Maybe it’s the afterglow from a very convincing 41-14 win by the Dallas Cowboys over the Miami Dolphins. Or it is a bit of a halo effect from the completely unexpected performance of Dak Prescott. And you can’t discount the simply stunning pictures and videos coming out of the football wonderland that is the Star in Frisco. But the preseason optimism is getting hard to contain. As a long time connoisseur of fine vintages of Blue KoolAid, I cannot resist. If you are not in the mood for a solid shot of Cowboys optimism, you might want to go read something else. Because I look at how the roster is shaping up for Dallas, and it just looks loaded with talent.
Yes, there are still some real questions to be answered. But the known quantities for the team are very impressive. The Cowboys have been trying to bring better talent to the table for several years now with a very focused and disciplined approach. While it has not been without its missteps, it looks like this year, things may be coming together.
The strength of this team is obviously going to be the offense, and after the way they did a hot knife through butter imitation last Friday, it really looks loaded. When the Cowboys take the field, they will count no fewer than six Pro Bowlers among their starters: Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. They rest of the starting lineup is very good with Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, an improving La’el Collins, and the underrated Doug Free. Oh, and they added Ezekiel Elliott.
Depth is an important factor for any team. The Cowboys don’t have a perfect situation across the board, but it is not terrible, either. Brice Butler is starting to look like a real receiving threat in his own right. Ron Leary is a starting-quality guard. The loss of tight end James Hanna (for a still undetermined time) is troubling, but Gavin Escobar’s play so far in camp and preseason is encouraging, while Geoff Swaim and Austin Traylor had a good game against Miami. Chaz Green is still a work in progress as the swing tackle, but he was seen to have made some real improvement between his first and second game by many knowledgeable observers. Joe Looney is just quietly getting the job done on the line when called on. And Elliott’s expected backup, Alfred Morris, is a Pro Bowler in his own right.
And then there is the backup quarterback situation. Just a couple of weeks ago, many of the national “experts” were deriding the Cowboys’ situation as one of the worst in the league, and citing it as a reason for downgrading the talent of the entire team. Now, with Prescott posting the best performance of any NFL quarterback to date, and by a pretty wide margin, that take looks a bit laughable.
However, many say, look at the defense. Well, given the way they have played in the early parts of the first two games, before Dallas rolled out the threes and fours, things are not as grim as many think. The starting/nickel secondary, with Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Barry Church, and Byron Jones, looks to be the strength of the D. They are still deciding who will be their depth, but Deji Olatoye, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, and Jeff Heath (AKA the GOAT) all show promise.
Linebacker is a bit more in flux, but Pro Bowler Sean Lee anchors the group. With Rolando McClain self-eliminating himself, the big question is going to be at the MIKE position, where Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, James Morris, and Justin Durant are all in the mix. Hopefully, Mark Nzeocha’s Achilles problem is not going to hold him back, because he was making a bit of a splash as well. Kyle Wilber seems to be a solid SAM.
The biggest issue is the line, but the tackle position may be much stronger than many think. Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, and Cedric Thornton have all looked very strong at times. Shaneil Jenkins may be a real find as well, and Maliek Collins looks to be ready to start practicing. On the outside, the suspension of DeMarcus Lawrence still grates, but he will be back. In the meantime, David Irving, Benson Mayowa, Chalres Tapper, Jack Crawford, and Ryan Russell will have to carry the load, and the team will be scouring the cuts by other teams to look for last-minute upgrades as well. We have already seen some good pressure up the middle, especially against the Dolphins, and that may be the path to success, especially until Lawrence is back on the field.
The specialists are one thing the Cowboys don’t have to worry about, with Dan Bailey and LP Ladouceur adding a couple more Pro Bowlers to the mix, while Chris Jones is very solid as a punter/holder.
This group looks like a very strong foundation to build this season upon. Yes, there are plenty of places where upgrades could be made, but that is true for every team in the league, and very few boast the kind of talent at the top that Dallas has.
The big threat now is health, which you hate to talk about, but it can strike anywhere, and for most teams, it is the thing that hurts them the most when the inevitable injuries start to accrue. It is going to be an interesting test for the coach most see as the best in the league, Bill Belichick, as the New England Patriots have seen a rash of injuries strike them to go along with the four game suspension of Tom Brady.
Jason Garrett, of course, has always preached the “next man up” philosophy. Hopefully we won’t need to see too much of that, but right now, the starters for Dallas look very good and the depth is not very bad at all. We all have to see how things shake out when games start to count in the standings, but the previews so far have been very promising.
So yes, I am taking an early sip or two of the KoolAid. But there are reasons listed here why I don’t feel bad about that at all. Add in how well the coaches have put players like Prescott in a position to excel, and 2016 might turn out pretty well for the Cowboys.