The Cowboys have one of the league’s toughest schedules, in my opinion. There aren’t any opportunities for the team to become relaxed as the Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers all make appearance during some point in the season.
Cowboys fans, getting nervous yet? Can the Cowboys offense overcome staunch defenses like the Ravens and Steelers? Will Dallas have a strong enough secondary to deal with Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Michael Vick?
Let’s delve into each and every game, breaking down key questions analyzing important matchups.
Wednesday September 5th, 8:30 p.m. ET NBC
This game is circled on each and every Cowboys fans calendar. It was announced a few weeks ago and automatically made both bases salivate. The Cowboys hate the Giants and vice versa.
The difference in this game, and they play twice a year, is the diamond encrusted Super Bowl Ring that hangs from Eli Manning's pinky ring. The score, as most see it, is Eli two, Tony Romo, nothing.
What will be key for the Cowboys is stopping the Giants passing attack as well as that audacious defensive line. Depending on where the Cowboys go in the first round of the draft, offensive line or secondary, the Cowboys could very well match themselves out of the game.
If the defensive line proves to be head coach Jason Garrett's largest concern, then Stanford Guard David DeCastro may be the team's top draft choice.
If defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's is up a week before their matchup worrying over Manning's 400-yard passing day against them last season, then I say Alabama safety Mark Barron or North Alabama corner Janoris Jenkins should be high on the draft board.
Either way, the Cowboys will have to worry about both areas. The ferocious temperament of that Giants' defensive line will give Dallas hell, there is no questioning that. However, how the Cowboys choose to address the area is important as well.
Stopping Eli Manning and Victor Cruz are high on the list, and having Brandon Carr and Mike Jenkins will improve their chances of doing both.
Sunday, September 16th, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
If the Cowboys emerge as the losers of their Week 1 matchup against the Giants, then their Week 2 game versus the Seahawks becomes a must-win.
Seattle played hard and played well for stretches last season. This will be no easy victory as Seattle plays in quite possibly the best stadium in the NFL in terms of crowd noise.
What’s important for Dallas is stopping Seattle’s rushing attack. Linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee, along with the Cowboys revolving defensive line, will play huge roles in stifling Seattle’s ground game.
The unknown in this is who will be starting behind center for the Seahawks. If Matt Flynn earns the job, how potent will Seattle’s passing attack be and will it be formidable?
Lastly, the Seahawks had the 11th-best pass defense in the league last season, so Tony Romo and Miles Austin should come prepared.
Sunday, Sunday 23rd, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX
The emergence of Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman a couple of season ago made people believe that he could lead Tampa to the promise land. But he faltered last season and will look to rebound in 2012.
The Bucs were destroyed by the Cowboys last year as Tampa held a mutiny against former head coach Raheem Morris.
The Cowboys should exploit the Bucs' inability to stop anything that looks like an offense.
Last season, Tampa ranked 32nd against the run and 21st against the pass. Dallas has another opportunity to exploit Tampa's grody rush defense.
Monday, October 1st, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
This game should serve as notice that the Cowboys have no room for error in 2012. Their season may very well hang in the balance heading into Week 3 depending on how their first two games turn out.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is gone, to the likeness of quarterback Jay Cutler, and their offense should much more efficient.
Brandon Carr/Mike Jenkins against Brandon Marshall.
Cutler and Marshall played together in Denver and will look to re-create any former magic they left in the Mile High City. What's good for Dallas is that this will be just the third game, and it may take Marshall a little while to become acclimated to the team’s offense.
But Carr and Jenkins will play a key role in stopping the Bears' passing attack—plain and simple. If Cutler goes off for 400 yards, and Marshall gets over 100, Dallas may be toast. However, if the Cowboys can keep the pressure on Cutler and rattle him, there's a chance for atonement.
The last time these two teams played, the Bears beat the Cowboys 27-20. I expect more of the same from this game.
