For years it has been a common theme around Dallas that the Cowboys offense has been the better unit between the two. With weapons like Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Dak Prescott, Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and one of the best offensive lines in football, there was little to no worry that the offense could do more than enough to get the team into the playoffs. Heading into the 2018 season, with the changes in personnel, there is some doubt about that side of the ball.
With Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Brice Butler, and Ryan Switzer no longer with the team, there is plenty of fresh blood in town. The Cowboys’ front office went out in free agency and signed Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, traded for Tavon Austin, and drafted Michael Gallup, Connor Williams, Dalton Schultz, Cedrick Wilson, and Bo Scarbrough. With so many new faces with little experience in the NFL, we must take a wait and see approach before we can set expectations for the offense. When taking a look at Dallas Cowboys schedule for the 2018 season, you’ll notice that they face some of the best defenses in the league.
The Cowboys kick the season off on the road in Carolina taking on the reigning NFC South champions. Carolina finished the 2017 season with an impressive 11-5 record, a lot of that credit needs to be given to their defense. The Panthers defense ranked seventh in passing yards per game, third in rushing yards per game, and 11th in points per game. The Panthers have plenty of talent on defense with Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short, Dontari Poe, Thomas Davis, and Julius Peppers. This new look offense will without a doubt have a tough task in week one taking on the Carolina Panthers.
In week three, the Cowboys head to Seattle to take on the always tough Seattle Seahawks. Even after losing some talent on both sides of the ball this offseason, Seattle will still be a tough game due to their tough defense and playing on the road at CenturyLink Field. In 2017, the Seahawks defense ranked thirteenth in total yards, sixth in passing yards per game, 19th in rushing yards per game, and thirteenth in points per game. The Seahawks did lose a handful of quality players this offseason including Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, and Cliff Avril, but they still have plenty of talent on defense with names like Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, KJ Wright, Frank Clark, and Jarran Reed. The Cowboys’ running game may find some success, but Seattle’s defense will still be tough to throw the ball against with a very talented secondary.
The Cowboys will likely face the toughest defense of the year in week five when they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at home. The AFC South champs deployed a top-three defense in the league last season that dominated in almost every major category. Jacksonville’s defense was ranked second in yards per game, first in passing yards per game, 21st in rushing yards per game, and second in points per game. The very talented Jaguars defense got even better this offseason after drafting Florida’s Taven Bryan in the first round. Adding a player of Bryan’s caliber to a defense that already employs Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jefferson, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, and Barry Church is just unfair. It’s absolutely ridiculous how stacked the Jacksonville Jaguars defense is, but let’s hope Allen Hurns is ready to take it to the team that released him earlier in the offseason.
The Cowboys head up to Philadelphia in week 10, for their first matchup against their division rival and reigning Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles. Playing in the same division with the Eagles, most fans are familiar with the talented defense of the Eagles. The Eagles defense ranked fourth in total yards per game, 17th in passing yards per game, first in rushing yards per game, and fourth in points per game. The Cowboys offense better is familiar with Fletcher Cox, Malcolm Jenkins, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett, Brandon Graham, Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks, and Ronald Darby.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Cowboys offense in week 11, as they’ll be on the road to take on the Atlanta Falcons. Of course, we all remember how the game last year went when Adrian Clayborn etched his name in record books with an absolute dominant performance against the Cowboys’ offensive line. Good news is, Clayborn is no longer with the Falcons. Bad news is, the Falcons defense is still really good. In 2017, the Falcons defense ranked ninth in yards per game, 12th in passing yards per game, ninth in rushing yards per game, and eighth in points per game. The Falcons don’t have any big names on their defense, but they do have plenty of depth, speed, and youth.
The last defense to highlight that the Cowboys will face in 2018 is the rejuvenated New Orleans Saints defense that took the league by storm in 2017. The talented Saints’ defense ranked 17th in yards per game, 15th in passing yards per game, 16th in rushing yards per game, and 10th in points per game. While none of those numbers are in the top 10, the Saints defense got better from 2017 to 2018 with the addition of Marcus Davenport, and the development of the young but talented secondary. The Saints defense is young, gritty, and talented. That week 13 matchup will be a tough one for the young Cowboys offense.
Of course, the Cowboys front office and coaching staff know all of these things, so they’ll likely be preparing for these tough defenses all offseason and during the season with high-effort, high-energy practices and film sessions. But what the entire organization is hoping for is Ezekiel Elliott stays healthy and out of trouble, Dak Prescott returns to his 2016 form, and the new guys in town hang onto the football, create some separation, and become reliable on offense. Play-calling won’t look much different in 2018 than it did in 2017, but the coaching staff hopes that the new guys in town can learn the system and be in the right place at the right time when their number is called. In order for the Cowboys to have success against the defenses listed above, a lot will have to go right for the Cowboys, let’s hope the chips start falling Dallas’ way.