Dallas Cowboys: The game plan for Week 1 without Zack Martin

Dallas Cowboys, Zack Martin (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys, Zack Martin (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

As fans know, the Dallas Cowboys received news a few days ago that the best player on their roster, offensive guard Zack Martin, may be unavailable for the season opener against Tampa Bay following a positive COVID-19 test. While it is true that Martin is vaccinated, he must overcome two negative tests within 24-hours to be eligible to play again. Not all hope is lost, but the Cowboys must prepare as if they won’t have their perennial pro bowl guard.

If Martin is able to play after negative tests, he is the type of player that can step in without missing a beat and handle his own. Asking that is a tall task and the offense needs a plan to prepare for the Buccaneers defensive line duo of Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh. These two demand special attention and offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore, must cater to that.

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With Martin out, the protection for quarterback Dak Prescott is going to be of utmost importance, for very obvious reasons. The protection scheme needs to change within how the Cowboys handle their Buccaneers rushers and what they do to take pressure off of Martin’s replacement, Connor McGovern.

The Dallas Cowboys must tweak their game plan in Week 1 without Zack Martin

Start with the passing game. Prescott is not going to have all day to sit and wait for routes to develop. He will need to get the ball out and let his wide receivers make plays. The Cowboys have one of the best-receiving groups in the league, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb, that can take short passes and turn them into necessary chunk plays.

Tight ends, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz will play a key part in double-teaming the Bucs in the trenches during the run game. Schultz and Jarwin, along with the Cowboys running backs, will need to chip the defensive lineman head up against McGovern to give him help and create an extra second or two longer in the passing game.

Prescott will need to make pre-snap reads to know his first and second reads against coverage to get the ball out and protect himself and McGovern from the rush. This can be short passes, screens, and throws to running backs, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, in space with mismatches against linebackers.

Secondly, the offense needs to run the ball downhill. It is forecasted to be about 80 degrees and a decent bit of humidity. Running the ball is much easier for an offensive lineman to block and it wears on defenses as the game goes on. Handing the ball off to Elliott can wear down the defense and potentially open up the passing game as the game goes on giving Prescott a little more time.

The running game and short passing game also provide the Cowboys a chance to play defense on offense. This game plan eats the clock, chews up yards, and keeps Buccaneers quarterback, Tom Brady, and their prolific offense on the sidelines. Keeping the Buccaneers’ offense off the field is the best defense the Cowboys can play tomorrow.

The Cowboys need to stick to their game plan even if the Bucs jump out to a quick touchdown. Don’t chase their offense. The Dallas Cowboys need to stick to a ball-control, time-of-possession offense and hang around long enough to give themselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

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This isn’t the type of offense many expect to see from the Dallas Cowboys with their loaded receiving group, but it just may be the one that keeps them in this game. If the Cowboys can protect McGovern, hold onto the ball for stretches of time, and keep Prescott upright, it may just be enough to give them a chance at the upset of the defending champs. But, if Zack Martin can get two negative COVID-19 tests, we’ve got a brand new ball game.