Week 5: Bye
Sunday, October 14th, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX
The trail of possible tears will continue into Week 4 for the Cowboys. If you don't believe the toughness of this schedule by now, then lend me your glasses.
The Ravens are pretty close to making a Super Bowl, and this game is pretty high on their toughness level as well.
I've never been a huge fan of Joe Flacco, and if he gets rattled, he starts making mistakes—throwing dirt balls like Donovan McNabb or shuffling his feet like, well, Joe Flacco.
Pressure Mr. Flacco and his creep-stache will be key for the Cowboys in this game. Having linebacker DeMarcus Ware speed rush Flacco will aid Carr and Jenkins in stopping receiver Anquan Boldin.
A heavy dose of running backs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones will help to slow down the tempo and eat the clock. That may play in the Ravens' favor, but the Cowboys can use the Ravens' chief weapon against them.
Sunday, October 21st, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX
The Panthers are led by 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton. They won six games, behind the Superman like antics of Newton and the legs of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Those six games could very well be multiplied in 2012, and the Cowboys may be a casualty.
The Cowboys defense versus Cam Newton and the Panthers rushing attack.
Newton has an arm, just check his 4,051 passing yards. But I believe the game will be won between the tackles by Dallas' linebackers and defensive line. A condensed explanation but honest in its assessment.
What should concern Rob Ryan the most is the healthy 5.4 average yards per carry by Williams and Stewart. Newton rushed for over 700 yards and averaged almost six per touch. How can the Cowboys stop that rushing attack?
Sunday, October 28th, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
The rematch of the Week 1contest to kick off the season will be important for both teams. The Cowboys are at the tail end of the toughest part of their schedule—well at the least the first portion.
This will depend on how the first game ended up and the final score.
I believe the season may be a split, but I digress. The key matchup for me is always how the Cowboys play Eli Manning and the Giants' pass attack. I'm not so overly concerned about the Giants' running game, though it is noted, as I am with their ability to pass the ball.
Dallas will also need to be as diverse as possible in throwing the Giants defensive line off. Any inability to add variety will be lost in the final score.
Sunday, November 4th, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
A Sunday night matchup against the NFC South favorite Atlanta Falcons may prove to be one of the most vital games of the year. It is also a potential playoff preview.
Roddy White against Carr and Jenkins.
White is one of the most talented wide receivers in the league, along with being one of the most vocal. Again, Carr and Jenkins will be important here, but the speed rush and defensive line will be just as critical.
Running back Michael Turner had 1,340 yards rushing, but he had over 300 carries. His legs may be heavy by this time of the season, and the Cowboys may be able to abuse Turner's "load."
Sunday, November 11th, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
The Cowboys lost to the Eagles by a combined score of 54-14 in 2011. Read that again as Dallas scored 14 points in two games against Philly.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson had 90 yards in one game and running back LeSean McCoy had almost 200 rushing yards in one. The Eagles offense is about as formidable as they come, and they enter the 2012 season as a Super Bowl favorite.
Stopping McCoy, Michael Vick and tight end Brent Celek are all at the top of the list for Rob Ryan. "Shady" McCoy is one of the league's best running backs, and Vick, well, we know his story. A versatile quarterback and an athletic running back make for scary tandem.
I listed Celek here because Sean Lee and Bruce Carter will be tasked with shadowing him for large portions of the game. If Lee or Carter are unable to provide sufficient coverage against Celek and the Cowboys have to pull a safety or corner to cover, this game may be over before it starts.
Sunday, November 18th, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS
This game, so far, is the only “easy” one that I see on the schedule.
The Browns have not improved substantially, and the Cowboys will have an opportunity to beat up on a down team.
With me saying that, the Browns will turn out to be one of the best teams of 2012.
The last time these two teams faced off, the Cowboys destroyed the Browns 28-10 in the season opener of 2008. Outside of that, the Cowboys should worry about the Browns' fan section.
