There is an art to coachspeak in the NFL, and Jason Garrett is a master. Where some coaches just say very little, Garrett frequently gives detailed answers that reinforce his philosophy while imparting almost nothing of real import about the plans the team has. Stephen Jones is no slouch at the game, either, and there are times that even Jerry Jones plays along. We have heard them say things repeatedly such as "Kellen Moore is the backup quarterback" and "Ezekiel Elliott has to earn his place." They convey the proper message to the team. But that doesn't mean that these things are what will be best for the Dallas Cowboys. In many cases, something entirely different from the public pronouncements would actually be much better. Here are a few things that have been mentioned, and some that haven't, that the team needs to see unfold to make for a better season than the Great Debacle of 2015.
Ezekiel Elliott needs to be the bell cow from day one. OK, that is pretty much a no-brainer. And in all honesty, there is every indication that he will not only be the man from this point on, but that he will do so extremely well. In using the fourth-overall pick on him, Dallas went all in on re-establishing the identity they had in 2014, only more so. Alfred Morris is now the backup running back behind Zeke. That is just the way it is.
They need to find a better option than Darren Mcfadden behind Elliott and Morris. The team has repeatedly been supportive of McFadden's place on the roster. In light of what he contributed last year, that is only right, but the truth is that he changes the offense when he is in, and that is away from what they want to do and do best. McFadden is just not a good zone blocking runner. For him to be effective, the Cowboys have to alter their scheme, and it tips the defense as to what they must do. Dallas is simply an easier team to defend against with McFadden in.
However, this may be a problem. The Cowboys currently have only six running backs signed. One of them, Lance Dunbar, is a change of pace back and will likely start the season on the PUP list. Another, Rod Smith, is reportedly trying to convert to fullback. That leaves only Darius Jackson to possibly supplant McFadden as the third back (assuming they do not go with just two backs and a fullback, which seems frighteningly shallow). Jackson is a tremendous athlete with good zone skills, but he is hardly a dependable option right now. He does have some traits that would make him a good candidate to fill Dunbar's role at least for the start of the season, but will that be enough? The team may wind up having to keep McFadden just to make sure they have enough depth - and hope he sees very few carries.
At least one of the fullback options need to work out. Jason Garrett loves him some fullback, no matter how the rest of the league may be moving away from the role. It still makes some sense for Dallas to have one, given that their focus on running the ball is also counter to the current NFL trend. What they need is a more complete fullback, one who can also log an occasional effective carry and also serve as a reliable target out of the backfield. Since Garrett became the head coach, the team has not really had one. Rod Smith and Keith Smith, a linebacker, are both reportedly getting the chance to prove themselves. One of them needs to show the requisite skills to keep this from being a largely wasted roster spot.
A legitimate QB2 has to be in place to start the season. No one wants to see the team have to rely on the backup quarterback at all this season, but you can't always get what you want. Perhaps Kellen Moore can prove he is that this year - but there are myriad reasons to doubt that. Dak Prescott is a rookie and has a lot to learn about playing the position in the NFL. It would be ideal for him to pass Moore on the depth chart. It would not only be a likely upgrade for the position, but would offer some hope for his future growth as well. Some of us would also really like to see Jameill Showers shock everyone and claim the third position, because with his special teams value he could be active on game day while still making on-field contributions. But the most likely thing is that the team is going to continue to watch for available free agent QBs to bring in. Perhaps the team really does have faith in Moore, but given what he has done (or not done) so far, it seems hard to believe that. If the team does elect to bring in a veteran, they need to do so by the start of camp. We saw to our dismay how things failed to work out last year when adding a quarterback after the season started. Anyone brought in needs to have time to learn the Cowboys' scheme and develop some chemistry with his teammates.
There needs to be better depth at wide receiver. When Dez Bryant was injured and subsequently at less than 100% for the remainder of the season, the passing game took a second hit that, combined with Romo's loss, made the entire offense largely impotent. Terrance Williams has been a workable, even good at times, WR2, but he clearly was not able to do the job as the primary weapon in the passing game (although the struggles at quarterback certainly played a role). What is needed is another wide receiver to make the other team have to spread their attention if (knock on wood) Bryant misses a game or two. Brice Butler may be that player, but the team also has several UDFA candidates on hand. They need someone to emerge that will make the receiving corps respectable when paired with Williams. It is possible that Williams could even be pushed further down the depth chart than that, but it is not likely.
The pass defense has to get better. This is more than just finding one strong pass rusher. The team is looking more for a multi-pronged approach there, where it gets decent (four to six sacks on the year) production from several players. It also has to have better coverage in the secondary, but the return of Orlando Scandrick and settling on free safety as the primary job of Byron Jones should help there, along with a reasonable hope for solid performance from Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Improved pressure on the quarterback and an extra second or two of good coverage would be synergistic. Dallas needs that to happen. No matter how dominant the offense might be with Elliott and a healthy Romo, the team still has to get stops at key times in a game. That is mostly going to fall on stopping the pass, since very few other teams are going to come into a game looking to beat Dallas on the ground.
Despite what the spokesmen for the team may say, these are things that need to happen for the Cowboys to get back to the top of the NFC East. A couple are absolute necessities, and all would be important improvements. The good news is that there are signs that the team is working on all of them. Whether or not they succeed will tell the tale.