Here we are during the week of the Super Bowl and the Dallas Cowboys are once again not a part of the festivities. It’s become a common thing ever since the 1995 season when Jerry Jones and Barry Switzer hoisted the Lombardi Trophy up in the air. Some Cowboys fans weren’t even born yet, others were toddlers, and then others were in college watching the big game with what would eventually be their future wife. The point is, it’s been a while.
That is not to say the Cowboys haven’t had their chances in recent years, but they repeatedly are left out of the big game. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Maybe not even a bridesmaid, but at least they were invited to the wedding and felt obligated to buy something on the registry.
Over the last nine years, the Cowboys have made it to the playoffs five times, including each of the last two years. But each time the team has failed to make it past the divisional round, a streak that now spans 27 years to that before-mentioned 1995 season.
When will this drought ever end? Are the Cowboys close to sniffing a Super Bowl or are they just one of the biggest facades in professional sports?
The outlook for the Cowboys always brings about some degree of uncertainty. It’s understandable to have doubts. The parity of the NFL is a real thing, meaning there is always a group of new teams entering the playoff mix. Who’s to say the Cowboys will be one of the lucky ones to return to the playoffs? They were this past season, but can they make it three in a row?
The Cowboys also lost their offensive play-caller in Kellen Moore and will now rely on head coach Mike McCarthy to handle those duties. Some believe this will be a good thing, but will it? Despite what some will try to tell you, Moore’s track record as an offensive coordinator was quite impressive. Additionally, McCarthy’s last year and a half in Green Bay were not very inspiring in terms of offensive production. Going from Moore to McCarthy could be better, could be worse, or could be more of the same. Nothing is promised.
And finally, let’s put a bow on this negativity by reminding everyone that the Cowboys front office is maneuvering around an expensive quarterback who takes up over 20% of their cap space. We also know that the team is very frugal in how they work around that cap space so nobody is holding their breath for any big-move offseason acquisitions.
Now that we have you full of despair, let’s flip the script and explain why 2023 is filled with hope.
The advantages of not mortgaging your future
While fans always seem to be salivating at the mouth for the team to go all-in on any given year, the Cowboys' front office never obliges. Instead, they are mindful of each year’s cap space and try to keep things reasonable each year so as to not hinder future seasons. The bad part of that is never risking it for the biscuit, but the plus side is they got plenty of dancing chips going forward.
Like every team, the Cowboys still have some financial decisions to make, but they’re not going to have to do a roster remodel to get out of trouble or be caught without having the draft capital to replenish. Nothing they do will excite the fanbase, but just like last offseason, the moves they make will get them primed for another year to compete.
The quintessential defense builder
Cowboys Nation rejoiced upon learning that Dan Quinn will be returning as the team’s defensive coordinator next season. The defensive turnaround is well noted as the team gave up the most points in franchise history in 2020 to being one of the better defenses in back-to-back seasons.
The transformation isn’t a fluke as the veteran defensive coach knows what type of players he wants for this team and continues to go after them. Draft picks like Micah Parsons, Osa Odighizuwa, Sam Williams, DaRon Bland, Damone Clark, and Israel Mukuamu are already paying dividends and are only getting better, and they’ve pulled off two straight years of low-cost free-agent contributors. There is no reason to expect that not to continue.
Quinn runs an aggressive unit comprised of players with a lot of length. It’s no accident the Cowboys’ defense is ranked second in DVOA for the second straight season. With another year to shore up some of their weaker areas, expect this group to again be a force to be reckoned with in 2023.
We discussed this idea on the latest BTB Roundtable on Tuesday night.
You can watch all of our roundtables and other videos on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel (you can subscribe right here).
The Dak Factor
With the rise of the improved play of the defense, things were looking very optimistic as we all pondered what type of team this would be combined with a talented Dak Prescott at the helm. And for a moment, it looked fantastic. Thanks to elite play from the defense, the Cowboys survived with Cooper Rush for five games only to see things really take off when Dak returned. Upon Prescott’s return, the Cowboys won six of their next seven games with four of those wins coming by 18+ points. They weren’t just beating teams, they were rolling them.
But down the stretch, Prescott struggled to protect the ball. He went through an eight-game span where he had multiple interceptions in five of them. The Cowboys' offense suddenly exhibited inconsistencies. When Dak was on, the offense was fantastic. When he wasn’t, the offense was underwhelming.
There is enough body of work from Prescott to feel like better play is coming. When Dak is playing well on a more consistent level and the Cowboys' defense continues to be a force, this team will win games.
A little luck wouldn’t hurt
Do you ever wonder how the AFC Championship would’ve panned out had Patrick Mahomes not been hit while he was out of bounds near the end of the game? Or what would’ve happened if the refs correctly ruled that fourth-down pass to DeVonta Smith as incomplete? Or if Brock Purdy didn’t get hurt? Would we be watching different teams in the Super Bowl?
The fact is, things like that happen all the time. And while it’s a relatively easy sell to convince fans the Cowboys can put together another solid season, what is going to help get them to get over the top? The answer... a little luck.
The Cowboys missing ingredient to get to the Super Bowl is to continue to be a good football team and just have things go in their favor. They need to be healthy. They need to be playing good football at the right time. And they need to be on the right side of the breaks. It may sound trivial, but those things are difference-makers. Even if the Cowboys look unbeatable at times next year and are poised for a big season (like they were at one point this season), they will still need things to line up for them come playoff time.