As we do every offseason, we spoke to the good folks over at Football Outsiders about the Dallas Cowboys upcoming season. FO writer Rivers McCown answered our questions, so let’s check in on what he had to say. You can get the latest Football Outsiders Almanac 2022 from Football Outsiders in electronic form, or you can buy it at Amazon in printed form. It has a ton of information and is well worth a read.
Blogging The Boys: How much will the loss of Amari Cooper hurt the Cowboys offense?
Football Outsiders: Our offensive projection for the Cowboys is a step back, but not a major one. They finished sixth in offensive DVOA last year, and are closer to 10th in the run of projections I’m looking at now. (The projections can change fairly often, so best to avoid a firm ranking.) I think the Cowboys are both right to imagine Cooper as a luxury piece in a good offense and also guilty of misreading the market for his services as the wideout contracts spiraled out of control this offseason. The health of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott is more important to me than Cooper, but I expect his absence will be felt early on as Michael Gallup misses time.
BTB: Where would you rank Dak Prescott among NFL quarterbacks?
FO: If you asked me to imagine a fully healthy Dak Prescott in a one-game scenario for this exercise, I would rank him behind Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady. I can see arguments to rank him behind theoretically-cleared-to-play-football Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, and Joe Burrow. The problem with Prescott isn’t his talent, but the fact that he’s so often hurt or playing hurt that he’s not reliable in the way that the best of the best are – and that’s where you get to take arguments for guys who I think are in his same basic tier of quarterback like Matt Stafford, who aren’t as good at their peak in my opinion, but have more examples of playing up to their talent.
So to the question itself I would say: Somewhere between sixth and 10th. I’m still waiting for that one dominant season where Prescott stays healthy and just rakes everybody.
BTB: Should the Cowboys think of Micah Parsons as a defensive end instead of an off-ball linebacker?
FO: I don’t think so. The more doubt you can put into the mind of an offense’s play callers, the better. Parsons isn’t exactly lost in coverage. I understand the idea that his pass rushing is his most valuable trait, but he didn’t exactly seem to be held back by playing linebacker. I think Dan Quinn deserves a lot of credit for how he utilized Parsons last season – the hybrid role isn’t exactly common yet, and it’s something that I think more than a few current NFL DCs would be scared to implement.
BTB: Do you expect the Cowboys defense to take a step back in 2022 because they might not get as many turnovers this season as they did last year?
FO: I think they’ll take a step back in the sense that they won’t get as many touchdown returns – something that is almost completely random from a pure statistical standpoint – but I don’t think there will be a major regression from the defense. They lost Randy Gregory in free agency, but there was no guarantee that he was repeating last season anyway. Most importantly, they retain a laughably easy schedule full of NFC North, AFC South, and bottom-of-the NFC East teams.
BTB: What is the main reason the Cowboys keep failing in the postseason this past decade?
FO: I don’t think there’s one major lesson to take away from this without just outright admitting you’re on Narrative Street. The 2021 Cowboys failed in the playoffs because they couldn’t run the ball and their offensive line faltered against a tough front. All Jason Garrett teams failed because it is impossible for him to admit that running the ball isn’t the ideal outcome. Even despite that, they lost four one-score games. That’s more unlucky than a design flaw.