks, it's pass rushers. This organization has a great history of guys that have come off the edge, but today that just isn't the case.
Their best pass rusher, judging from preseason film, is Markus Golden -- formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. In 2016 Golden made three starts and ended up with 12.5 sacks. In his final season with the Cardinals, in 2018, he started 11 games and ended up with 2.5 sacks.
Golden is listed as an outside linebacker in their odd man front, but there are several snaps where you see him with his hand on the ground rushing the passer. I think he's a much better player when he can rush from a two-point stance. He tends to show a little more quickness and elusive play when on the edge. He's extremely active in the way he attacks the pocket.
Golden will generally line up as the left outside linebacker. Where he gets in trouble is when he tries to take the defender down the middle on his rush. This will play right into the hands of La'el Collins, who tends to fare better when he faces a man that will try and overpower him.
Where Collins has to be careful in dealing with Golden is his swim move. He does a really nice job of getting the tackle to lunge at him, then move his hips one way and his arm over the top. Collins is going to need to play with patience when dealing with Markus Golden.