FRISCO, Texas – We've told you so much about this Dallas Cowboys team to this point, so it's once again time to turn some attention toward the opponent.
With the regular season beginning again, I am once more going to begin my weekly look at the Cowboys' opposition. The goal here is to break down three players I think you need to keep an eye on – two established difference-makers and one that maybe you don't know so much about.
That's the goal here in Week 1 with the Giants. You have assuredly heard of my first two players, given that they're both Pro Bowlers. But to cap it off, I've got a preview of a guy whose name you might not know – but you need to.
Let's get into it:
Weapon: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
We don't know for sure if he'll even play, but you have to start a preview of the Giants with Beckham. He has the ability to win off the line with quickness, though he is not strong enough to win with power. Bigger, physical cornerbacks will give him problems. He can get rerouted at times when he has to deal with size.
Thanks to his speed, he gets into his routes quickly – and that can really cause defenders problems. He closes the cushion quickly, which puts him on the defender in a hurry. In that same vein, all of his routes are run at the same speed – top gear. He doesn't vary his speed or pace, and he is consistent in the way he does this. He has excellent long speed and separation.
When he is at top speed, he can be difficult to stay with. That makes him an outstanding vertical player. Where he will show some physical play is at the end of the route, when the defender is playing tight coverage on him. I have seen him push off in order to create separation up the field. Beckham plays with quickness and suddenness out of his breaks.
As we've all seen over the years, he has "blue" hands – which is the highest rating given by scouts. He is outstanding at making extended catches. Any ball that is thrown in his direction, no matter how it's delivered, has a chance to be caught. He makes the unreal -- real. His big plays generally come on run after catch.
In my opinion, this is one of the best slant runners in the league. He is explosive and elusive, and he runs strong for his size. Finisher. He is a difference-maker in every sense of the word.
Nemesis: S Landon Collins
One of the most physical safeties in the league. Collins has a great passion for the game, and he plays with toughness. He has outstanding football intelligence, which makes him a hard guy to fool.
Going back to his time as a draft prospect, he doesn't have great timed speed but can cover some ground when he runs. He is hard guy to get away from when he carries routes inside. He will also surprise you with his ability to plant and drive. To that point, he has some cornerback skills to his game. On tape, you see nice body control and balance with foot quickness. He shows good lateral quickness and agility.
That said, his best trait is his playing strength – which is what you hope for from a safety. When he delivers a blow, he stops the ball carrier in his tracks. It's rare to see him miss a tackle in space. He is an explosive player and a finisher. He lives to play in run support, and he makes an effort to get to every ball.
Even as a younger player, his instincts are top shelf -- he sees plays develop and is on the move. He does not get rattled or lose his poise as a player -- steady and consistent. You don't have to worry about him making mistakes.
Unlike a lot of hard-hitting safeties, Collins is not a liability in coverage. He can cover tight ends or receivers at all levels. You do not have to hide him. Quarterbacks have to be careful not to throw the ball late in his direction, because he will punish you. He has outstanding ball skills, which gives him he ability to create turnovers -- whether it's with big hits or defending the pass.
You have to be aware of him around the line of scrimmage, because he is an accomplished blitzer. He has the power to attack the pocket and defeat blockers to get on quarterback.
Under the Radar: TE Evan Engram
Get to know this guy's name now, because the Giant's newest first-round pick is going to be a difficult weapon for opponents to deal with. Already at this early stage of his career, he has lined up in several different spots for the Giants -- inline, "H" back, in the slot and out wide.
Engram's playing speed and initial quickness are outstanding. He plays with a burst. He does his best work in the middle of the field. He runs his routes like a large receiver, and – like a receiver – he has a feel for how to separate from his coverage. He presents himself as a target.
He is a bit of a tweener, so he is currently a better pass catcher than run blocker. His effort is good, but he is not strong. He lacks true sustain. He's more of a "catch and steer" blocker, which is to say that he doesn't get much movement. He can block on the move, but he doesn't fire off the ball. He tries to get his hands inside -- but is not always successful.
Without a doubt his best trait is his ability to catch the ball. He does a nice job of catching with his hands. He can adjust to the ball, whether it's high or low. He will make the contested catch. He is sideline aware and boasts good concentration.
Even as a rookie, Engram has a good feel for how to play in space. You have to worry about the Giants using him this way. I think you have to make a decision on how to play him, because it will require some thought and planning on how to take care of him.
Watching him play in the preseason, it appeared that Eli Manning was comfortable throwing the ball in his direction, no matter the situation. I can see that carrying over into the regular season.