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4 unexpected predictions for the Cowboys’ 2023 season

Things don’t always work out as planned, so here are 4 predictions that go against the grain.

NFL: Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Martin released five bold predictions for the upcoming Dallas Cowboys’ season a few weeks ago. His projections ranged from the sustained success of a longtime veteran, a return to form from Dak Prescott, and a 2000-yard season from a fan favorite. In short, definitely a worthwhile read. In the spirit of making predictions, and looking into our Cowboys crystal ball, here are four predictions no one will see coming.

The Cowboys will have a run/pass ratio of 60% or higher in favor of the pass

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this offseason, head coach Mike McCarthy spoke to the media after deciding that former offensive coordinator Kellen Moore would not return following the 2022 season. McCarthy commented on the intent to run the ball more this season. Here’s what he had to say about Moore’s dismissal and a possible increase in running the football.

“I’ve been where Kellen has been,” the coach offered. “Kellen wants to light the scoreboard up. But I want to run the damn ball so I can rest my defense. I think when you’re a coordinator, you know, you’re in charge of the offense. Being a head coach and being a playcaller, you’re a little more in tune with [everything]. I don’t desire to be the No. 1 offense in the league. I want to be the No. 1 team in the league with a number of wins and a championship. And if we gotta give up some production and take care of the ball better to get that, then that’s what we’ll do, because we have a really good defense.”

Thanks, coach, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The article also illustrates McCarthy’s tendency to run the ball far less than passing it throughout his time with the Green Bay Packers. During his tenure with the Packers, he never once cracked the top ten in the league regarding rushing attempts. Since joining the Cowboys, McCarthy’s offenses have had run-pass ratios in favor of the pass at 59% in 2020, 57% in 2021, and 51% in 2022. The most balanced the Cowboys offense has been under McCarthy was last season, and you can make the case injuries forced them into that outcome. Cooper Rush started five games in place of Dak Prescott, and Tyron Smith, who, when healthy, is one the game’s best pass protectors, missed 13 games. The passing attempt figures should increase if the Cowboys stay healthy.

Also, consider that Ezekiel Elliott is no longer on the team. Without Elliott, the Cowboys won’t feel the impetus to justify a large contract at running back and go out of their way to satisfy touches for Tony Pollard and Elliott. The team has previously mentioned their concerns about Pollard having too heavy of a workload in terms of carries. While the team likes Malik Davis and draftee Deuce Vaughn, it’s doubtful they will embrace a heavy emphasis on making them part of a committee to spell Pollard.

Additionally, Michael Gallup should be sharper in his second season after tearing his ACL late in the 2021 season, and the Cowboys added Brandin Cooks to their receiving corps. Finally, the team has yet to add a proven short-yardage runner on the roster. Short-yardage conversions could translate to a passing opportunity for the tight ends. The team drafted another tight end in the second round, after all. Besides, since the Garrett era in Dallas, we’ve learned that more attempts don’t correlate to more profound postseason success for the Cowboys. All signs point to 2023 weighing heavily on the shoulders (and arm) of Dak Prescott.

Jake Ferguson will lead all tight ends in yards and receptions

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of the tight ends, Jake Ferguson will lead this group in production solely based on having the most opportunity to make an impact. Each of the tight ends on the roster boasts some unique traits. Peyton Hendershot is arguably the best athlete, while second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker is in the running as the best route runner. Sean McKeon is the blocking tight end in the group. However, Jake Ferguson is the one that combines all those traits to a more than functional level.

Ferguson made an impression last season playing in 16 games as a rookie. Whenever the team called his number, he delivered. Ferguson was targeted 22 times in the passing game and caught 19 of the passes thrown to him for a catch rate of 86.4%. Being part of a tight end ensemble, Ferguson saw a sizeable amount of time on the field and played forty percent of the offensive snaps. Dalton Schultz has moved on to the Houston Texans, so that figure will surely increase.

