Welcome to our NFL season preview specials. Over the course of August, we'll be taking a look at every single team in the National Football League and how they're shaping up before the start of the new season.
Yesterday we took a look at the Cincinnati Bengals, examining their chances of rebounding from a disappointing 2017 campaign. Marvin Lewis' team face another uphill battle to make the playoffs in an improving AFC North this season, and the longtime head coach could well find himself on the hot seat in the early stages of the year. Take a look here for more on that.
Today we're turning our attention to America's team; the Dallas Cowboys. Jason Garrett's squad endured a frustrating year last time out, going without star running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games due to suspension and narrowly missing out on a playoff berth. With Elliott back, and an improving defense, they'll be dead set on making a Super Bowl push this season so let's take a look at how they're shaping up!
As aforementioned, the loss of Ezekiel Elliott for six games really hampered the Cowboys' chances of making the playoffs last season. Still, Dak Prescott and co did an admirable job in his absence, going 3-3 without the dynamic back and finishing the year 9-7.
Unfortunately the former Ohio State star's suspension came right in the middle of the toughest stretch of the season as Dallas dropped three straight against the Falcons, Eagles and Chargers.
Prescott suffered a slight sophomore slump, but he wasn't afforded his full set of weapons throughout the year and the declining play of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant left him without a true number one target all season.
Even so, the second-year signal caller put up decent numbers passing for 3324 yards and 22 touchdowns to 13 picks.
On the defensive side of the ball DeMarcus Lawrence emerged as a star off the edge, racking up 14.5 sacks on his way to a Pro Bowl berth and a second team All Pro selection. Lawrence was a true game wrecker at times and gave Rod Marinelli's defense the disruptive passing rush force they've been lacking for so long.
Keeping Lawrence and the ever inspiring Sean Lee healthy will be key as ever to their hopes in 2018.
Five home losses will be a concerning statistic for Jason Garrett to address, but considering Elliott's absence and six of their nine defeats coming against playoff teams, a 9-7 record is certainly no disaster. However, lets not forget the expectations that come with being America's team, and a repeat showing this year will certainly give Jerry Jones a lot to think about in terms of the head coaching job going forward.
Free Agency Moves
It's been a busy offseason in Dallas, with no fewer than 27 arrivals and departures combined via free agency, trades of retirements.
Jason Witten's loss is huge in the locker room, whilst Dez Bryant's could be a blessing in disguise.
The Jones' have ensured the receiving corps will still be well stocked with talent though, making moves for former Jags wideout Allen Hurns and acquiring Rams speedster Tavon Austin in a trade, as well as adding Deonte Thompson for more depth in that room.
Promising young tackle Cameron Fleming arrived from New England to further bolster the strongest O-Line group in the NFL, whilst former Panthers and Jets pass rusher Kony Ealy will bring a veteran presence to a young group of edge defenders.
Rod Marinelli did lose two valuable defenders though in linebacker Anthony Hitchens and starting corner Orlando Scandrick. Hitchens will be replaced by first round pick Leighton Vander Esch but Scandrick's job will have to filled from within as no major reinforcements were added to the secondary this offseason.
It's a real area of weakness but Garrett and Marinelli will be looking to last year's draft picks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis to step up and play a big proportion of snaps.
Leighton Vander Esch - LB, Boise St. 1st round, 19th overall.
Connor Williams - G, Texas. 2nd round, 50th overall.
Michael Gallup - WR, Colorado St. 3rd round, 81st overall.
Dorance Armstrong Jr. - DE, Kansas. 4th round, 116th overall.
Dalton Schultz - TE, Stanford. 4th round, 137th overall.
Mike White - QB, Western Kentucky. 5th round, 171st overall.
Chris Covington - LB, Indiana. 6th round, 193rd overall.
Cedrick Wilson Jr. - WR, Boise State. 6th round, 208th overall.
Bo Scarbrough - RB, Alabama. 7th round, 236th overall.
Fans Eye View
In all our 2018 previews we'll be speaking to a fan to get their opinion on the current state of the team. Representing the Cowboys is Tim Monk of Full 10 Yards. Check them out on Twitter and give them a follow. Here are their thoughts on the season ahead...
GMS: How would you rate your team’s offseason?
