Despite finishing first in the NFC guided by two rookies in 2016, it feels like centuries ago for the Dallas Cowboys and their fans. A 9-7 season would not be deemed a failure by many franchises across the NFL, but that is not the case for the 2017 Cowboys’ squad that had much higher aspirations. The rival Philadelphia Eagles hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy definitely played a huge role in the Cowboys’ disappointing season.
The best way to get over something is to stop asking questions and start finding answers. Dallas did work in the offseason that they believe will lead to immediate dividends. The offensive line was bolstered, the wide receiver room was re-tooled, the defense added a prize linebacker, so the chips are on the table for Dak Prescott to make it known his rookie debut in 2016 was no fluke. But just because the Cowboys have the talent to be a good team does not mean it will come easy.
Despite winning the Super Bowl, the Eagles didn’t lose much and look to be in position to compete for yet another Super Bowl in 2018. The New York Giants believed they fixed their offensive line and added quite a special talent in Saquon Barkley to run behind it. The Washington Redskins have a lot of pieces on offense to go along with one of the more underrated defensive fronts in the NFL.
The 2018 season is set up for yet another exciting season and race out of the NFC East. It has been nearly 15 years since one team has won back-to-back divisional titles. Think about that in comparison to the AFC East where the New England Patriots have won 14 out of the last 15 AFC East titles with the one time they didn’t being the year where Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The Eagles will have all of the hype, and rightfully so, considering their talented roster paired and their stellar 2017 season. However, the Cowboys are also talented and they will be able to manufacture wins through a variety of ways in 2018. Let’s take a look at how the Cowboys can beat each NFC East team in 2018.
Beating the Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are going to be an extremely difficult opponent for the Cowboys in 2018. They are not only battle-tested, but they have the talent, motivation, and the depth to shut down what the Cowboys want to do. With a defensive front consisting of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Timmy Jernigan, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, and now Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett, the Eagles have the ammunition to shut down any rushing attack in football.
In terms of positional battles among teams in 2018, the Cowboys versus in the Eagles in the trenches will be at the top of the list. In the event that the Cowboys cannot establish the point of attack, as they were unable to do in 2017, it will put pressure on Prescott and his inexperienced receiving group to move the football down the field.
While the Eagles are robust with defensive line talent, they are not as deep or talented in the secondary. If the Cowboys can’t establish their running game, they will need to go to the air. But that also brings danger with the Eagles pass rush. When the Cowboys’ rushing attack failed to establish themselves at the start of games in 2017, they found success in using play-action to free Prescott from the pocket. The short passing game to playmakers in space, to guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Tavon Austin and maybe Michael Gallup could also be the key to sustaining drives along with some play-action. If the Cowboys can do that, it may loosen things up for the running game to work. Just beating on the Eagles front seven with the running game is likely to be a failure, the Cowboys will need to get creative and get playmakers open in space to do some work.
Beating the Washington Redskins
Many seem to be choosing the Redskins to finish in the cellar of the NFC East in 2018 and while that may very well happen, they could still be quite competitive, particularly in the division. The Redskins have the line talent to put in gritty performances.
With Alex Smith coming over to pair with Jay Gruden, the Redskins now have a quarterback who is more capable of working in Gruden’s system. While that is no indictment on Kirk Cousins, he is more of a downfield passer while Smith operates in quick-hitting offensive philosophies. Dallas played one of their better games of the season last year against the Chiefs and the main reason why was limiting their mistakes on defense.
Of course there was one huge mistake towards the end of the first half when the Cowboys let speedster Tyreek Hill weave around the field to score six as time expired. Washington has a variety of weapons to work with. Players like Josh Doctson, Jordan Reed, and Jamison Crowder are all talented players that operate well when they are on the field together. After adding a talented rookie rusher in Derrius Guice, the Redskins now have the chance at a rushing attack. The Cowboys defense will be key here. They will need to be fundamentally sound against the variety of playmakers and the short-passing game that Alex Smith excels at. The defense will need to keep everything in front of them and make sure tackles while taking good angles. They can’t over-pursue or lose track of their primary keys on each play. If the defense plays without making too many mistakes, they can sweep Washington again in 2018.
Beating the New York Giants
All talk will rightfully be on Saquon Barkley as the Penn State product looks to have a rookie year similar to the one Elliott had in 2016. By drafting Barkley and opting to bypass on a quarterback, the Giants are relying on Eli Manning for the foreseeable future. However, despite their additions across the offensive line, the Giants are still very questionable upfront.
With DeMarcus Lawrence returning to prove himself in the hopes a long-term contract after 2018, the Cowboys have their guy to hunt quarterback. Taco Charlton will have another offseason to become more accustomed to the NFL and refine his pass-rushing moves. Tyrone Crawford is a steady presence as is Maliek Collins. The team won’t have David Irving in the first game, but he should be back for the second. Plus, there could even be a Randy Gregory sighting in 2018 depending on how the NFL views his case. The Cowboys are hoping their defensive line continues to get better as it has been doing recently.
If the Cowboys can get after the Giants’ aging quarterback, it will lead to takeaways and shorter fields. Dallas now has the personnel on defense to beat up on this Giants offense. Containing Barkley will be a key, but there are still huge question marks surrounding the offensive line in New York. The Cowboys will use their defensive line, and their linebacking corps to disrupt the lanes for Barkley, and to pressure Manning. This should lead to victory.