As usual with the Dallas Cowboys, the season opener will carry many different storylines when they host the New York Giants on Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.
Among them is the status of running back Ezekiel Elliott, who will play in the opener and possibly for the rest of the season after a federal judge on Friday blocked the NFL’s six-game suspension for personal conduct violations, granting Elliott a preliminary injunction and his day in court.
It comes down, however, to play on the field that will most impact the Cowboys this weekend and that means an important NFC East opener against the Giants.
This season is the 10th in which the Cowboys will play the Giants on opening day, the third consecutive season and the fifth time in the past six seasons.
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Elliott was facing a six-game suspension beginning in Week 2 until Friday’s ruling set up a potentially months-long legal battle. But expect Elliott to run with a purpose in the opener. Along with the suspension, the Giants were the only team that really gave him fits a year ago.
Dak Prescott had one of the best seasons by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. He tied a rookie record with 13 wins, had the lowest interception percentage by a rookie with 0.9 percent (four interceptions, 459 attempts) and had the best passer rating all time by a rookie (104.9). He’ll be looking to take another step forward in Year 2.
Jason Witten needs 17 yards to eclipse Michael Irvin for most receiving yards in franchise history. That’s quite a feat for a tight end and adds to the Hall of Fame credentials for Witten. This will be a special moment for Witten and the Cowboys, but expect the veteran leader to simply move on to the next play.
Jaylon Smith is poised to make his long-awaited debut in a regular-season NFL game. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli believes Smith can make an immediate impact for the defense, and Smith himself has expectations of “greatness” on himself. Although he’ll be monitored throughout the game, simply getting on the field is an impressive feat for Smith.
The Giants offensive line isn’t great, which bodes well for the Cowboys. They have struggled establishing a pass rush in recent years, a deficiency that may emerge in the season opener. The hope is that DeMarcus Lawrence returns to his 2015 form, when he led the team with eight sacks, and that Taco Charlton develops into a reliable edge rusher as a rookie.