Taking his first snaps at RT, and filling the shoes of Doug Free will be a heavy task for Collins. Diminishing as a pass blocker as the years passed, Free was still a veteran leader who contributed heavily in Dallas’ touted running game. Now for Collins, who hasn’t played tackle since his days at LSU, switches to the opposite side he dominated college opponents at, and from his natural hand. An early test Week 3 of the preseason against Khalil Mack was a potential sighting of the La’el Collins that Dallas could have and will need, with a schedule loaded with defensive line talent. Vernon and JPP will showcase for the Giants in his first outing.
Now heading into his fourth season, Lawrence missed all of 2016 because of suspension and injury. Pay close attention to a matchup that seems favorable, as he will line up against left tackle Ereck Flowers, who is the weak link of their offensive line. Although Eli Manning is a QB who releases the ball in 2.58
seconds from the snap, which is rather quickly, a disruptive defensive line can lead to mistakes for someone who has seemed prone to them throughout his career. A return to his 2015 form — leading the team with 8 sacks that season — can be the difference in Dallas winning the trenches.
Justin Durant/Jaylon Smith
Having to replace an injured Anthony Hitchens will require fast starts out of both players. One who is entering his 11th season and was a rotational player last year, then the other coming off a miraculous journey and has yet to play a regular season down, is a slight cause for concern. Durant will be the starter, as health and familiarity of the system play a big role as to why, and should swap with Jaylon throughout the game, who is reportedly going to see more time on the field than they thought heading into the season. Many mistakes cannot be afforded through such a critical position, and against a team that could take advantage of them in a big way.
The Nickel CB
With little clarity as to who is playing on the inside or outside when Dallas runs their nickel package, expect Scandrick or Brown to fill the role. Scandrick, who has seen bright days at the position, and a 2nd-year corner in Brown, who proved himself viable on the outside when Claiborne went down, will have their hands full come Sunday depending on who plays there. A tough task with Sterling Shepard, who led the league in touchdowns through the slot position in 2016. As teams are expanding into 3WR sets more often, the nickel corner can be as vital as the number one. Sam Monson of PFF wrote that “the increase [nickel package] is likely to counter the frequency (61.4 percent) that teams are in “11 personnel”, also known as having three receivers on the field, with one back and one tight end.” Facing against the opponent who ran the “11 personnel” more than anyone in the league last year, Brown or Scandrick will see many targets thrown their way.
Whether it was the twitter feuds or postgame interviews, last year was a forgettable year for Dez in all aspects against the Giants. Totaling just 18 yards in two matchups, Dez will have to be better if Dallas has any chance at winning the opener. Missed opportunities and late-game mistakes, led by Bryant, caused one of the NFL’s top-offenses to seem mediocre. After a strong display in the preseason, given his limited snaps, Dez has looked the part of his former self and is probably in the best shape he has been in over the past few years. A growing relationship with Dak from QB to WR should affect his numbers in a positive way and will be key to the outcome of this game.