Running back Peyton Hillis is a Chief now, and Cleveland’s quarterback situation is about as unsettled as my stomach after buying a $5 Taco Bell big box.
As far as the Cowboys go, they can exploit the Browns' inability to stop the pass and the run. Cleveland ranked 28th against the run.
Is there any need to go on?
Thursday, November 22nd, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
How about a Thanksgiving matchup with of the NFL's most storied rivalries?
The Redskins and possibly Robert Griffin III will head to the Cowboys stadium for a potential NFC East championship preview.
If the Redskins draft Robert Griffin III, and all signs point to yes, then capping him and forcing him to pass will be important.
Griffin will be a rookie, and by this point in the season, his legs should be weary along with his mind. Depending on how well his year is going, the Cowboys may be able to rattle him early.
But we can talk about matchups all day, however, when these two teams get together, it never matters. The Cowboys beat the Redskins twice last season and beat Washington by five combined points. The Redskins won five games last season and only lost to a potential playoff team by five points.
Matchups and records never matter when these two teams tackle each other.
Sunday, December 2nd, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
If we extrapolate the results of last season's games between these two teams, then their Week 13 matchup in 2012 may be a wash. It's a grand thing that we aren't doing that, isn't it?
McCoy was held to 35 yards rushing against Dallas in their second contest of 2011, so the Eagles turned to Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Michael Vick. The problem with the Eagles is the team's sheer versatility.
If McCoy is removed from the fold, then Philly can turn to Jackson or Maclin or Celek.
Vick is still athletic enough to make fans go wow. Gap discipline along with staying on assignment is paramount.
Sunday, December 9th, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX
The Bengals set a few teams on fire last year as they grinded their way to a 9-7 record. The last time these two teams met, Dallas beat Cincy 16-7. So this game should be interesting to watch.
The Bengals had a fantastic defense in 2011 as they only allowed 211 passing yards per game.
Romo will have his hands full with Cincy's pass rush and secondary. What will be key for Dallas is running the ball and involving Jones and Murray as much as possible.
Lastly, stopping Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton will not be easy. As a rookie, Dalton passed for over 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. I say only because he was a rookie and tossed the ball over 500 times.
That's impressive and Brandon Carr and Mike Jenkins will, again, play a huge role in stopping their passing attack.
Sunday, December 16th, 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
The Steelers and Cowboys go back a long way, but they have played since 2008. Remember the Tashard Choice game?
Dallas lost that game 20-13 by the way.
The pass rush and defensive line against the massive frame of quarterback Ben Rothlisberger.
His chemistry with wide receiver Mike Wallace will need to be disrupted. Another simplistic definition but honesty lives here.
Big Ben knows how to move around in the pocket and trying to bring him down is like trying to tackle a bus. Wallace is a speedster, along with receiver Antonio Brown, so Carr and Jenkins will have their hands full.
What’s important in this case is that this is a Week 15 matchup and may have serious playoff implications for both teams.
Sunday, December 23rd, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX
The Saints are in turmoil right now as it was just announced their head coach cannot have any contact with the Saints.
Drew Brees and his cannon arm will be locked and loaded but so will Brandon Carr and his ego. Carr seems to be the type of brash player the Cowboys are looking for, and he’ll champ at the bit to play against a player like Brees.
Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin will need to have a good game to keep up with the Saints' tempo as well as their scoring ability.
If the Cowboys fall behind, Romo’s arm as well as Garrett’s playcalling will determine if the Cowboys can keep up with the Saints.
Sunday, December 30th, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX
The last game of the season just so happens to be one of the most important.
Washington and RGIII will either load up for the playoffs or look to next season; either way, I believe this will be a game the Cowboys will have to win.
Depending on the outcome of the first game, Dallas may have to keep an eye on RGIII and try to crack the nugget of the Redskins defense.
Romo and his crew of misfits had trouble with Washington's defense last season, and 2012 shouldn't be any different.