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State of the Dallas Cowboys: Eye on the Enemy check-in

The Cowboys enter the 2023 season as underdogs to the Eagles, but scary ones.

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NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Eagles won the NFC East and prevented the Dallas Cowboys from doing something no team in the division has done since 2005.

Repeat as division champs.

Coming into the 2023 season, it is the Birds who are atop the heap, not only taking over as Alpha Dogs of the East but also advancing to the Super Bowl as conference champs, something Dallas hasn’t done since 1995.

Now, it is the Cowboys who will look to return the favor.

OK, I suppose the Giants could be contenders too, but we’re saving them for another blog post. As we check in on Dallas here during the NFL’s Dead Zone, we have a pretty good sense of what this team will look like.

Here’s a glance at their depth charts, according to Ourlads.

On a recent episode of Eye on the Enemy, I spoke with R.J. Ochoa from Blogging the Boys about some of their most impactful moves so far this off-season.

Some of them have been addition by subtraction. Releasing Ezekiel Elliott and his 3.8 yards per carry average was long overdue, even if some Cowboys fans can’t truly let go.

But you know it absolutely made Jerry Jones shed a tear or two, and saying goodbye to Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator, one year after he was getting hyped as a potential head coaching candidate, is being hyped in Dallas as a way for the team to reinvent itself on offense.

They desperately needed to add another threat to the outside, and they did that by bringing aboard wide receiver Brandon Cooks for just a 2023 5th-round pick and a ‘24 6th-rounder, a player Ochoa thinks can be the No. 2 complement to Cee Dee Lamb they simply could not find after trading away Amari Cooper prior to last season.

“He’s finally an answer, an admission they were wrong. He alleviates the pressure, not just on Jalen Tolbert, but on Michael Gallup and now you’re another year removed from the Gallup torn ACL. And while he’s not a Super Bowl winner, he’s somebody who’s been there done that and played with elite quarterbacks.”

The Cowboys pulled off another tremendous trade in dealing for cornerback Stephen Gilmore for just a compensatory 5th-round pick. While not the mega-star he once was, Gilmore can still cover and, paired with Trevon Diggs, gives them perhaps the best cornerback duo in the league outside of Philadelphia.

“If you’re putting together a depth chart, he’s CB2, but some of that is he’s the elder statesman. I’m well aware of his past, I was not aware of the incredible respect he had within the NFL. When that trade happened, every Cowboys defender was over the moon, walking on water because this happened.”

Re-signing Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to a two-year, $10 million deal and safety Donovan Wilson to a three-year, $24 million contract shored up two important spots in the defense for not a lot of money. And perhaps the Cowboys aren’t done making a “splash” in free agency!

Most analysts found the Cowboys draft to be a “mixed bag”, although Ochoa notes adding defensive tackle Mazi Smith in the first round will likely improve a shaky run defense.

“The hope and the believe is that Mazi Smith is going to be that guy. He wasn’t anybody who any Cowboys fan thought was a realistic option if you looked at mock drafts. It was a bit of a surprise pick, but this is a team that for a year and a half have talked about getting tougher. We all know how formidable the Eagles are at running the ball and you recognize that the top teams have an amazing offensive line and can run the ball, and Dallas has just gotten by with defensive tackles, and they haven’t spent a first round pick on a defensive tackle since 1991! This is finally their primary resource at the position.”

Dallas will try to ease the loss of tight end Dalton Schultz with Michigan second round pick Luke Schoonmaker.

So where do things stand now? Pro Football Focus released their roster rankings for 2023 recently and placed the Eagles at No. 1, but Dallas wasn’t far behind at No. 6 overall, with the third-best roster in the NFC. The biggest weakness, according to PFF? The quarterback.

Dak Prescott suffered through arguably his worst season as a pro in 2022. He led the league in interceptions despite missing five games with injury. He posted a mediocre 68.2 passing grade for the year and made more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws. Prescott was inconsistent when he was healthy outside of two excellent performances against overmatched Chicago and Tampa Bay teams. Dallas was short on weapons last year, but Prescott needs to be better if the team is going to make a championship run in 2023.

Ochoa says Prescott may be respected by Philly fans more than his own home base.

“I think that, on the surface, trolling and all, Eagles fans like to hate Dak, but if you hooked everybody up to a lie detector test, more Eagles fans would respect Dak’s game than Cowboys fans. There are just a number that don’t believe he’s worth it. Heavy is the head that wears the crown of the Dallas Cowboys QB position, and that’s just what comes with it.”

As for the overall outlook, Ochoa believes Cowboys fans are in a better place now than they were a year ago.

“This time last year, it was nothing but vitriol. Last year it was doom and gloom, nothing but ‘this team sucks, how could you do this?’ The Amari Cooper trade was the face of the dysfunction. Now I think people feel really heard as a fanbase, the Cowboys made a number of acquisitions over the off-season that were met with lots of approval, not just among Cowboys fans and supporters but throughout the NFL community (and maybe amongst Eagles fans). I think Cowboys fans are really satisfied. Considering we’re only June, people are about as happy as they can be.”

We’ll see how long that lasts.

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