Grading Cowboys’ position groups: Why this Dallas offense will strike fear in every defense it faces - John Owning, DallasMorningNews
Which position group gives you the most concern?
The likely range of outcomes for the Cowboys offensive line is bigger than it is for any other offensive position.
From a pure talent perspective, the Cowboys have one of the most talented offensive lines in the entire NFL. Tyron Smith, La’el Collins and Zack Martin are all among the best players at their respective positions when healthy. In addition, Connor Williams is solid at left guard, and I’m bullish on Tyler Biadasz future at center.
When all five are healthy, you’d be hard-pressed to find an offensive line that can match them; however, all five come into this season with notable durability concerns.
Smith hasn’t played more than 13 games in a season since 2015 and only played in two last season before a neck injury ended his year. Collins missed all of last year and has had to battle through nagging ailments throughout his career. Biadasz’s stock in the 2020 NFL Draft due to injuries, and those concerns weren’t quieted when a hamstring injury forced Biadasz to spend time on the short-term injured reserve last season. Even Martin, who had yet to miss a game before last season, had the injury bug catch up with him, as a calf injury kept him out of the lineup over the last month-plus of the season. Williams was the only starting OL to escape without serious last year, but even he has a shaky history in terms of durability, as he ended his first two seasons with the Cowboys on injured reserve.
And while I do like that the Cowboys took steps to improve their depth at offensive tackle by signing Ty Nskehe and drafting Josh Ball in the fourth round, I am worried about the lack of depth on the interior offensive line, as Connor McGovern is the only backup interior lineman who is capable of playing adequately. If the Cowboys are missing multiple interior offensive linemen, they’re going to be in a world of hurt.
Therefore, even though Dallas has three All-Pro caliber OL and one of the better starting fives in the league, the sketchy injury history and durability concerns of each prevent strip away a lot of the confidence I have in this group over a 17-game season, which is why I can’t grade them higher than a “B” right now.
The Cowboys secondary has a lot to prove.
The Cowboys fired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after a single season. They signed free-agent veterans to shore up their defensive line, at linebacker and at safety. Then Dallas used eight of their 11 selections in the 2021 NFL Draft on the defensive side of the ball including their first six picks.
As a result, the Cowboys’ defense appears to be on the upswing based simply on potential. No one will know for sure that this unit is actually improved until actual football is being played. And there are still several questions that need to be answered.
That’s likely why one football analytics website considers the backend of the Dallas defense one of the worst in the league. Here’s what Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus wrote about the Cowboys’ secondary heading into 2021 after ranking the unit 31st out of the NFL’s 32 teams.
“The Cowboys spent second- and third-round picks on the cornerback position in the 2021 NFL Draft — a clear area of need heading into the season … Diggs did improve as last season progressed, but his 651 receiving yards allowed ranked 21st-most among all cornerbacks despite him playing just 12 games.”
The only team PFF considers to have a worse secondary than Dallas? The Atlanta Falcons, who just happens to be the previous employer of the Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, and the team’s new secondary coach and passing game coordinator, Joe Whitt Jr.
Another look at who has impressed for the Cowboys this offseason.
It is, unquestionably, Dak Prescott actually playing ball. Again. Dak Prescott taking part in everything going on except for any 11-on-11 sessions out of an abundance of caution since the Cowboys can’t win a Super Bowl in May-June.
Come on, let’s go back to Oct. 11, 2020, right around 5:35 p.m. that Sunday evening when we saw Dak on the AT&T turf at the Giants’ 18-yard line, grabbing his right ankle and trying to twist it back into the direction it should have been facing. Go back to when eventually we could see the concern in the eyes of the Cowboys’ medical staff and then the tears coming from those of Dak’s, as he was being carted off the field, with little did we know at that immediate time a dislocated ankle causing a compound fracture, too.
The medical staff’s biggest fear at the time, and why Dak was whisked straight to the operating room, was the potential of an infection developing in his open wound. And why Dr. Gene Curry immediately performed surgery upon his arrival at the Carrell Clinic surgery facility.
At the time, who of us lay folks figured Dak would be participating in OTA workouts by the end of May, just seven months later. Or this week’s two minicamp workouts, even being able to perform in those “scramble” drills, running around in the pocket while firing downfield. Or heck, even just standing in the pocket and throwing the football with his old speed and accuracy.
Or as offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said, “We’re playing ball now. You can ask Dak. He’s ready to just go play football.”
