NFL offseasons always feel long, but for Dallas Cowboys fans this one was also bitter after the 2021 season ended prematurely at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Another solid regular season ending in playoff heartbreak; a story the Dallas faithful are all too familiar with.
But that was last season and optimism is in the air with the 2022 Cowboys season kicking off in just five days. Week 1 won’t be a cakewalk, as Dallas takes on future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Here are three big things to watch for in this matchup:
Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Kickoff time: Sunday, Sept. 11 at 7:20 p.m.
- How to watch: NBC
- How to stream: Peacock, NBC Sports app
- Spread: Cowboys +2.5
- Over/under total: 50.5
Will the offensive line hold up?
The group tasked with protecting two-time Pro Bowler Dak Prescott has been a major talking point in recent weeks.
Earlier in training camp, the biggest concern regarding the group was depth at both left and right tackle. In the preseason, Josh Ball was the top candidate to serve as the Cowboys swing tackle but he didn’t perform well.
Then at the end of August, Tyron Smith suffered a torn hamstring that will sideline him indefinitely. When that happened, the worry shifted from depth beyond the starters, to who would start at LT Week 1. But just a few days ago, Dallas signed an old divisional rival to bolster the offensive line.
Jason Peters inked a contract to play his 18th NFL season in Big D. So once he’s up to speed, he’ll take over the starting spot at LT. It seems like a long shot for him to start against Tampa Bay, but never say never. Here’s what Jerry Jones said about the situation on 105.3 The FAN this morning:
“We got to ease (Peters) along. … (His playing time will) have a lot to do with how Tyler Smith is playing at left tackle. … This really let’s us be in manageable shape at left tackle.”
Assuming Peters sits Week 1, here’s how the starting offensive line looks:
- LT: Tyler Smith
- LG: Connor McGovern
- C: Tyler Biadasz
- RG: Zack Martin
- RT: Terence Steele
Dallas originally planned for rookie Tyler Smith to start at LG, but Tyron’s injury forced him to LT which is the position he played at Tulsa.
Lack of WRs?
The Cowboys’ offensive starters sat out all three preseason games, so Week 1 will give us the first look at the offense without Cooper and Wilson, who ranked second and fourth respectively in receiving yards for Dallas last season.
CeeDee Lamb and Dalton Schultz will be leaned on heavily in Week 1, especially with Michael Gallup ruled out as he continues getting up to speed from his torn ACL suffered in Week 17 last year.
Beyond Lamb and Schultz, Prescott will be throwing to a new cast of receivers. Here’s how Dallas’ WR depth chart looks heading into the Buccaneers game:
- WR1: CeeDee Lamb
- WR2: Jalen Tolbert
- WR3: Noah Brown
- WR4: Simi Fehoko
- WR5: Dennis Houston
- WR6: KaVontae Turpin
Besides Lamb, Brown is the only player with any regular season experience. In the last four seasons with the Cowboys, Brown has 39 receptions for 425 receiving yards and no touchdowns.
Luckily, reinforcements are on the way. Dallas made the decision to keep Gallup off the IR, which would’ve forced him to miss the first four games of the season. That decision points to a return in Week 2, 3 or 4.
Veteran James Washington is also slated to return in Week 5 or 6, per Dallas Morning News. The fifth-year receiver suffered a foot injury early in training camp.
Until Gallup and Washington return, the Cowboys will be relying on a lot of inexperienced receivers to carry heavy workloads.
Will the defense continue dominating?
The Cowboys boasted one of the best defenses in the NFL last season. The unit was led by All-Pros Micah Parsons, who had 13 sacks last season, and Trevon Diggs, who had 11 interceptions.
While the offense has lots of new faces, the defense is largely the same from a season ago. The biggest departure was Randy Gregory who posted six sacks and 19 total tackles in 11 games last season. But the Cowboys added free agent Dante Fowler and rookie Sam Williams to cover his loss.
The Cowboys will need the defense to be strong in 2022, especially early in the season while Prescott gets acclimated to his new receivers. It’s possible the offense struggles, in which case the defense would need to step up and avoid getting into high-scoring games that Dallas’ offense can’t keep pace in.