For a team that is coming off a 12-5 regular season record and an NFC East crown, the Dallas Cowboys are a team that isn’t exactly producing optimism. Their first-round playoff loss in 2021 followed by an offseason of moves that have been questioned far and wide lend an air of uncertainty to the team. A fair share of the fanbase is downright despondent about the direction of the franchise.
Of course, fans don’t run the team so Jerry Jones and Mike McCarthy are going to do what they want to do, and only the results of the 2022 season will tell us who was right.
Dallas released, traded or watched talent walk out the door in the 2022 offseason as they attempted a mini-revamp of the roster. All that tinkering has left some holes in the roster, at least what are perceived to be holes because positions are being manned by unknown quantities like rookies or depth players that have been elevated to critical roles.
The team still has their franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott, and he rightly belongs in the conversation of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. In the NFL, where quarterbacks are king, that’s a decent position to be in. But no team can function without an offensive line that can do their job, and the Cowboys have question marks all over their line. It just might be the defining factor of their 2022 season.
Tyron Smith is a great left tackle, but he will miss most of the year, if not all, due to injury. That made the backup tackle situation very important as someone else will be a starter, and the Cowboys seem to be behind the curve here. With the release of right tackle La’el Collins this offseason, swing tackle Terence Steele has been bumped up to starter. His play in 2022 training camp has left much to be desired, and the internal candidates to replace Tyron Smith all have issues.
Dallas was planning to break in rookie Tyler Smith at left guard, but it’s possible he may have to kick outside to replace the other Smith in the first week or two. Josh Ball or Matt Waletzko are the other internal options and neither inspire confidence. The Cowboys are going outside the organization to bring in a free agent, and they just signed longtime veteran Jason Peters. He may need a week or two to get ready, but expect him to play left tackle when he’s ready, with Smith resuming his role as left guard.
And the Cowboys need that offensive line to play well, not only to protect Prescott, but because they have announced a desire to return to a running game identity on offense. They want to utilize Ezekiel Elliott, and his backup Tony Pollard, in a more central role on the offense and they can’t do that if the line can’t open holes. The wisdom of trying to be a “run-first” team is debatable in itself, but without an offensive line capable of opening holes it’s a suicide pact.
The Cowboys are also not without issues in the passing game, but the combo of CeeDee Lamb at receiver and Dalton Schultz at tight end give them two high quality players in that phase of the game. Lamb is looking to become a superstar now that he is the unquestioned WR1 in Dallas, and Schultz has quietly become one of the most productive tight ends in the league. Dallas will need some of its young depth to step up at reciever while they wait for the return of Michael Gallup and James Washington from injury, but they definitely have some talent out there, even if they are unproven.
Surprisingly, it might be Dallas’ defense which is the stronger unit, something that hasn’t been said about the team in a long time. Dan Quinn turned around the Cowboys defense in 2021 and they should be as good, or better, in 2022. Having linebacker Micah Parsons helps as he is legitimately in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year already. But they also boast other players like DeMarcus Lawrence and Trevon Diggs and have a host of role players that fill out the roster.
The Cowboys’ secondary is full of playmakers, and even though they probably won’t get as many turnovers as last year based on simple regression to the mean statistics, they are formidable. The defense should be able to keep the team in games while the offense finds its footing early on in the season.
Dallas also added a couple of free agents in training camp to fill some perceived holes. Wide receiver KaVontae Turpin was brought in based on his special teams worth as a kick returner that was displayed in the USFL. With Lamb too valuable to use on punt returns now, the team wants Turpin and his speed to be the returner and a gadget player. They also signed veteran Anthony Barr to fill out a linebacker corps that sees Parsons sometimes used as a pass rusher. The veteran should give them insurance along with holdover Leighton Vander Esch.
The Cowboys still have issues. They need to settle their offensive line questions and they need to find a dependable kicker. WIth so many NFL games being of the one-score variety, having a dependable kicker is a must and the Cowboys don’t have that right now. They also are not looking great at backup quarterback, but it could be said that if they don’t have Prescott for any length of time in 2022, they are probably doomed anyway.
Playing in the NFC East has given the Cowboys an advantage as only the Philadelphia Eagles have been any good recently — and that could be the case again in 2022. Dallas and Philadelphia will probably be in a dog fight for the NFC East crown again this year. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is likely the key to the whole thing. If he can play near the level of Prescott, the Eagles have a legitimate shot at dethroning Dallas in the East.
But we’re saying here that Prescott has a banner season and the Cowboys repeat as NFC East champs with a regular-season record of 11-6. As for the playoffs? If history is any guide, the Cowboys will crash out of that as soon as they get there. Some things never change.