LAST year the Dallas Cowboys finished 8 – 8 overall and 5 – 1 in the division. Their defensive rankings from 2019 are meaningless because their new head coach will of course hire a new defensive coordinator. Offense is another story though. The Cowboys kept the offensive coordinator for last year’s 6th ranked scoring offense, which was 1st in yards per game (431), 2nd in passing (296.9), and 5th in rushing (134.6). So on offense the thinking is that the Cowboys will pick up where they left off.
Let’s get a look at the 2020 Pre-Draft Cowboys roster, to get an idea of who this team is today.
Assuming Dak Prescott signs a contract and reports to camp, the Cowboys have a reliable, young passer who set career highs in pass attempts (388), completions (596), passing yardage (4,902), yards per pass (8.2), oh and touchdowns too (30). The only problem here? Currently Prescott technically isn’t under contract yet. So he technically can’t count in this rating.
So let’s talk Cooper Rush! He threw three passes in 2017, and he even completed one of them. For 2 yards. Rush flashes a career passer rating (so far) of 42.4. He is a true rarity, as he’s one of a handful of QB’s with more career attempts (3) than passing yards (2). Rush’s back-up is Clayton Thorson, a 2019 fifth round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. Thorson didn’t last the entire preseason before he was cut loose. (-)
Even in a “down year”, Ezekiel Elliott posted 1,357 rushing yards and 12 scores. All of this on “only” 301 carries. That marks his second 300 carry season in a row, and his fourth in three years. His workload (or carrying around his heavy contract) is clearly taking a toll on him. He now checks himself out of games, for breathers more often than in prior years.
Also, he only had 4 rushes of longer than 20 yards. (For perspective, Philadelphia Eagles rookie Miles Sanders had 5 of those, on roughly half the carries.) Elliott’s longest run of the season, was just 33 yards. Despite his heavy workload (or maybe because of it), his rushing yards per game dropped for the third straight year in a row. (108.7 in 2016, 98.3 in 2017, 95.6 in 2018, 84.8 in 2019.)
Tony “Zeke Who?” Pollard put up a pretty good rookie campaign of 455 on 86 carries. Not bad given that there weren’t many carries left, once the team finished feeding their Zeke. So the Cowboys have some talent and depth here. (+)
Amari Cooper was heavily rumored to be joining the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020, but he inked a long-term deal to keep him in Dallas. However, what he did do in 2019, was put up career highs in yards (1,189), yards per catch (15.1) and touchdowns (8).
Michael Gallup has really come into his own posting 1,107 yards and 6 scores, in his second year. That practically doubled all of his rookie stats. On this roster, beyond Gallup, no other player at this position caught more than 5 balls in 2019. Depth is an issue. (+)
Missing out on the TE of their dreams in 2018, because the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him a pick before they did, the Cowboys had to bring in current Las Vegas Raider Jason Witten, to help mentor Blake Jarwin in 2019. Jarwin is a big, athletic target. If he’s given a lot more opportunities, he has a chance to be really, really average. This upcoming season will be his fourth in a Cowboys uniform. If he really had chops to be a starter, Witten would have never been brought back. That said, as surrounded as he is with weapons, he should be able to at least duplicate the 63 catches for 529 yards that Witten posted in 2019. If he can’t, this entire offense will be in serious trouble. (-)
LT Tyron Smith for 13 games per year, is one of the best in the sport. I say 13 games because every year, for the last 4 years, he plays exactly 13 games. La’El Collins is a good RT, but can we be honest? He’s not as good on the end, as he was inside. Still, it’s a very talented group. As far as back-up experience, Brandon Knight started in the Week 7 loss to the Jets… (+)
Zack Martin is one of the best in the game. He’s a metronome of consistency. Whether it’s pass or run. Down near the goal line? Score a touchdown, 1-2-3. On the other side is Connor Williams. Williams missed a few games in 2019, and was ably subbed by Xavier S’ua-Filo and Joe Looney. This group is a luxury to have with a pair of back-ups who would start on half of the NFL’s rosters. (+)
Travis Frederick is football’s second best Travis, and second best pivot. (Both men above him are surnamed Kelce, BTW.) Kudos to him for coming back from Guillain-Barre syndrome to start all 16 games in 2019. Frederick even played well enough to earn a Pro Bowl nod, where he would back-up the Kelce from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wait! Never mind. Frederick retired. Leaving Joe Looney as the Cowboys best option at the moment. Also there is no depth. So uh… I’m just gonna put this right here. (-)
In a nutshell:
Depending on who comes back, and who actually reports to camp, this offense has all the ingredients it needs. However, they are likely to stumble out of the gate, without last year’s starting QB. They are also likely to stumble if last year’s QB signs, but misses any of training camp. This year’s offense will be last year’s offense, but with a new head coach, there will be different nuances to it. It will hit it’s stride, but that may take 4 or 5 weeks. (+)
Demarcus Lawrence has trended down (14.5 sacks, then 10.5, then 5.0) for the second straight year since signing his 105M dollar contract. Now that the NFL is willing to overlook Randy Gregory’s desire to put marijuana ahead of football, maybe he can have a career now.
Hey! Speaking of introducing an unstable element to the roster, Aldon Smith was recently added. If we’re being accurate and honest, his first two years were monster, but the three that followed showed steep decline. Now he’s now 30 years old, 35 pounds over his 265 pound playing weight, and coming back after a 4 year banishment.
There are three other guys on the roster, but they’re just guys. This position is loaded with reputations based on yesterday’s talent, but it lacks a starting pair, any depth, or truly dedicated players. (-)
Antuan Woods is a stop-gap player, so the Cowboys continue their search for an interior pass rusher. Thus, Dallas raided Carolina’s dust bin, and signed Gerald McCoy, and Dontari Poe. The two had 9 sacks between them last year, but they also comprised the starting interior that allowed 143 rushing yards per game (29th) as well.
