It’s time to get hyped for the coming season of the Dallas Cowboys! Unless, that is, you are too buried in worry about the myriad issues facing this team. This is definitely a year they face a lot of uncertainty and they have a real challenge hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the opener. You can approach this with optimism or pessimism. Our David Howman and Tom Ryle offer arguments for either side.
David: Are you even a Cowboys fan if you’re not entering Week 1 vacillating between an unwavering belief that this is the year it all comes together or the existential dread that the same ol’ Cowboys are back in town? That’s pretty much how I feel right now, but when looking at the way these past few months have unfolded it’s pretty hard to feel positive heading into the season.
The left tackle problem is what everyone is talking about the most, and for good reason, but this front office engaged in a systematic dismantling of their passing attack and then used just about every press conference they had to talk about how Dak Prescott needs to elevate the little talent he does have. For the record, I’m pretty confident Prescott can do just that, but why make it that hard? It really feels as if the Jones Boys have put little to no effort into this year’s team, and that makes it very hard to be optimistic about their chances this year.
Tom: I have certainly been a member of the “what in the world are they doing” club this offseason. I have no argument at all with the contention that the ownership has not just failed to help their quarterback, but have almost stacked the deck against him. But while I think that unwise, I do get why they think Dak can lift this offense. During the offseason, there were countless quarterback ratings and tiers put out. The general consensus is the Prescott is somewhere between the sixth and tenth best in the league. Those are all based on what happened last year, and it must be remembered Prescott was not only coming off a severe ankle injury, but suffered a calf strain a few games in. A healthy version of him is probably top five.
Maybe I’m guilty of the same thing the ownership has done, but if you want to find things that can offer some hope for this year, you have to start with QB1. He is the class of the NFC East, and it doesn’t seem to be even close. If he can just stay healthy (knocking frantically on wood) he will give Dallas a shot against any team in the league.
David: Pretty much the only thing giving me optimism for a good 2022 year is the dire state of this division, as you correctly point out. The Eagles are easily the second best team in the NFC East, but they got curb-stomped by the Cowboys in both of their matchups last year. Even if they’ve legitimately improved this year, I can’t see them making up enough of what was a pretty wide margin between Philly and Dallas.
But here’s the problem I keep coming back to: winning the division is meaningless if it doesn’t result in at least some playoff wins. I mean, the Bills made the playoffs four straight years back in the 90’s, and they came away with zero trophies and become the butt of the joke for nearly two decades following that. The Cowboys are already the butt of several jokes now, deservedly so, and the only way to change that is to win the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, that may be the only way Mike McCarthy keeps his job past this season. And when I look at this roster, I see a team that can easily win the division but in no way does this look like a team ready to win the big one. So if it’s Super Bowl or bust for the current makeup of this team, I’m not liking how good the odds for “bust” are looking right now.
Tom: I’ll disagree with at least part of that. While we are basing it on what we saw in camp, this certainly looks like a defense that can play at the highest level. With Micah Parso ns wreaking havoc from multiple places, a defensive line that looks as deep and talented as I can remember, and a secondary that is also one of the strongest in years, that unit could well win some games for this team. It is going to be hard to even approach the number of takeaways they had last year, but I truly believe this bunch is going to be more fundamentally sound in stopping the run and defending passes. Add in the weapon KaVontae Turpin showed he could be in the second preseason game, and Prescott and the offense don’t have to be overwhelming.
As mentioned, we don’t really know just yet. Working in Dallas’ favor is how defenses seem to be ahead of offenses early in the season, a tendency that should be amplified by the shortened preseason schedule. They say defense wins championships. If there is any truth to that old saw, this might not be the traditional disappointment we are used to.
David: I’ve always been especially skeptical of that saying, and never more so than now. In the last six Super Bowls, just three of the 12 teams to reach the championship game had a defense that ranked inside the top ten in defensive DVOA that year. However, 11 of those 12 teams ranked inside the top ten in offensive DVOA, many of them actually ranking inside the top five. The lone team to reach the Super Bowl without a top ten offense was last year’s Bengals, who were bolstered by a late surge in offensive production.
Defense definitely won championships the last time the Cowboys were winning championships, but it’s a quarterback’s league these days. The Cowboys are lucky to have a pretty great one, but they don’t yet seem to understand that taking the ball out of his hands isn’t a good plan. I think Prescott is more than good enough to elevate this offense, I think the defense will still be elite even if they’re not as good as they were last year, and I even think Turpin can become the third Cowboy since 2008 to score a touchdown on a long kickoff return. But the biggest question is whether or not the guys in charge - the Jones Boys - are willing to get out of their own way and let all of that happen organically. Recent history suggests no.
Tom: Full disclosure, I am not buying completely into anything until we see it on the field. But there are certainly possibilities. While the offensive line is so crucial, we can’t forget the receiver situation. They showed tantalizing potential all through camp, and Prescott is a great QB to draw that out. Now we have to have Kellen Moore working at top efficiency to make the offense go.
Still, we can’t believe it until we see it. The Cowboys face that test starting Sunday night. The Bucs are a team that has some very similar traits, a QB that can make things happen despite problems around him, a questionable offensive line, and a defense that can be scary. If you want to be negative about the prospects, that is understandable. But it is also valid to be hopeful until results on the field force you to change. That is the beauty of this moment. Dallas is 0-0 and all possibilities lie ahead of them. Now we will find out what they really are.