Schoonmaker may see more of an opportunity because he is a high draft pick; however, recent history suggests the team will bring him along slowly and work him into the rotation gradually. Three of the last four second-round draft picks (Kelvin Joseph, Trysten Hill, and Sam Williams) saw less than 27 percent of the snaps their rookie season, and likely will be more of the same for Luke Schoonmaker.

The opportunities and production voided by Schultz’s departure will go to Ferguson. To project the numbers for Ferguson this season, let’s use Schultz’s last season as a point of reference. Last season, Schultz accounted for 79% of the offensive snaps. Let’s say that percentage goes to Ferguson this season. Then we’ll tally the frequency of snaps per target from Schultz in 2022 and transfer that number to Ferguson. In Schultz’s case, that was one target per every nine snaps in 2022.

Over the past three seasons under Mike McCarthy, the Cowboys have run, on average, 1,126 offensive plays. In our proposed model, that’s 889 snaps for Ferguson this season, with a target total of 98. Of course, it’s not likely that his catch rate remains at such a high clip, but imagining he catches three out of every four passes thrown his way while keeping his yards per catch at 9.2, Ferguson would record 73 receptions for 676 yards this season. Not too shabby.

The Cowboys will go undefeated in December

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys will not lose in December. At first glance, the schedule looks like a challenging slate of games. First, at home versus Philadelphia, on the road against Miami and Buffalo, before coming home to face the Lions. The one thing the Cowboys have in their favor is their defense. After drafting Mazi Smith, their defense has improved along the interior and will be better at stopping the inside run. They are adept at rushing the passer and can line up Micah Parsons wherever they choose to get to the quarterback. The passing defense should be better after adding Stephon Gilmore, and the Cowboys have several good options who can play the slot, with DaRon Bland recording five interceptions as a rookie.

The Cowboys now have two cornerbacks that can match up with the Eagles duo of A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith, and with Cooks in the fold aren’t as forced to play CeeDee Lamb in the slot. The Dolphins are an intriguing team based on their coaching and personnel, yet their primary question is the health and availability of Tua Tagovailoa. Given his recent injuries, it’s questionable whether or not he will be healthy when the Cowboys meet the Dolphins in Miami.

On paper, the Bills are one of the fiercest opponents on their calendar and are home to a harsh environment in the bitter cold of Buffalo, New York. Josh Allen deserves mention as a premier quarterback talent in the NFL, but he was plagued by turnovers last season. The Cowboys have a score to settle after being embarrassed by the Bills on Thanksgiving a few years ago. Lastly, the Cowboys head home to face Detroit a day before New Year’s Eve. The Cowboys have won their last five games against Detroit, four of which were at home.

The Cowboys will not sign a proven veteran kicker before the regular season

Syndication: The Post-Crescent Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

Much to the dismay of several fans, the Cowboys will not sign a veteran kicker. The struggles of Brett Maher in the postseason have been well-documented. Still, after he struggled in the playoffs after an otherwise solid season, the Cowboys have to look elsewhere for a kicker. For a team like the Cowboys, who are considered at the least a postseason contender, it would be ideal for them to entrust kicking duties to a proven veteran. However, the Cowboys have not contacted the primary names on the market.

Robbie Gould’s market has been modest at best, as has the same for the demand of longtime Green Bay Packer Mason Crosby. Out of the two, Crosby seems like the likelier fit with the Cowboys, given his previous history with Mike McCarthy. In addition, both have plenty of playoff experience and are familiar with kicking under postseason pressure. Yet, the Cowboys have chosen not to pursue either currently. Dallas also didn’t pick up a kicker during the draft or directly afterward, leaving Tristan Vizcaino as the only kicker on the roster.

Vizacaino went six-for-eight at Thursday’s practice during OTAs. Despite special teams coach John Fassel intimating that the team is casting a wide net in their search for a solution at kicker, their lack of activity is telling. Nevertheless, Vizcaino will get a long look as we head to training camp. The combination of Vizcaino doing enough to hold down the fort in the preseason and the Cowboys’ reluctance to bring in outside help will land him the job entering the regular season.

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