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Anguish or glory: What will the 2019 season bring for the Dallas Cowboys?

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There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic, but there are some concerns as well.

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It’s been a long time since I have felt this good about a new season for the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, it’s almost scary, but there are also some reasons to be a little apprehensive.

Last season, the Cowboys won 10 games, and that was good enough to win the division, but a lot of those victories were close. Dallas was 8-2 in games decided by seven points or less, and the law of averages suggest that type of success isn’t going to repeat. The offense also struggled throughout the season and the team finished 22nd in points scored. Many would attribute that to their 29th ranked red zone scoring offense. All three teams that finished worse than them last season finished with no more that five wins on the year. That’s not a pleasant thought.

The team has done a lot to improve their offensive woes from a year ago. They have a new offensive coordinator, they have a healthier and much deeper offensive line, and they have added some nice new weapons to the offense like Tony Pollard and Randall Cobb. They even brought in Jon Kitna as their new quarterbacks coach to help develop Dak Prescott. All of these things provide good reasons to be hopeful.

But the offense still has to show it before we can get too excited. The addition of Kellen Moore offers no guarantees. With the uncertainty of Ezekiel Elliott, that adds a new element of worry to the offense. Regardless of how valuable you see him, if the team doesn’t have him, the offense feels it. For example, the Cowboys were 11-2 last year (including playoffs) when Elliott had at least 70 yards rushing. They were 0-5 when he didn’t. If opposing defenses stop Zeke, they stop the Cowboys.

That means that teams are undoubtedly going to challenge Prescott to beat them. That’s the recipe for beating the Cowboys. Opponents that rattle him have a chance to beat Dallas, but when they don’t - they’re in a world of trouble. The Cowboys were 8-0 last year when Prescott had a QB Rating of at least 100. They are 23-1 in his career.

All teams play better when their quarterback plays well, but not at the same frequency as the Cowboys. It hasn’t always been the case, but this team has built enough strong pieces around their quarterback that when he steps up and plays well, they are virtually unbeatable. Not every team can say that.

That’s great news for the Cowboys as a whole, but it puts a lot of pressure on Prescott. He’s the single-most important piece to this team and if he sputters, any shot at the title is severely jeopardized.

While Prescott having to play well is important, he doesn’t have to be spectacular for this team to go places. This is largely due to the great job the organization has done in acquiring talent and coaching up young players. This is why they are so tough to beat when Prescott plays well. The team now has something they haven’t had in a long time - a great defense.

The growth of this defense has been such a refreshing thing to watch in recent years. DeMarcus Lawrence has emerged as one of the best defensive players in the league. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith might not be that far behind him. And a secondary that features players like Byron Jones and Xavier Woods is on the rise and may arguably be one of the more talented groups on the roster. This is a very good Dallas defense.

Even with the offensive struggles last year, the defense saved the day. If someone told you the Cowboys offense would only score three points in the final three quarters against the New Orleans Saints last year, you’d expect them to get routed. But that wasn’t the case as the Cowboys pulled out a 13-10 victory thanks to the spectacular play of the defense.

There were nine games last season where the Cowboys had the lead at halftime. The Cowboys were 9-0 in those games. Gone are the days that the defense gives away games.

Sure, some of these close games won’t end up in the Cowboys favor, but don’t discount how well coached this group is and how much fight they play with. That’s not going to change. Regression to the mean is a real thing, but fans are banking on the offensive improvements to help lead them away from so many close games. If Moore does a better job disguising what’s coming, that helps a lot. If the return of Travis Frederick and an improved Connor Williams can provide more push in short yardage situations, that helps as well. And if Prescott can work out some of his footwork/progression issues, that’s going to help most of all. That’s a lot of if’s, and it remains to be seen how this is all going to pan out, but those answers will go a long way in determining just how far this team goes in 2019.