FRISCO, Texas — It'll not only be a contest wherein the Cowboys are faced with a laundry list of adversities to overcome as they try to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start to their 2022 season, but adding insult to literal injury will be the fact there are two very familiar faces looking to help the Bengals take advantage of the absence of Dak Prescott and others — namely right tackle La'el Collins and safety Chidobe Awuzie.
Both Collins and Awuzie are former starters for the Cowboys who are undoubtedly imparting their knowledge unto the Bengals coaching staff for the coming battle in Week 2, but two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence and Pro Bowl wideout CeeDee Lamb are just as familiar with them and their skill sets.
And, come Sunday, someone's going to lose in this battle of former compatriots.
For Lawrence, seeing Collins again means something on both a personal and a professional level -- following the Cowboys decision to release the starting tackle in March.
"It'll be great to see La'el," said Lawrence following Thursday's practice. "I haven't seen him since he left to go to Cincinnati. It'll be good to go against him - check up on him and see how he's doing. … He's a good player."
The two spent seven seasons together in Dallas, and that also means they matched up against each other time and again in practices for more than half a decade. Collins comes off of an unpleasant debut with the Bengals against T.J. Watt, however, and Lawrence is all-in on trying to win the assignment against his friend and ex-teammate to help lead the Cowboys to a 1-1 record through two games.
And that includes deploying the weapon that is Micah Parsons against Collins as well.
"He struggled with (Watt) last weekend so I'll send Micah over there to him," said Lawrence. "I'll be over there regardless."
Another matchup to watch is Lamb against Awuzie, a former Cowboys second-round draft pick and starter who signed a three-year, $21.75 million deal with Cincinnati a year ago. Last season, Awuzie posted a career-high two interceptions and had another pick against Super Bowl MVP Matthew Stafford in the Bengals' title-game loss.
Lamb and Awuzie were teammates during Lamb's rookie season in 2020.
"Great dude," Lamb said. "He's a great athlete. Very athletic. Very strong. His point of attack ability to impose his will of the opponent is great."
Lamb and the offense will look for a bounce-back game after the Cowboys posted three points in Week 1 against Tampa Bay, their lowest scoring total since Oct. 25, 2020 against Washington.
Lamb had two catches for 29 yards on 11 targets last Sunday, and as the new No. 1 receiver -- replacing former starter Amari Cooper -- he isn't surprised that a larger spotlight comes with potentially more outside scrutiny.
"No, because I hold myself to that standard," he said. "Everybody has their own opinion and you're entitled to it. And obviously after Week 1 everybody's going to have something to say. It is Week 1. You've got to understand we've got 16 more."
Lamb and Prescott have always had a good rapport -- with a Pro Bowl season in 2021, Lamb posted the second-most receiving yards by a Cowboys player in his first two NFL seasons (2,037) -- but his most recent 100-yard receiving game was actually last Halloween against Minnesota, the last time backup Cooper Rush filled in for an injured Prescott.
Now, without Prescott in the lineup for perhaps the next month, and veteran receivers Michael Gallup and James Washington also still working their way back from injury, Lamb knows everyone has to raise their game again.
"I feel like in the situation that we're in, you always have to step up," he said. "In the receiver room, I feel like I have to step up, and now losing QB1, the situation doesn't change. The opportunity is much bigger and then we've got to play for our brothers.
"Obviously we lost a lot of guys and we're going to get them back in the back half of the season. So until then, we've got to step up and play the brand of ball that we know how to play. And I've got the utmost confidence in (head) coach (Mike) McCarthy and (offensive coordinator) Kellen (Moore) to get this done."