The Dallas Cowboys are finally back in Arlington Sunday night for the home opener at AT&T Stadium against the New York Giants.
Both teams are hoping to avoid an 0-2 start, which typically dooms most NFL teams from making the playoffs. For the Cowboys, who to a man, consider themselves a deep playoff team, there’s absolutely no room to lose to the Giants, a team that went 3-13 a year ago. New York is better this season, however, and Eli Manning always seems to play well at AT&T Stadium.
Five things to watch on Sunday night:
1. Will Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott improve from Week 1?
Okay, so if you can’t define a whole season after one dreadful opener, one big bounce back performance won’t exactly cure all ills either for the Cowboys’ offense. But it will help. It will help change the current narrative and perhaps erase any deep-seated doubts lingering in the back of the head’s of Dallas’ offensive players. Chief of among them, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Neither had particularly sterling openers. Prescott’s performance was ripped and his ability to be the team’s long-term option was questioned. Heck, even the Giants dared Prescott to beat them. Prescott, seemed unfazed this week, and happily accepted the challenge. But if he struggles again and the offense doesn’t get Elliott more involved, prepare for those talking points to turn into shouting points.
2. Slowing down Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham
The defensive game plan is simple but easier said than done. Not only does the secondary need to contain dangerous receiver Odell Beckham, the front line and linebackers must keep rookie running back Saquon Barkley in check. Both are big-play threats in space on any play. Both were impressive last week. Beckham caught 11 passes for 111 yards and Barkley rushed 18 times for 106 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown run.
3. The Cowboys need a positive offensive start
This may go hand in hand with No. 1, but it’s imperative the Cowboys’ offense gets off to a good start. Do they need to take their first drive 80 yards for a touchdown? Not necessarily, but it sure would help the little voices in the back of everyone’s head — from Prescott’s, to Garrett’s, to the dedicated fans wearing a Cowboys sombrero, to the guy selling $35 Miller Lites. Short of scoring on their first possession, how about just going a series without a penalty or a sack? And getting someone — anyone — from the receiving corps involved early to help open up some space for Elliott.
4. Kicker Brett Maher’s second chance
Kicker Brett Maher is still looking for his first-career NFL field goal. His lone attempt, a 47-yard try against the Panthers last week, was wide right by a few feet. Maher has said all the right things after the game and during the week and claims his confidence hasn’t waned. But if he has another miss against the Giants the Dan Bailey debate will undoubtedly explode again.
5. The Cowboys are home at last
The Cowboys are back home in Arlington for the first time since Dec. 24 when they lost 21-12 to the Seahawks. Dallas went 3-5 at home in 2017. A year ago in Denver, the Cowboys were coming off a 19-3 season-opening win at home against the Giants and fell flat in Week 2, losing 42-17 on a day Elliott rushed for a career-low eight yards on nine carries.