16 Games, 16 Matchups the Dallas Cowboys Must Dominate
Can you smell that? It's one of the most wonderful smells known to every football fan around the country.
It's a fragrance that's a mixture of freshly-cut grass, paint, beer, grills tailgating in the parking lot, and nachos. It's the smell of another football season.
We really need to talk to whomever is in charge of naming national holidays because the first day of a new football season should be a holiday!
The Dallas Cowboys prepare to open up another season, and the first in their brand new billion-dollar stadium. The previous two seasons saw the Cowboys not live up to expectations. A 44-6 season-ending waxing at the hands of arch-rival Philly has left a very bad taste in the mouths of the players, fans, and Mr. Jones.
Question is: how will they respond? The time for talking has been at an end for some time now. Maybe Dallas will perform better now that they are not the trendy pick to get to the Super Bowl.
We'll take a look at a matchup in each game that could go a long way to determining the outcome. Will America's Team be able to not only reach the postseason, but do something once they're there?
Week 1: Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The first game of a season is always a big deal. Every team wants to come out of training camp and preseason showing the rewards of all of those two-a-days and film study.
In the case of the Cowboys, they want to set the tone for a season in which they hope they will finally realize their potential.
With T.O. out of the picture (for the record, I am not one of those people who feel like Owens was the sole source of the team's problems the last few seasons) the pressure to win and win now falls on Romo, Wade Phillips, and Jason Garrett.
Dallas has been too pass-happy over the past two seasons, and with the running backs that are on the roster, that philosophy has to change.
This is why the most important match-up in this first game against the Bucs is the ground game against the rushing defense of Tampa.
Tampa's rush defense ranked 19th in the league in yardage given up on the season. Now with no Derrick Brooks, a mix of young players, and a new coaching regime in place, Tampa Bay will be looking to find a new identity.
The Cowboys had the eighth ranked rushing attack last season (which is not bad at all), but that needs to jump a few notches into the top five.
The offensive line is huge and built to wear teams down. Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice all bring a different flavor to the mix, and they need to be utilized accordingly.
The Cowboys need to come out in this game and run early and often. This will open up the play action Tony Romo and get the team into a nice flow.
If Dallas is able to establish the running game in this one, they should have no problem leaving Tampa with a victory.
Week 2: New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys
Week two brings the G-Men to town for a Sunday night renewal of acquaintances. It will also be the first regular season home game in the new stadium, and its in primetime. There's no question that things will be rocking!
The Giants have arguably the best offensive line in football. There's no secret that they butter their bread with the running game. They had the No. 1 ground attack last season, averaging 157 yards per game.
Although they lost Derrick Ward to free agency, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw will have no problem dealing with a few extra carries.
The front seven of the Cowboys will need to bring their lunch pails and hard hats to the stadium Sunday night. With no Plaxico Burress to worry about, Dallas' main focus should be on stifling the Giants rushing attack.
Bradie James and Keith Brooking will need to play a huge role in slowing down the Mack truck that is Jacobs.
The Cowboys were only ranked 12th against the run last season, giving up over 106 yards per game.
Until the Giants demonstrate that you have to honor the young receiving corps, Dallas needs to stack the box with eight men and prepare for repeated head-on collisions.
If New York can be held under 100 yards, the Cowboys will give themselves a good chance to win.
Week 3: Carolina Panthers vs. Dallas Cowboys
For the second straight week, the Cowboys will host a primetime game. This one will be their first Monday night game in the new Cowboys Stadium.
The Panthers throughout their history have given the Cowboys trouble. They have one of the better 1-2 combinations at running back with DeAngelo Williams and James Stewart. Yes, the Cowboys will have their work cut out for them trying to contain that duo, but how the secondary deals with Steve Smith is the key.
Steve Smith has shown the ability to single-handedly take over a game. The primary responsibility of covering him will fall to Terrance Newman. The rest of the secondary will also have their chances with Smith, since Carolina will move him around. This could be a dangerous situation due to the youth in the Cowboy secondary.
Michael Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick got significant playing time last season and will be better for it. However, having to guard one of the premier receivers in the game is a tough task for a seasoned vet, let alone a second year player.