Amazingly impressive, at least to me.
With some injuries, their gravity remain glued to your memory. Like seeing Michael Irvin face down at The Vet in 1999, suffering the neck injury that would end his NFL career. Or when wide receiver Mike Sherrard suffered compound fractures to his fibula and tibia on the other side of the field from me during the 1987 training camp in Thousand Oak, Calif. Or the time wideout Anthony Lucas, right in front of me along the sideline, fractured his patella that summer of 2002 in the Alamodome that I could have sworn hearing the crack, this for the second time within a year’s span, ending his NFL career.
Cowboys look to fill out their 2021 draft class, sooner rather than later.
JUNE 11: WR SHUFFLE The Cowboys have made two moves at the wide receiver spot with the signing of Reggie Davis, and the corresponding release of Stephen Guidry.
Davis was on the the Cowboys practice squad for the most part during portions of 2018 and 2019.
He’d been free since the Bears cut him in May.
Guidry had been dealing with an injury that caused him to miss some on-field practice work.
JUNE 11: OSA SIGNS The Dallas Cowboys have been busy getting signatures. First-round pick Micah Parsons and second-round selection Kelvin Joseph both signed this week. That means nine of the 11 picks have signed now that third-round pick Osa Odighizuwa has signed his four-year rookie contract.
The only Cowboys rookies left to be signed now are third-rounders Chauncey Golston and Nahshon Wright.
Any candidates to get the franchise tag in 2022?
Some big-name rookie contracts expiring at season’s end like Michael Gallup, Leighton Vander Esch and Dalton Schultz. Pending a huge season, who do you see the franchise tag going to, if any? Thoughts? — RUDY LONGORIA / SAN ANTONIO, TX
Nick: I know it’s not his rookie deal, but I wouldn’t forget about Gregory when talking about big contracts that are expiring. As for the franchise tag, I don’t really see that scenario with any of these guys. Remember that this is an average of the Top 5 salaries in the NFL at their position. Let’s be honest, with LVE, Gallup, Schultz and even Gregory, it’s doubtful any of them are the best at their position on this team. Maybe LVE is when he’s healthy. So franchise seems extreme. But bringing back? Yes it will depend a lot on what happens within the season.
What’s left to check off?
No new injuries
Having one of your starters go down during OTAs or minicamp, even for a short while, is unnerving. Seeing a starter lost for the entire season during what are supposed to be carefully conducted no-contact drills is horrifying, and we have lived through that in recent memory with Sean Lee. Getting to the end of things with no new injuries is the biggest goal for teams that are being honest.
Based on all reports to date, and assuming that Mike McCarthy doesn’t plan to get too wild on his team-bonding last day, the Cowboys were successful in this. While we did have a previously reported (although perhaps a bit underreported) ankle injury revealed for Amari Cooper, that was not a new thing that developed during the OTA period. There were a lot of players rehabbing, but these were all known situations. In many cases the individuals could have participated more, but there was no reason for them to do so. After all, how much is Tyron Smith going to gain from some reps in this offense? Holding the still recovering vets out of some of the drills until camp makes nothing but sense.
There was one vaguely disturbing development. The offseason would really be incomplete without one. Second-round draft pick Kelvin Joseph was in COVID quarantine for most of the activities, and was reportedly out of shape when he came to rookie minicamp. We don’t know the full significance of this and hope that he will catch up quickly in training camp. It is still worth watching, since many are already penciling Joseph in as a starter at some point in the season, if not out of the gate. Anthony Brown did not waste his chance to make a case with the coaches, looking very effective in practices. Don’t write off the veteran yet.
BTB Podcast Schedule
- Monday: Jersey Boyz with Dave Sturchio, Bret Ernst, and Keith Ernst
- Tuesday: The 75O with Tony Casillas and RJ Ochoa
- Wednesday: Talkin’ The Draft with Connor Livesay, Cole Patterson, and Dalton Miller
- Thursday: Ryled Up with Roy White and Tom Ryle
- Friday: Girls Talkin ‘Boys with Kelsey Charles and Meg Murray
- Saturday: Cowboys Hoy with Mauricio Rodriguez
We also offer daily episodes of The Ocho where we give you that day’s latest headlines so that you always stay caught up. The BTB podcast network is available on all major podcast avenues.
You can find your preferred platform right here. Make sure to subscribe, rate the feed, and leave a review! Our latest episode is available in the feed down below.