Dallas Cowboys 2019 season preview
By Josh Edwards
The Cowboys took advantage of Philly’s injury woes to roll to a 3rd NFC East title in 5 seasons with a 10-6 record. Though starting slowly with a 3-5 record, Dallas were impressive in winning 7 of their final 8 games including victories over the Falcons, Saints and Eagles (twice). The addition of Amari Cooper for a first round pick in November was transformative. They were tipped by many to reach the Super Bowl after edging out Seattle 24-22 in the Wildcard Round. Unfortunately for the Cowboys a loss to the Rams on divisional weekend dashed their hopes of returning to the NFC Championship game for the first time in 23 years.
A quieter offseason for the Cowboys than for all of their divisional rivals, and most of the league. Headlines were grabbed by Jason Witten, the future HOF tight end who announced in February his return from retirement to play a 16th season with the team. All eyes were on whether and to what tune the Cowboys would extend Dak Prescott. However, at the time of writing, they are still yet to do so. Prescott is due to make just over $2 million in the final year of his four-year rookie deal.
Perhaps the biggest addition Dallas made was to sign Robert Quinn, the veteran pass rusher who played well enough in Miami last season (6.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) to warrant another shot at glory. To further future proof the defense the Cowboys awarded (and probably overpaid) DeMarcus Lawrence with a $20m a year extension. They also drafted DT Trysten Hill (Central Florida) with their first pick of the draft (58 overall).
Just like in New York, Dallas’s offense is primarily built around their young feature back. Now into his 4th season, Ezekiel Elliott has become one of the premier running backs league-wide. He led the NFL in rushing in 2016 and 2018, averaging a very healthy 4.7 yards per carry. The Cowboys will lean on Zeke heavily again in 2019 (assuming his threatened camp holdout doesn’t manifest into a Lev Bell-esque situation).
However, it remains to be seen whether their passing attack is dynamic enough to adequately threaten teams who stack the box and zero in on limiting Elliot. The addition of Amari Cooper was important for the team mid-way through last season. The Cowboys will certainly hope to continue to utilise Cooper’s ability to cover the entire field. Losing Cole Beasley to Buffalo wasn’t unexpected given his dwindling role in the offense, and the Cowboys mitigated any adverse effects of Beasley’s departure by signing like for like veteran Randall Cobb.
Ex-QB and QB coach Kellen Moore is handed the reins this season as offensive coordinator and it will be interesting to see how much his philosophy changes the Cowboys approach.
Despite the attention on the offense, the Cowboys defense was the better unit in 2018. Led by exciting young linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch the defense finished the year 7th in points allowed, limiting opponents to just 20.9 per game on average. DeMarcus Lawrence is the team’s premier pass rusher but the Cowboys will need to create pressure from elsewhere on their line if they are to be a more disruptive pass-rushing team. They will hope that acquiring Quinn and drafting Hill will help.
On the back end, Byron Jones has emerged as an excellent press corner but is rehabbing from a hip injury. Though the secondary is young and promising and cheap, with Jones, Anthony Brown and Kazon Frazier still on rookie deals, it only recorded 6 interceptions last year (of a team total 9), and will need to make more splash plays to generate a better turnover differential (+3 was good enough for 12th in the league but helped by only 17 giveaways, 5th best in the league).
The Cowboys didn’t do as much as Philly to excite fans or make waves in the media but their ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ approach has been lauded by plenty of analysts, who feel their additions were solid and their roster is consistently above average. This season, with a new OC, all eyes are on Dak, who continues to divide viewers. Many argue he has benefitted from a stellar offensive line and running back and would not be so successful elsewhere. On the other hand, it’s certainly true that he has had limited weapons and a predictable ex-play caller in Scott Linehan. It will be interesting to see whether this season extends, or ends, the argument. Either way, Dallas will and should be confident of another playoff berth, at the very least, and it will be fascinating to watch them duke it out with Philadelphia for the division title.
Record Prediction: 10-6
Image Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports