Dallas Cowboys 2020 Season Preview
Not good enough. That’s the long and short of it – The Cowboys rolled into 2019 as heavy favourites in the NFC East, with a loaded roster that looked set for a deep playoff run. Instead, Dallas went just 2-8 against teams with winning records. After a promising start and notching up three straight wins they stumbled repeatedly as the season progressed. And despite a 5-1 division record a run of five losses in their last eight games, including a crucial one at Philly, saw them finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.
This was Jason Garrett’s ninth and ultimately final year at the helm at AT&T Stadium. Despite just one losing season under his stewardship, The Cowboys always flattered to deceive. Just two playoff wins in that time span meant that Jerry Jones reluctantly parted with his longtime lieutenant. Some fans will argue this was a good few years too late, and that Garrett was kept around simply because he was a willing ‘yes man’ to Jerry and the powerful hierarchy above him.
A proud franchise, being part of the Dallas Cowboys inherently comes with the weight of expectation. A roster that showcased a top tier offensive line and star names such as Zeke Elliott, Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawrence shouldn’t be struggling to a .500 record. And as a result, the winds of organisational change blew through Arlington this offseason.
A somewhat grandiose press conference saw former Packers’ Super Bowl winning head coach Mike McCarthy introduced as the man to replace Garrett. McCarthy had twelve months away from football to recharge and comes with a pedigree and an offense that suggests he should be able to get the most out of this talent-laden roster. McCarthy has a feisty side and is no pushover, quite the opposite to his predecessor. It will be interesting to see how the relationship between Jerry and him fares when the season is in full flow.
McCarthy elected to keep OC Kellen Moore in place, but make no mistake about it – this offense will be migrating away from the ‘Air Coryell’ system favoured by Garrett & Moore to a more West Coast based attack. McCarthy hails from the Bill Walsh coaching tree and believes that Dak Prescott’s skillset can shine in his tried and trusted offense. On defense, Rod Marinelli moves on and is replaced with the experienced Mike Nolan, who will maintain the 4-3 base defense but make heavy use of a 3-4 subpackage as well.
The first order of business for Dallas was to tie down some key pieces, and with varied success did just that. Jerry opened his chequebook to re-sign Amari Cooper to a 5 year, $100m deal. Dak Prescott meanwhile couldn’t agree terms to a lucrative long-term deal and plays on the franchise tag at $31.4m for 2020. He’ll be hoping to have a big year and cash in next offseason.
The money only stretches so far, and key pieces in Byron Jones and Robert Quinn were allowed to walk for huge paydays elsewhere in free agency. The Cowboys looked to the draft to mitigate these losses.
The Cowboys earned rave reviews for their draft haul, which was only seven players deep but found value at every selection. The glamour pick was undoubtedly receiver CeeDee Lamb. His selection might have been a surprise considering the Cooper extension and other priorities, but his fall to #17 represented an absolute steal. This offense was futher enhanced with the pick of Tyler Biadasz in the fourth round. Injuries saw his draft stock fall but if healthy he’s an ideal long-term replacement for the retiring Travis Frederick. Dallas are hoping for little dropoff from an offensive line that has been excellent for the best part of a decade.
On defense, rookies Tre’von Diggs and Reggie Robinson should battle for the opportunity to play opposite Chidobe Awuzie at cornerback. With Byron Jones gone this was an important position to address. And the defensive line, which underwhelmed last year, was bolstered with Neville Gallimore and Bradlee Anae.
Shortly after the draft, Dallas made an under-the-radar move to bolster the backup Quarterback role. The Bengals found no willing trade partners for Andy Dalton and ended up releasing him after they took Joe Burrow first overall. Dalton’s career as a starter in this league is quite frankly disrespected, and for The Cowboys to get him on board as Dak’s understudy is a coup. With Prescott playing hardball over his contract it’s not just injury Dalton might provide insurance for. If the worst case scenario sees him leave next offseason, then at the very least McCarthy has an experienced veteran to turn to.
Everywhere you look this offense is loaded. With the rise of CMC and Saquon people may have forgotten about Zeke Elliott, but he’s still a top five running back in the NFL. With durability one of his biggest assets he’ll be the bread and butter of this offense, and perhaps see an uptick in receptions in McCarthy’s more ‘dink and dunk’ scheme. Paired with a stacked offensive line, Zeke is a man that is very hard to stop.
It’s hard to see a respite for defenses via the air either. Dak playing this year on the tag isn’t ideal but there’s no doubting The Cowboys have a quarterback capable of a deep playoff run. A fourth round pick in 2016, Prescott has overseen an almost flawless transition from Tony Romo and kept this team relevant throughout. With a ‘sandbox football’ style of play it will be interesting to see if his game can go to another level under McCarthy, who gave Aaron Rodgers similar freedom in Green Bay.
And just look at the options he has to throw to. If Amari Cooper and the ascending Michael Gallup weren’t enough, then add CeeDee Lamb to the mix and you’ll be hard pushed to find a better trio of receivers in the NFC. It will be interesting to see who picks up slot duties in this offense, likely a rotation of the three. Finally, the departure of Jason Witten saw tight end Blake Jarwin get paid. He’s a prime candidate for making the leap in 2020.
A lack of impact plays from this defense last year cost The Cowboys the NFC East. Marquee edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence will be hoping to get back to his very best – 25 sacks over two years were followed with just five in 2019. Robert Quinn dwarfed that number with 11.5 sacks but has absconded to Chicago in free agency. With bradlee Anae expected to have a steep learning curve, the onus is on Lawrence to lead this front. He’ll be helped by an injection of talent on the interior; rookie Gallimore is joined by former Panthers Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, which should add some valuable steel against the run.
The Cowboys return their lauded trio of linebackers in Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee, but new defensive co-ordinator Mike Nolan will expect a lot more than they got out of them last year. Injury is a concern of this unit, with all three missing significant game time in their careers. If they can stay on the field in 2020 the Cowboys will be in a much better place come December.
The secondary is a little more unknown for Dallas. The versatile Byron Jones’ departure means significant change, and whilst you’d expect Tre’Von Diggs to replace him there’s likely a dropoff in production. One guy looking to break out in 2020 is safety Xavier Woods. The three year pro showed signs of playmaking abilities at the back end of last season, both as a ball hawk and dropping down into the box. The addition of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix might give Woods a little more license to play the ball and rack up the stats this year.
The last decade under Jason Garrett has been solid, consistent, but fallen short of the high standards that is expected when you wear the blue star. Pick the Cowboys at your peril, but a roster this talented being led by a man with the experience and track record of Mike McCarthy gets an instant bump.
I expect Prescott to thrive in McCarthy’s West Coast system. It’s hard to see how he can fail with the tools at his disposal and the running game he has to lean on. For me, this offense in 2020 is going to be what everyone was hoping for the last nine years in Dallas. The only threat to The Cowboys in the NFC East are The Eagles, and pound for pound I’m not sure Philly’s roster stacks up favourably against the one that Jerry has built.
After last season, the defense is the only concern for Cowboys fans. And whilst there has been some turnover on that side of the ball, it still has key pieces that can provide elite production. Marry that to what will be inexperienced offenses in New York and Washington and there shouldn’t be too many problems in that division.
This team will still take their lumps, and I imagine year two under McCarthy will be when we see playoff improvement. But for 2020, the East is theirs for the taking.
Dallas Cowboys 2020 Record Prediction:
10-6 (1st in the NFC East)
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