IRVING, Texas– Finally, it's time to settle in for the weekend and see just what we'll get from this year's edition of the Dallas Cowboys.
We've talked plenty this week about the matchups we'll see Sunday night against the Giants, and I'm excited to see how the season opener finally plays out. It's fair to say there's been enough talking about what to expect when the Cowboys start playing games again.
With that in mind, I compiled my usual Friday notebook for football season – 10 final thoughts about what I'm looking for this weekend.
- I believe Scott Linehan will make things difficult on the Giants if they try and take Dez Bryant out of this game coverage-wise. Bryant has become more comfortable in his role of lining up at different spots in the formation and running routes from those spots. Knowing this, look for Linehan to take advantage of the situation and put Bryant in spots where he can give him better access up the field so the Giants will not be able to double him.
- There is a good chance the Giants will try and single-block Randy Gregory with Ereck Flowers, so that leaves Marshall Newhouse against DeMarcus Lawrence on the opposite side. I believe this is where we will see the Giants try and slide their protection in order to help him. If the Giants' plan is to try and let Newhouse handle him one-on-one, this is a matchup the Cowboys should win.
- As exciting as Lucky Whitehead might be as a returner, the decision of who handles the job will come down to trust and he doesn't have that yet. Coaches don't like the unknown, especially on Opening Day. Look for Cole Beasley to handle the punts and Lance Dunbar the kickoff returns at least in this first game.
- I am interested to see how Tyron Smith and Doug Free handle playing against Cullen Jenkins, who is now getting time at defensive end. There was a time while in Green Bay where Jenkins was a handful as that under-defensive tackle. His game has always been about that first quick step, then attacking the gap. Now he has to set up moves and counter more athletic blockers.
- As much as this Dallas defense has its concerns about dealing with Odell Beckham Jr., how they handle Shane Vereen is just as troubling. The Giants like to try and get him involved in the passing game on option routes and screens. The Cowboys can play this a couple of different ways by either using Barry Church or Sean Lee down in the box. My feeling is they most likely will use Lee and allow Church to be a free player or to blitz. Lee has the athletic ability to stay with Vereen in those situations where he has to make a play in space.
- Keep an eye on how Dallas attacks the front of the pocket against Eli Manning. During the preseason, the Giants have been rotating Geoff Schwartz and John Jerry at right guard. The best shot for inside pressure is over Schwartz due to the fact that he doesn't always handle a defender that rushes with a combination of speed and power -- which is what you get from Tyrone Crawford. I will say that some of the best throws of the preseason came when Manning was able to climb the front of the pocket while keeping his eyes down the field.
- Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is going to have a difficult time matching these Cowboys skill players with his personnel. Where Dallas can make things even more difficult is using plenty of empty sets in order to stretch Spagnuolo even thinner. Most teams would blitz empty sets, and that could be Spagnuolo's plan. But by stretching the defense, it will also allow Tony Romo to get a gauge where the blitz is coming from. Look for the Cowboys to take advantage of the matchups they have when they get in this formation especially with Cole Beasley.
- Have gone back and forth in my mind about who will likely start at Sam linebacker alongside Anthony Hitchens at Mike and Sean Lee at Will. I initially thought it might have been Andrew Gachkar, but now I believe it will be Kyle Wilber. Gachkar has shown that he is better playing as the Mike than Wilber. It also keeps Gachkar fresh in case Hitchens has a setback with his injured foot.
- I expect to see Byron Jones playing more safety than corner in this game. My feeling is that Jones will be asked to play in certain packages where Marinelli wants to match these Giants tight ends with defenders that can cover. Jones showed in the preseason that he was comfortable playing down in the box and working in those situations. Jones will also see some work in the back end as well playing single high for J.J. Wilcox.
- When the Cowboys run the ball they generally like to do it through their zone scheme, but something I picked up on during the preseason was their ability to down block with their tackles and pull their guards on the edge. Zack Martin has always been athletic enough to make these types of blocks and play in space. Ronald Leary has improved in his movement as well, so I could see Scott Linehan mix his runs up scheme-wise to give the Giants a little different look than what they might see.