Last week on the Athletic Football Show Podcast, hosts Robert Mays and Nate Tice looked back at the Super Bowl champions since 2011 (the modern CBA era) to see if they could find some common threads, or things we can look for to examine teams this year and see if they fit the mold.
With that in mind, let’s run the 2023 Cowboys roster through their filters and see if this team really has what it takes to be considered a Super Bowl contender.
Seven or more “very good to elite” players
This threshold of “very good to elite” is definitely a bit arbitrary and subjective, but it's easy enough to make those judgments there. So here are the “very good to elite” players on the Dallas roster in 2023.
- Dak Prescott
- Micah Parsons
- CeeDee Lamb
- Zack Martin
- Trevon Diggs
- Stephon Gilmore
- Demarcus Lawrence
- Tony Pollard
Each of these guys sits pretty comfortably inside the very good to elite tiers at their position, and with eight guys on this list, along with several others, like Terence Steele, Tyler Smith, Brandin Cooks, and others who could have a single season in that very good to elite tier. We can say the Cowboys comfortably meet this threshold.
A quarterback who can get very hot for a four-game run
Since 2011 we have seen it over and over, the team with the quarterback who gets hot in the playoffs has a great chance to win the whole thing. 2011 Eli Manning and 2012 Joe Flacco were middling (bordering on bad) quarterbacks during the regular season, and in 2017 Nick Foles was a backup most of the season, but they were able to get hot in the playoffs. In 2021 Matt Stafford had a bounce-back regular season in Los Angeles, but then played at a truly elite level in the Rams playoff run. Add to that the times that guys like Pat Mahomes (2019, 2022) and Tom Brady (2014, 2016, 2018, 2020), two of the best quarterbacks ever were in the Super Bowl, and the story becomes clear.
So that leads to the question. Can Dak Prescott play at that level for a four game stretch? In 2022 from weeks 7-11, the first four games after he returned from his thumb injury, he posted a .341 EPA per play (for context, Pat Mahomes 2022 EPA per play was .302). In that that four-game stretch, Prescott had a 58.8% success rate (Mahomes was 53.9% in 2022), and a 6.1 completion percentage over expected (Mahomes was 3.6 in 2022) and threw eight touchdowns to three interceptions. He has had similar four game runs in weeks 3-6 and 15-18 of 2021, Weeks 2-5 (before the injury) in 2020, weeks 1-4 and 7-11 of 2019, weeks 3-7 of 2017, and weeks 6-10 of 2016. So he has proven he has the capability to play like one of the best quarterbacks in the league for stretches of four games.
A pass rusher who can take over games
During the podcast, Mays pointed out over and over how essentially everyone of the teams since 2011 had at least one, if not multiple pass rushers, who averaged at least five pressures per game in the playoffs. Considering Micah Parsons averaged 5.3 pressures per game in the 2022 regular season, and had 16 pressures in the 2022 playoffs, its very safe to say the Cowboys have that type of player on their defensive front. They also have guys like DeMarcus Lawrence who averaged over three pressures per game in 2022, and Sam Williams who is expected to take a big step in his second year, along with a number of other pass rushers who can absolutely get hot for a playoff run.
A group of contributors on rookie contracts
The cheap labor of rookie contracts is a key aspect of team building in the modern NFL, and a team with lots of players on those rookie contracts making significant contributions is usually able to be deeper, and more resilient to injury, scheme adjustments etc. Dallas definitely fits this bill, with starters on rookie contracts that include:
- Micah Parsons
- Trevon Diggs
- CeeDee Lamb
- Daron Bland
- Tyler Smith
- Tyler Biadasz
- Jake Ferguson/Luke Schoonmaker
- Osa Odighizuwa
- Damone Clark
Along with other likely contributors like Mazi Smith, Sam Williams, Chauncey Golston, Israel Mukuamu, Peyton Hendershot, and more.
A solid and healthy offensive line
This is probably the component that brings the most questions for the Cowboys, but not because they don’t have talented players. You could argue that a line up of Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and Terence Steele is one of the best top-to-bottom units in the NFL. But can this group stay healthy? Tyron Smith has missed multiple games every year since 2016 (although the back he struggled with prior to 2020 has seemingly been a non-issue the last two years), and Terence Steele is coming off of a tough knee injury. If not, they’ll need young players like Matt Waletzko, Matt Farniok, Asim Richards, and others to step up and play big.
In summary, the Cowboys absolutely have the necessary components to make a deep playoff run. They’ll need some luck (every team does), especially with health on the offensive line, and the ball will need to bounce their way, but despite our critiques and criticisms, the Cowboys front office has done a wonderful job building a roster that should compete at the highest levels in 2023.