So, somehow I screwed up this preview series by skipping ahead of Week 10 yesterday. Maybe it was an accident. Or maybe it was a dig at the Eagles’ most hated NFC East rival. (Spoiler: it was an accident.) Regardless, Dallas Sucks.
Heading into the 2017 season, the Cowboys were one of the most obvious candidates for regression. Dak Prescott predictably turned into a pumpkin once he didn’t have Ezekiel Elliott around to lift the responsibility off of him as a passer. The Dallas defense also struggled when the perpetually injured Sean Lee had to miss some time.
In fairness to Prescott, how could he be expected to win anything while his team was missing their starting middle linebacker, their starting left tackle, one of their best running backs, etc? It’s not like any other quarterback was able to overcome that kind of adversity and put his team in good position to win the Super Bowl.
We’ll see how Prescott does in Year 3 with Elliott expected to be back on the field. The Cowboys still have a good offensive line, which should help him, but their wide receiving corps is highly suspect. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are now gone. We’ll see how Prescott responds to the challenge.
Who knows, maybe he’ll be better after studying so much film of Carson Wentz.
Coming off their Week 9 bye, this battle will be a crucial game for the Birds.
Here’s a more in-depth look at the Cowboys from our SB Nation colleagues over at Blogging The Boys.
Notable free agent additions: The Cowboys biggest free agent addition is probably wide receiver Allen Hurns, who is not a direct replacement for Dez Bryant, but was definitely brought in to supplement the wide receiver group. He is a veteran who should help the Cowboys’ new WR-by-committee approach.
The Cowboys also added reserve tackle Cameron Fleming, which could be huge given the tenuous health of Tyron Smith over the past couple of seasons. When Smith went down last year, the Cowboys had no answer among the reserves and the season hit a downward spiral.
Dallas also added Tavon Austin via a trade, but it remains to be seen if they can unlock the secret of consistent production from the speedster, something that has eluded his previous employer. The Cowboys als traded for DT Jihad Ward, and many observers are already penciling him in as a starter.
Over / under: 8.5 wins. OVER. Everybody thinks the Cowboys had a down year in 2017, and they still managed a 9-7 record. If they have an average to good year in 2018, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t end up with a double-digit win total.
Rookie I’m most excited about: First-round pick Leighton Vander Esch will beef up what could potentially be a dominant linebacker group consisting of Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch, but he may not stand out for his individual play. Similarly, second-round pick Connor Williams will further solidify an already dominant O-line, but few people get excited about the play of a left guard.
That leaves third-round pick Michael Gallup, who has a good chance of winning a starting spot in his rookie season given the uncertainty at the wide receiver position in Dallas. Gallup led Colorado State in receiving yards in both his junior and senior seasons, and given the Cowboys’ new WR-by-committee approach, there’s a possibility he could also lead the Cowboys in receiving yards in 2018.
Best position battle heading into camp: WIDE RECEIVER. At this point, it’s completely unclear which wide receivers will make the team. Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Cole Beasley are probably roster locks, but even Terrance Williams isn’t a sure thing to make the roster this year. The addition of Tavon Austin adds further uncertainty to the group, and free-agent acquisition Deonte Thompson, sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson, and other receivers like Noah Brown, Lance Lenoir, and KD Cannon could all push for a spot as well.
Something has to give. The Cowboys may want to go heavy at WR with six roster spots, but that may be a luxury they can’t afford given the needs at other spots. There are arguments to be made for each receiver to make the roster, but the argument they put on the field during training camp will tell the tale.
The battle to make the roster among this group is going to be fierce, and health may be the final decider, as much as one might hate to see it come down to that.
Biggest storyline heading into camp: The Cowboys’ re-tooled offense will be under heavy scrutiny. Of course Dallas still has Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, but they will be breaking in a new starting tight end, and the options there have yet to prove themselves.
They will also be looking at a revamped wide receiver group that won’t be dominated by the presence of Dez Bryant. The Cowboys have also hinted at a changing philosophy in their passing game that might move away from their vertical, downfield routes as their staple. Dak Prescott hinted earlier this year that the Cowboys may start taking some stuff from offenses like the Panthers and the Chiefs. This could include more run-pass options, more moving of the quarterback out of the pocket, an increased short-passing game, and other stuff to keep defenses off-balance Then there is the presence of Tavon Austin, who knows how they may use him?
It feels like the Cowboys are going to be a different team on offense this year and that is both exciting and scary.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into camp: Probably the back seven on defense. The Cowboys have a chance to have a phenomenal linebacker unit IF some things work out.
- If Sean Lee can stay healthy, he is one of the very best linebackers in the game.
- If Jaylon Smith finally returns to Notre Dame form, he can really impact games.
- If first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch translates his crazy size and athleticism into quality play in his first year, that unit can be elite.
That is a lot of ifs, so they could be underrated or overrated depending on how the ifs play out.
The Cowboys also have a young secondary but they really started to play well as the season progressed in 2017. They also brought over Kris Richard to coach them and he was the architect of Seattle’s Legion of Boom. There is real potential in the secondary, and if Kris Richard can bring it out and elevate the play, the Cowboys back seven could really be a lot better than most people would think - and that’s before the much-discussed possibility of Earl Thomas joining the team.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: Third-year defensive tackle Maliek Collins suffered a fracture in his foot and will start be on the PUP list for the first few weeks of camp. David Irving didn’t suffer an injury, but will still miss games due to his suspension that will see him miss the first four weeks of the season. Terrance Williams suffered a broken foot, which required surgery, and while he missed all of the team’s offseason program, he’s expected to be ready for training camp.
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