In what promises to be a tight NFC East, every single game that the Cowboys play in 2014 is very important. Three particular games, however, which happen to fall in sequence, may reveal the most about Dallas’s overall strength (or weakness) and potential.
September 28th - vs. New Orleans Saints
The Cowboys visited Louisiana on November 10th last year and it was easily their most embarrassing loss of the season. 49-17 was the final score as the Saints set an NFL record for most first downs in a game (40). Drew Brees completed 34 of 41 passes for nearly 400 yards (Romo was 10/24) and Mark Ingram, who must consider to be a draft bust, racked up 145 yards on the ground alone. Oh, and Sean Lee went down after the first half; he would return two weeks later against Chicago before being lost for the season entirely.
If you remember, the Dallas defense actually looked pretty good at the beginning of last year. Things started to unravel prior to the New Orleans match-up, but that game really set the tone for the rest of the year. Now hosting the Saints in AT&T stadium, the Cowboys bring a unit which is already without Sean Lee and probably weaker overall. So if anybody, this game is a test for new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. How he will try to contain the team and their shiny new offensive weapon Brandon Cooks is beyond anyone’s guess. Just like the 2013 game, though, this one is bound to set the tone for the rest of Dallas’s season.
October 5th – vs. Houston Texans
Anytime teams from the same state get together it’s a lot of fun to watch. This year, the game offers some interesting tests for the ‘Boys. Right now, it’s unclear who will be the Texans starting QB going forward, though it’s likely to still be Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 5. Besides the QB position, not much as changed for the Houston offense. Their defense, however, is a different story.
Of course, there’s Jadeveon Clowney. While the college phenom still has to prove himself in the NFL, the though of him on one side and JJ Watt the other is outright scary. Then, don’t forget about Louis Nix III, the Texans’ third-round pick who was once considered the best DT in the draft and probably wants to make Dallas regret not taking him. Of course, behind them is pro-bowl linebacker Brian Cushing. So, this game is clearly a test for the Dallas offensive line. All eyes will probably be on Zach Martin and Doug Free, as the former will be looking to impress as a rookie and the latter is trying to hold onto a job.
October 12th – at Seattle Seahawks
As if the previous weeks’ games weren’t difficult enough, Week 7 has the ‘Boys visiting the Super Bowl champs. This game is a test for everybody, no doubt. The players and coaches on both sides of the ball will have their hands absolutely full. Even if Dallas comes up short, a good performance against the league’s best is likely to instill some confidence.
One thing to take special note of will be the defensive line battles for either team. It is no secret that Rod Marinelli and Pete Carroll share the philosophy of frequently rotating players on the defensive line to consistently bring a powerful rush. It will be interesting to watch two teams who follow this model face off with one another, as players who many fans have not even heard of rack up all the stats.