Dallas' secondary gave up a lot of big plays last season. The passing defense was ranked fifth in the league, but the timing of the big plays surrendered was horrible. Combine that with only eight interceptions on the season (third fewest in the league) and the Cowboys have plenty of work to do.
Newman is respected around the league as one of the top ten corners. Games like these are the ones in which he has to show why he's among the league's best. We know that Jake Delhomme will give Newman and the rest of the secondary some chances to make plays on the ball. When a play breaks down, Jake will heave the ball in whichever direction Smith is in.
Newman and the rest of the defensive backfield must contain Smith and limit the number of big plays he makes in order to emerge victorious.
Week 4: Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos
The Cowboys venture to Invesco Field for a week four match-up with Josh McDaniels and his new look Denver Broncos.
This could be the game in which the passing attack has a breakout performance.
Last season, the Broncos finished the season ranked 26th against the pass and, there's no reason to expect them to be drastically better this season.
That means Tony Romo and his receivers should have a field day. Yes Champ Bailey still mans one of the corner positions, but what else is there after him?
I'm not so sure that he's the player that he was three or four years ago.
If Romo and Roy Williams have developed a new chemistry, this is the game where that should be on display. In addition to Williams, Romo has plenty of weapons to deploy against Denver's weak pass defense.
Although Dallas will probably not be successful this season if they rely on Romo to sling the ball all over the field, this is a game where you can throw him a bone.
Week 5: Dallas Cowboys vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The fifth week of the season brings the Cowboys to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Chiefs. As bad as the Chiefs have been in recent years, Arrowhead is always a tough place to play.
Kansas City has a new coach, a new quarterback and a new offense. They also have a second-year left tackle in Branden Albert.
The week of this game, someone needs to follow DeMarcus Ware around with a bib, because he will be drooling all over himself thinking about how many sacks he could rack up against Albert and the Chiefs offensive line.
Ware had 20 sacks last season and he undoubtedly will continue to see double- and triple-teams. That hasn't mattered before, and it will not matter now.
Unless Todd Haley plans to shift half of his line to the left to block Ware, No. 94 will sack Cassel down once for every year of his contract!
Week 7: Atlanta Falcons vs. Dallas Cowboys
In week seven, the Cowboys welcome the "Dirty Birds" to town. The Falcons are coming off a surprising playoff berth last season, and with the addition of future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, they are poised to make a return trip to the post-season.
Matt Ryan is capable of beating you with his arm, but Michael Turner is the key to the Falcons offensive attack. Atlanta had the second-best ground attack in the league last season.
This makes the match-up of the Cowboys defensive line against the offensive line of the Falcons absolutely crucial. In particular, it will be Jay Ratliff against C Todd McClure, LG Justin Blalock and RG Harvey Dahl.
It is imperative that Ratliff is able to generate a significant push into the Falcons backfield. Michael Turner is a load and he's even more difficult to stop once he gets up a head of steam.
If Jay Ratliff is able to lead the charge of the defensive line to play on the Atlanta side of the line of scrimmage, the Cowboys will have an excellent chance to win.
Week 8: Seattle Seahawks vs. Dallas Cowboys
In a week eight match-up, Dallas faces the Seahawks. Last season, DeMarcus Ware and the rest of the Cowboys feasted on Seattle to the tune of a 34-7 whooping.
Seattle will be a little better this year with a healthy Matt Hasselbeck and the addition of T.J. Houshmanzadeh.
However, neither of those guys will hold the key to this game. Flozell Adams and the rest of his compadres need to dominate up front.
The Seahawks ranked in the lower half of the league (18th) against the run last season. The key to Dallas establishing a dominant running game in this one will be the ability of the O-line to get to the second level and eliminate the the speed that Seattle has at linebacker.
Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, and rookie Aaron Curry form one of the faster linebacking corps in the NFL.
They are also not the biggest of players, which means that if the massive Cowboy offensive line can get to the second level, gaping holes will be all over the place for Barber, Jones and Choice. Cowboys pounding the rock means the Seahawks will get pounded easily.
