One by one, ClevelandBrowns.com is breaking down each of the Browns' 2016 regular season opponents as the dog days of the offseason unfold.*
Today's preview pits the Browns against an NFC East team looking to bounce back from an injury-ridden 2015 season
Who: Dallas Cowboys
When: Week 9 (Nov. 6, FirstEnergy Stadium)
Series History (last meeting): 15-12 (Dallas 23, Cleveland 20 in 2012 at Cowboys Stadium)
The coach: Jason Garrett — 7th season
The stakes: In their first set of back-to-back home games all year, the Browns welcome the Cowboys to the shob res of Lake Erie for the first time since 2008. And Week 9, we should have a decent idea of which way these teams are trending heading into the second half of the regular season.
Offseason storyline: After a disappointing, injury-ridden season, the Cowboys enter 2016 poised to bounce back with a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, whom were limited by injuries last year. And with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott — who's expected to have a real impact on the Dallas run game — the Cowboys have the potential to make a run at the postseason provided they can stay healthy.
Matchup to watch: Joe Haden vs. Dez Bryant — Both Haden and Bryant missed the majority of last season because of injuries, so this matchup figures to double as an opportunity for two of the league's best players to go head-to-head finally healthy.
Biggest addition: RB Ezekiel Elliott — the Ohio State star was considered by some draft analysts as the most polished running back out of college since Adrian Peterson. Elliott, of course, will have to put in the work to match Peterson's ridiculous rookie season (1,341 yards, 14 touchdowns), but he certainly appears to have the physical tools necessary to at least be up for the challenge.
Biggest loss: QB Matt Cassell — Without Cassell, who signed with the Titans in free agency, there's a notion that the cupboard is bare when it comes to the Cowboys' backup quarterback situation. Behind Tony Romo — whose injury history and how dramatically it affected the team last season would seem to be the biggest driving force behind this narrative — Dallas features Kellen Moore and rookie Dak Prescott on the roster.
The star: Speaking of Romo, this is his team — injury or not. Fortunately for the Cowboys, he seems to have made a full recovery following another collarbone injury in November. And with a cast that includes WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten, Romo should have the opportunity to get back to old form (he struggled last season but completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 3,705 yards and 34 touchdowns against nine interceptions in 2014).
The X-Factor: CB Orlando Scandrick — The veteran from Boise State missed all of last season with a torn ACL, but he's expected to be back in time for the Cowboys' training camp. Scandrick — who was named a second-team All Pro selection in 2014 — would provide depth and leadership to a defense in need of playmakers on that side of the ball.
What makes this game tough: Save for considerable injuries last season, the Cowboys were poised to be a legitimate playoff contender. And now with Elliott, who's expected to start at running back, in the fold, the Dallas offense should have plenty of firepower for the Browns defense to deal with. What makes them beatable: The Browns have said they plan on being a run-first offense next season. If they make good on that approach, the Cowboys could struggle in trying to shut down the ground game, finishing 22nd in the league last season.