Near the end of last Sunday night's game against the Giants, it looked like the Cowboys would start 0-1. A little help from the Giants and a late rally led by Tony Romo bailed them out.
If they play as poorly this Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia, they won't be so lucky. As long as it was a Week 1 fluke, like the one they had last season, Cowboys fans have a few reasons to be optimistic about pulling out a huge win against their competition for the NFC East crown.
1. Loss of Evan Mathis
When the Eagles jettisoned guard Evan Mathis, they significantly weakening an already mediocre line. The interior line is especially bad, which made their inside zone running game — a staple of their 2014 offense — essentially ineffective against the Falcons last weekend.
The Eagles also hitched their wagon to a quarterback who has historically struggled against pressure. Losing Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy hurts, but the Cowboys can generate enough pressure to force Sam Bradford into some poor decisions with Tyrone and Jack Crawford between the tackles.
2. Sean Lee
The return of oft-injured linebacker Sean Lee will be huge for the Cowboys defense. He's smart, athletic and a true three-down linebacker in the class of the league's elite. He'll need to disciplined as well against the Eagles' inside zone runs.
The Seam-Bubble package is a staple of the Kelly offense, giving the quarterback the post-snap option to hand off to a running back, throw a bubble screen to a wide receiver or throw a seam route to the middle of the field. Lee should cover their tight ends in the middle of the field in the seam option, which is his strength.
3. Tony Romo
Forget about Romo's performance Sunday. He was inaccurate on some easy throws against the Giants, but he looked significantly worse in last year's season-opening loss. Chalk it up to rust and expect improvement against the Eagles.
The Eagles added an extra man into the box to stop the Cowboys rushing attack last season and it worked, as Dallas struggled to run the ball. It'll be a difficult task without Dez Bryant, but Cowboys' receivers will be able to separate from man coverage downfield. 2014 Romo hit those deep shots and the 2015 version must do the same for the Cowboys to win.
At full strength, these two teams match up well. Without Bryant, Gregory and Hardy, the Cowboys have a tough battle ahead of them Sunday in Philadelphia, but they have the pieces to stay competitive.
The Dallas defense should be able to stifle the Eagles' attack enough to give their offense a chance to keep them close. As long as Romo's performance ascends as it did last season, they should make enough plays to sneak out of Philly with a win.