Week 9: Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Always one of the most anticipated games of the season, Cowboys vs Eagles. Both games last season were memorable for completely different reasons.
The first game back in week two of last season was a back and forth shootout that the Cowboys won 41-37.
The second game saw the Eagles completely dismantle Dallas and end any chance of them making the postseason with 44-6 drubbing.
The Cowboys have decided its time to let Anthony Spencer start. This is one of those games where he will need to show why he was a first round draft pick. What better team to show it against than the team that traded the pick that became you?!
DeMarcus Ware will receive a lot of attention from Philly, which means that Spencer will get a lot of one-on-one blocking. He has to bring pressure off the left side of the defense. At the same time, he must keep containment because of McNabb's ability to scramble.
Speaking of scrambling...I haven't mentioned Michael Vick. That is a completely different wrinkle that no one has had to worry about for a while. Spencer will have to be extremely disciplined for any gimmick plays the Eagles may pull out of the bag.
Spencer's impact on this game must be felt if Dallas is going to leave "The Linc" with a victory.
Week 10: Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers
For the second year in a row, the Cowboys travel to historic Lambeau Field to face off against the Packers. Last year for the first time in franchise history, Dallas went to Green Bay and left with a victory.
In last year's 27-16 victory, a few Cowboys had big games, Marion Barber and Miles Austin among others. Felix Jones broke the game open with a 60-yard touchdown run. He is the player to watch in this game. Whether his match-up is against A.J. Hawk or Clay Matthews, he will have a advantage.
The Packers may be forced to play bracket coverage when Jones is on the field, and that will open up the rest of the offense. This is the impact that Jones can have on a game when he's on the field. As the cliche' goes, you can't coach speed.
Felix Jones possess the type of speed that is an instant game changer. If he can get in the open field, especially against the Packer linebackers, there should an abundance of big plays which should also lead to a Cowboy victory.
Week 11: Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys return home in week 11 to face the Redskins. The two teams split last season with each winning on the other team's home field. These are usually the match-ups where you can throw the records out of the window.
Dan Snyder wants to be like Jerry Jones, and he spares no expense in his pursuit of that. His latest splurge landed him Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth is one of the best defensive tackles in the game, especially when he comes to play.
For that reason, Andre Gurode's play in the trenches will go a long way into determining the outcome of this game. Gurode will and should get help against this guy, but he is the first line of protection and he must bring his "A" game.
Gurode is a Pro Bowler year in and year out. If the Cowboys are to win this game, Gurode must play Haynesworth at least to a standstill in the trenches.
Week 12: Oakland Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys
Thanksgiving will have Dallas saying thanks to the NFL schedulers from serving up a turkey dinner with all the trimmings when the Raiders come to town.
The Raiders have been the poster child for futility for the past several seasons, and there's really no reason to believe that will change this year.
The Raiders had the second-worse rush defense last season, giving up 160 yards per game. Marion Barber will licking his chops coming into this game as he should get the ball early and often.
It is well documented that Barber is a punishing runner. He should be able to chop away at Oakland's porous running defense, making things that much easier for Felix Jones and even Tashard Choice.
The Cowboys have won their last three Thanksgiving Day games. A healthy helping of Marion The Barberian should ensure a fourth consecutive Turkey Day victory.
Week 13: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants
Will Week 13 be unlucky for the Cowboys? Dallas travels to the friendly confines of Giants Stadium for the second and final meeting with the Giants.
This will be Tony Romo's first chance to get a December victory during the '09 season. His struggles late in the year have been well-documented.
If he is to show that he can be clutch when the chips are on the table, he will need a lot of help from his hogs up front.
The Giants will have arguably the best defensive line in football. Not only are their starting front four really good, but the players that they can bring in off the bench could start for most teams around the league.
The Cowboys will have to contend with Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck among others. Flozell Adams and Marc Columbo will have to be locked in with those guys coming off of the edge. Romo is great when he's able to scramble around and make plays on the run.
If Dallas' offensive line is able to create lanes where Romo can step up or step out, then the team will have a chance to win. Not only blocking for Romo, but also opening up holes in the running game.