Last year’s hope at this position was second round draft reach pick Trysten Hill. However, Hill’s lack of give a damn put him in the doghouse of the last head coach. This new regime already seems to be looking past him. Which is fine since Tyrone Crawford is there to hold down a spot in the rotation. There’s enough veteran savvy to provide a solid rotation here. (+)
It took NINE years, but Sean Lee finally played 16 games in a season. He makes solid tackles and good reads, but he’s an absolute liability in outside coverage. His eyes are still good, but he just doesn’t have the athleticism to stay with opponents consistently.
Leighton Vander Esch is perhaps a tad over-hyped, but he’s still a really good young player. The neck injury that ended his 2019 season was upgraded from “Stinger”, to “ Herniated disk”, all the way up to a surgery in January 2020. Jerry Jones was asked about it during the Scouting Combine (which feels like years ago now). The grapevine says LVE will be kept away from contact until Training Camp opens. At least.
Luke Gifford and Joe Thomas are the back-ups here. Both had a chance to step up when LVE went down, and they did so well that the Cowboys signed a guy off of his couch. And started him Week 17. Until LVE gets back, this position is an open wound. (-)
Jaylon Smith piled up 142 tackles last year, and even defensed 9 passes. He did it while starting all 16 games. His tackles have improved every year since he’s been in the NFL. He’s a hard guy not to root for. Behind him is Justin March-Lillard, but Sean Lee is a better fit. (This position is the one that also fits Lee best.) (+)
New signee and former Bear, HaHa Clinton-Dix, is hardly worth worrying about in pass defense anymore. While his 2019 season looks good at first glance, most of it was done in a Week 3 game vs Washington. In fact, 3 of his last 5 career interceptions are against Washington. In fact, in 2018 (as a Packer), he intercepted them in Week 3, and was traded to them after Week 8. His remaining 9 weeks in the NFC East were not good ones for him.
Xavier Woods was a steal as a 6th round pick, but he seems to have hit a definite ceiling.
His play is competent and steady, but not game-changing. The talent level is has-been, not up-and-coming. They have no experienced depth and don’t match-up well with the talent they will see across from them in this division. (-)
In 36 career starts Chidobe Awuzie has 3 career interceptions. No one is afraid to throw to his side. Jourdan Lewis is a Nickel corner. However, the team has already started trying to talk their fan base into him, as an every down outside starter. Looks small, and plays small vs receivers who play big. His transition will not go well. Like the other players at this position, Anthony Brown gets a number of deflections, but doesn’t catch many.
In fact, in the last 4 years, these three players combined for 143 games, with 81 starts, and a grand total, I said TOTAL, of 11 interceptions. Free Agent Maurice Canady was added from the Jets, and he gives the Cowboys some experienced depth. Nobody fears this group. (-)
In a nutshell:
This unit is where 2019’s 8-8 record came from. This defense doesn’t get to the QB, or to the ball like a top unit should. Most of that can be traced not to the coaches, but to the talent that gets put on the field. This unit matches up very poorly for trying to defend against the top of this division. (-)
Chris Jones is coming off of a career worst Average (41.6) and career worst Net (37.0). This marks the third straight year where he averaged under 45 yards per boot, which had been his norm from 2013 through 2016. Also, his net dropped again, for the third straight year. While only 18 of his 50 punts (36.0%) were returned, opponents averaged a respectable 8.5 per return, hinting that there may not be enough hang-time on shorter and shorter punts. (This is a man who once hit the Jumbotron.) Jones has more or less always been middle of the road, but his clearly diminishing leg strength could make him a defensive liability this year. (-)
Dallas signed former Ram, Greg Zuerlein, to a three year deal this offseason. What Zuerlein has going for him is that for the last 3 years, his touchback percentage on kickoffs hasn’t dipped below 76.05%. So return men don’t see many opportunities.
Scoring however… That’s a different matter. In 2019 he had a Field Goal accuracy mark of 72.7%. He attempted FGs in 14 games, and had a miss in 9 of them, including a record of 1 – 2 in games decided by 3 or fewer points. (If you’re a Cowboys fan, just imagine Brett Maher with less range.)
Competing with Zuerlein is Kai Forbath. Forbath kicked for the Cowboys for three games in 2019, hitting all 10 FG attempts and all 10 extra points. The knock on Forbath is that even with the new rules, returners frequently opt to return his kickoffs instead of fair catching them. During his stints with New England and Jacksonville, he didn’t even handle that duty.
The third player at this position, (yeah, third) is inexperienced Tristan Vizcaino. Why he’s on the roster is anybody’s guess. But if you have three players at this position, you don’t have a player at this position. (-)
WR Ced Wilson is the teams best option at PR. Last year he returned 2 for 13 yards. He also had 3 KR for 64 yards, with the longest being 22. RB Tony Pollard had 14KR for 245 yards, but his long of 30, and average of 17.5, suggest that he stay on the sidelines. (-)
In a nutshell:
This part of a football team is responsible for setting the table, and establishing a sense of momentum. It seems however, that the Cowboys never got that memo. The result is that the Cowboys will have to run the race, while dragging 1/3 of their team.
This is what happens when a staff understands football talent, but doesn’t understand football nuances. Then again, we’re talking about the American southwest aren’t we? It’s not a region that’s historically known for getting either nuance or subtle context.
Until the team understands that it’s no longer 1984, they will be forced further and further into irrelevance, while they and their fans listen to the Judds “Grandpa” to help the days ease on by.