Sam’s beginnings; Run the rematch; After

FRISCO, Texas – back with three quick topics ahead (finally!) of the Cowboys’ Week 1 rematch on Sunday Night Football against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

  • Lean on the run?
  • The beginnings of Sam Williams
  • The kicking game

I say…

if the Cowboys plan to restore a consistent running game in 2022, there’s no better — or perhaps more difficult — place to start than against Tampa Bay.

Last year, the Cowboys’ running production plummeted after the bye week thanks to a perfect storm: offensive line rotations, challenges with pre-snap movement, injuries to Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. This year, it’s clear they want to reestablish a physical style of play up front.

As Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan, “With our plan and our people, we hope to be able to handle this football more than we have in, say, the last few years. years, and Zeke will be essential to that.”

A healthy Elliott certainly helps, and the club continually say Pollard will also have a valuable role. If the Cowboys can find success on the field, that should relieve an offensive line that has to play without Tyron Smith (hamstring) Sunday night and for much of the regular season.

The Bucs won’t make it easy for you. Last year, they ranked third against the rush, giving up just 92.5 yards per game. In the opener against Dallas, they stacked the line of scrimmage with a dynamic defensive front led by 347-pound Pro Bowler Vita Vea. No Zack Martin (COVID) this game didn’t help. The Bucs apparently invited the Cowboys to beat them through the air.

“This game we had a lot of runs called, but there were throws that became completions that are passes scored,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “And so statistically in the box score it looks like there’s a lot of passing. But a lot of running opportunities. They did a really good job of stopping the run. We took advantage of other opportunities on the perimeter. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Indeed, the Cowboys ran just 18 times for 60 yards, and quarterback Dak Prescott tied a career-high 58 passing attempts that led to 403 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-29 loss. .

With rookie Tyler Smith and Connor McGovern expected starters on the left side of the line, how will the Bucs approach this time around? Will they charge against the run again and test the Cowboys’ exhausted receiving corps?

It’s one of the many chess matches we’ll see on Sunday night.

I think…

Sam Williams’ regular-season debut might not have the same hype as Micah Parsons’ opener against Tampa Bay a year ago, but there’s plenty of excitement about the potential of the second-round pick.

At the start of training camp, Williams said he was focused on adding to his “toolbox” at defensive end. At Ole Miss, he showed terrific first step and closing speed as an edge rusher. In March, he posted Parsons-like combine numbers — impressive for someone who is 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds.

From camp to now, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn sees Williams becoming a complete player.

“We knew he could run. He has the physical traits to run and rush. I saw real improvement (on defense) in the running game,” Quinn said. “The second piece of my exploration with him (was) can we put him on guard and rush to that place? And now I saw that was another dimension of his game because he had enough strength to do it. Not only can he play defensive end, but he can also line up with a guard and rush into that space. The more guys you have that can do that and have that kind of versatility, I think it is enormous.

It’s clear that Quinn is a big believer in defense heading into his second season in his plan.

“We have a strong team and we will ride hard,” he said.

Williams will play an important role in this rotation, even though he is not a Year 1 starter.

I have no idea…

what the long-term results will be at the kicker, but on a roster with so many youngsters overall, the Cowboys picked experience with Brett Maher.

That’s not the only reason, of course. As special teams coordinator John Fassel said on Monday, “I think Brett Maher is the right fit because once we got him he was the best.”

Maher won the job fairly quickly from Lirim Hajrullahu after arriving in the middle of the camp. The Cowboys were impressed with Maher’s precision and leg strength on field goals and kickoffs. The kick operation with long snapper Jake McQuaide and starter/kicker Bryan Anger also went smoothly.

But obviously there was a level of comfort in Maher’s level of experience compared to previous Hajrullahu candidates or rookie Jonathan Garibay. He was the Cowboys’ full-time kicker in 2018 and 2019.

He kicked well for the Saints on point duty last year. He has 84 career placement attempts. He’s been in NFL training camps on and off since 2013.

The Cowboys expect to be in close games. It’s the nature of the league. Their two-point loss to Tampa last year would have been a two-point win had former kicker Greg Zuerlein made an extra run and a 31-yard field goal try. In 2021, they have played two games in overtime and four games decided by a field goal or less.

In Maher they are riding with someone who has been in the big times.

“He’s been here before, so he knows there’s pressure to kick Dallas,” Fassel said.

If Sunday feels like the last time against Tampa, Maher will be called upon to do clutch kicks again.

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