It's normally extremely windy in the Meadowlands at this time of year, so Barber and Jones will need to be factors in this game as well.
Week 14: San Diego vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys late-season schedule doesn't get any easier with the Chargers paying a visit to Cowboys Stadium. Phillip Rivers and his gang are always a threat to light up a scoreboard.
Rivers has already established himself as one of the best QBs in the game, so it is imperative that he does not have ample time to stand in the pocket and fire lasers to his extremely talented playmakers.
For that reason, former Charger Igor Olshansky figures to leave his imprint on this game. Most players look forward to playing against their former team for a variety of reasons.
Whether it's because the player feels that the team gave up on him or maybe the team felt like the player wasn't worth the money he was looking for, players want to have a great game against the old squad.
Olshansky played in a 3-4 scheme in San Diego and will be playing the same system as a member of the Cowboys. Olshansky should be familiar with some of the plays that San Diego runs and hopefully he'll be able to put that knowledge to work.
He'll have his work cut out for himself going up against one of the better left tackles in the game and former teammate Marcus McNeil. Igor's level of play will have an effect on the outcome of this game. If he can get the better of McNeil, Rivers will have a long day.
Week 15: Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints
The Cowboys travel to the home of Mardi Gras and drive-thru daiquiri shops for a match-up with one of the NFL's most potent offenses, the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees almost broke Dan Marino's 25-year-old record for most passing yards in a season last year.
With a receiver like Marques Colston, a tight end like Jeremy Shockey and a running back that can catch like Reggie Bush, there's no surprise that the Saints can strike at any point from anywhere on the field.
The Cowboys secondary had a lot of problem with giving up big plays. If they are going to have success against the Saints, Ken Hamlin will have to stay disciplined in the defensive backfield.
Hamlin found himself in some bad positions last season because his first step is always towards the line of scrimmage, and if there's a play action pass, he doesn't have the speed to recover.
Sean Payton likes to dig into the bag of tricks so it is imperative that Hamlin keeps his eyes open at all times and stay at home. If he's able to minimize the impact of the deep ball, the Cowboys will have a chance to succeed.
It's no secret that New Orleans will throw the ball a lot and Hamlin has to be prepared to conduct himself accordingly.
An interception or two by Hamlin will go a long way to securing a win for Dallas in New Orleans.
Week 16: Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins
For the second time in six weeks, the Cowboys and Redskins will play each other. This will be the final road game of the regular season for Dallas, and there's sure to be some post-season ramifications riding on this game.
Santana Moss has had a history of giving the Cowboys fits during his time as a Redskin. In the first meeting last season, Moss had eight catches for 145 yards.
Terence Newman is usually charged with the task of guarding Moss one on one. Newman has had his success against Moss.
In the second meeting between Dallas and Washington last season, Newman held Moss to one catch for five yards and also had a key interception to preserve the win.
If the Cowboys are to leave FedEx field with a win, Moss must be contained. Games between these two teams are usually close, so whomever is able to make a big play in this game will more than likely emerge victorious.
Newman has to have the type of performance that he had in Washington last year in this game. His performance is crucial to the Cowboys' success in this one.
Week 17: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys
The season ends with a huge game as the Cowboys host the Eagles. The beating administered by Philly in last season's finale will be at the forefront of Dallas' minds without question.
This is the type of game when one of your stars puts the team on his back and carries them to victory.
In this game, that person needs to be Roy Williams. His performance in last year's season finale along with the rest of the team was horrible.
At this point in the season, there will be no excuses. No "Romo and Roy haven't had time to develop chemistry," no "Roy hasn't had time to learn the playbook" or any other excuse someone had last season.
As tough as the NFC East will be this season (the best and toughest division in football), it's a good chance that this game will have a major impact on who makes the postseason and what position will they be in when the playoffs start.
Whether its Sheldon Brown or Asante Samuel matching up against him, Williams has to win any one on one battles that he faces. He's Dallas' number one receiver and the Cowboys paid a hefty price to get him.
This is the type of game that a superstar caliber player is supposed to shine in and he has to if the Cowboys want to ensure that Eagles feel the same way that they did last season after this game.