Dallas Cowboys: Matchup to watch

Cowboys preview: Make-or-break stretch

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
2:30
PM ET
The end of the season has not been kind to the Dallas Cowboys in recent years. It's not been just a Jason Garrett problem, but the Cowboys lost three of their last four in 2013, their final two in 2012 and four of their last five in 2011 to finish 8-8 all three years. This year's late-season schedule is difficult -- five of the last seven away from home -- but the pivotal stretch will be early in the year to make sure the end of the year is relevant. Six of the Cowboys' first nine games are at AT&T Stadium, which has not provided the greatest of home-field advantages since opening. The Cowboys have a three-game homestand from Oct. 19-Nov. 2 against three NFC teams that they almost have to sweep to stay in contention in the division or help in the wild-card standings.

Complete Cowboys season preview.
When you talk about protecting Tony Romo, there are three defensive ends the Cowboys must worry about from the New York Giants: Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.

In Wednesday's regular-season opener, the Giants will face a different set of offensive linemen than last season. Doug Free and Tyron Smith have flipped sides at tackle. Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau are the new guards to bookend center Phil Costa. Of course, Livings and Bernadeau can slide over and help Free and Smith if the ends try to rush between the guard and tackle. With the availability of tight end Jason Witten in doubt, John Phillips, James Hanna and quite possibly newly signed tight end Colin Cochart will have to be sound in their blocking techniques.

Let's not forget the backfield. Fullback Lawrence Vickers was signed in the offseason because he's a sound blocker, and Felix Jones or DeMarco Murray must give Romo time to get the ball down field on third downs.

Here are Free's thoughts on defending the Giants' pass rush off the edge.

"It's going to be real difficult," he said. "They have a lot of great players and the amount of players they have, they got a lot of defensive ends. Maybe not as many in the interior, but they use those guys on third down. It's going to be a huge challenge for us. We're going to have to work together, a lot of communication. Some different looks than a regular four-down (linemen) looks and we're going to have go out there and play real hard."

Have the injuries to several offensive linemen hurt the continuity of the line?

"I think we're doing pretty good. You never know what you got until you get out there, but everybody has been getting out there and working real hard and doing our jobs and getting ready to play."

A stat you probably would like to know about: Justin Tuck hasn't sacked a Cowboys quarterback since 2008, a span of five games.

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