FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys and Jets square off Sunday without one future Hall of Famer who expected to have a major impact in this game.
Still, there are two handfuls of players that will make a difference.
Since the Super Bowl is always the goal for every team, we decided to rank the Top 10 X-factors for the Cowboys and Jets, using roman numerals, since 10 = X.
Here we go, these 10 guys will likely be big difference-makers one way or another.
X - Zach Wilson - Prove you belong, young man. With Aaron Rodgers done for the season, it's up to the third-year quarterback out of BYU to lead a talented Jets roster the rest of the way, starting with his opportunity against Dallas on Sunday afternoon. His best ability is his potential outside of the pocket, but will Dallas' defensive line let him escape the pocket to make those plays? Regardless, if the Jets want to even touch the potential they had coming into 2023, they need Wilson to be better than he's been through two seasons in New York.
IX - Breece Hall - Another effect of Rodgers going down for the season is the needed emergence of the run game for the Jets, and it starts with Breece Hall. After amassing over 100 yards on his first two carries against Buffalo on Monday night, the second-year Iowa State product slowed to just 25 yards on his remaining eight carries. Big play potential flows through Breece Hall with his quick burst and ability to quickly identify a hole within that burst, and that is emphasized even more going into Dallas against a run defense that was near the bottom of the league last season. If New York wants to win on Sunday, it will take Hall having a big day.
VIII - Sauce Gardner - The reigning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year has a tall challenge in front of him on Sunday going up against either CeeDee Lamb or Brandin Cooks, depending on personnel sets and matchup adjustment within the game. Regardless, Gardner will need to hone in on one thing: speed. He was one of the best corners in the league last season in anticipating breaks and getting out ahead of the receiver for PBUs or INTs. Dallas will want to get the passing attack going after being forced to keep things PG in week one, and beating Gardner both downfield and in the short game will be critical in doing that.
VII - Quinnen Williams - Another week, another tough challenge on the interior defensive line. After a 12-sack season that earned him his first first-team All-Pro honor, Quinnen Williams kept it going on Monday night with a solid performance against Buffalo that included five tackles, one tackle for loss and one fumble recovery. Tyler Biadasz, Chuma Edoga and Zack Martin kept things fairly clean for Dak Prescott against a stiff interior challenge last week, and the pressure only gets increased with a young athletic talent like Quinnen Williams entering AT&T Stadium.
VI - Garrett Wilson - Even though the pass game for New York took a significant blow when Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles on Monday night, one of the top young receivers in the league still sits in the pass-catching department. Wilson – who last played at AT&T Stadium in a state championship during his high school days – enters week two after grabbing the catch of the week on a touchdown grab in the fourth quarter against Buffalo. His athleticism and high-point ability is some of the best in the league, and he will challenge either Stephon Gilmore or Trevon Diggs early and often, especially in the quick game.
V - Dante Fowler – He's not the ultimate difference-maker on this defense, but his presence is a reminder just how talented and deep the Cowboys are, particularly with the pass-rushers. The former No. 3 overall pick of the draft (Jacksonville, 2015). Just look at Fowler's stat line in the game, playing a lot in the second half when the Cowboys rested some of their starters. He recorded no sacks or tackles. But he was credited with four pressures and two pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. It just shows the Cowboys will keep coming in waves at the Jets' passing game from start to finish.
IV - Brandon Aubrey – Throw the first game out the window because of the rain? Or, does Brandon Aubrey get praised for how he kicked there in Week 1? Either way, we'll find out soon enough what the rookie kicker is made of, maybe this week against the Jets, whose defense will probably force the Cowboys into some field goal attempts. Jerry Jones seems excited about Aubrey's potential, despite a missed extra point, followed by two field goals and four more made extra points.
III - KaVontae Turpin – The return game is going to be critical in games like this with two strong defenses. Field position will likely be a major factor and that's where Turpin has a chance to change the game. Plus, the way he was used on offense could also impact the game, especially if running the ball inside is a challenge. Spreading the field from sideline to sideline is key and no one should do that as well as Turpin.
II - Damone Clark – The Cowboys must turn the Jets into a passing game, much like they did against Daniel Jones and the Giants last week. Stopping the run is the best way to do that and that's where Clark, coupled with Leighton Vander Esch, will be counted on to stop the Jets' running attack of Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook. Clark was credited with five tackles last week against the Jets. He'll probably need to have more than that to make sure the Jets don't keep running the ball.
I - Tyler Smith – The Cowboys are hopeful to get Smith back this week at left guard, although Chuma Edoga filled in nicely. But against the Jets' dominant DT Quinnen Williams, the Cowboys will need as much strength on the inside as possible and that's what Tyler Smith provides. If he can return from a hamstring injury and play his first game, that should help neutralize Williams, a first-team All-Pro selection last year. As of Wednesday's injury report, Smith did not practice for the Cowboys.