When push comes to shove, I think a lot of Dallas fans will be disappointed from the offseason. Primarily because of the lack of star power on the offence that has left from last season has not been adequately replaced. That said, I am quietly confident and the fans will be pleasantly surprised when it comes to the regular season. The perceived "poor" offseason may have done us a favour in the fact that the expectations aren’t as high coming in to the year like it was last season.
GMS: What’s the general opinion of the job the head coach is doing?
I think the general consensus is that the head coach and the backroom staff lack invention and creativity. They run a very basic offence and we don’t usually have many options past plan A, which was obvious when parts of the offensive line got hurt and Elliot was suspended. Garrett doesn’t seem the most inspiring and was interesting to see that in the All or Nothing series. Die hard fans would be hard pressed to say they see this coaching staff help Dallas win a Super Bowl.
GMS: Your opinions on the offense?
It will be hard to replace Dez Bryant and Jason Witten but Dak Prescott will get a chance to show what he can do with players that demand the ball and his strengths lie when he can just target the open receiver. We will be a run heavy offence this season and revert back to their style of 2016; long drives, keeping the defence fresh, making plays when they need to. The additions on the offensive line are great but our Tight End position could be our Achilles heel.
GMS: Your thoughts on the state of the defense?
The defence has never been our strong part of the team. It lives and dies with Sean Lee but the 1st round pick of Leighton Van der Esch could prove to be a star turn and help fill the void if Sean Lee continues to struggle with health. We have a lot of youngsters on the defence and hopefully they can play hard and the coaching staff can help them along which would be aided by an efficient run game on offence.
GMS: Deepest concern for 2018?
Dak Prescott being unable to shake off the dip in performances from the back end of last season. When Tyron Smith went down and Elliot was suspended, Prescott lost his trust in the offensive line and ended up seeing ghosts and making costly mistakes. The lack of an WR depth or a clear number 1 WR could show us up when we face high scoring teams and are not able to keep pace with them. The defence is always a worry, especially if they don’t improve or learn from last season.
GMS: Name to watch out for:
Michael Gallup – Allen Hurns is the perceived number 1 WR in the team, but a lot of our passing success will hinge on 3rd round draft pick hitting the ground running and being able to provide easy completions for Dak Prescott.
GMS: Crystal Ball prediction
All things going well, we could easily be a 10 or 11 win team. That said, Dallas never make it easy for themselves so will no doubt be on the bubble of the wildcard spots come December. I would expect Dallas to get 9 wins. Anything less and Jason Garrett could be saying his goodbyes. Ezekiel Elliot will likely lead the league in rushing yards.
Week 1: @ Panthers
Week 2: vs Giants
Week 3: @ Seahawks
Week 4: vs Lions
Week 5: @ Texans
Week 6: vs Jags
Week 7: @ Redskins
Week 8: BYE WEEK
Week 9: vs Titans
Week 10: @ Eagles
Week 11: @ Falcons
Week 12: vs Redskins
Week 13: vs Saints
Week 14: vs Eagles
Week 15: @ Colts
Week 16: vs Bucs
Week 17: @ Giants
In Scott Linehan's run first offense Ezekiel Elliott is always going to run up the meter and score big points. The Cowboys have the third most rushing attempts in the league between 2014-17 and that trend won't be slowing down, Elliott is the spark for this offense and he'll be leaned on once again.
The versatile back should be a sure-fire top five pick in any league and with a full 16 games he will end up amongst the top few points scorers in all of fantasy.
His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and churn out chunk yardage make him a threat to take it to the house on every play and he's also as reliable a red zone scorer as there is.
Elliott's production is directly linked to that of Dak, and though the third-year pro is able to produce with his legs as well as his arm I don't envisage him having a huge year in terms of touchdowns or yardage. It's been established by now what Dak is, and he's certainly serviceable as a mid round pick and will likely end up a middle of the pack QB when all comes to an end in terms of points.
Whoever emerges as Prescott's favourite target in the receiving game would be well worth a punt on, the only thing is we won't really know who that is until a few weeks into the year at least.
Allen Hurns could be a value pick in the mid-to-late rounds whilst Cole Beasley and Michael Gallup could also produce intermittently. Beasley has notched decent numbers in recent years and could be a valuable flex player but don't expect any of these guys to be a 1000 yard, 6 plus TD-type option.
There are huge questions at a number of key positions. The receiving corps lacks a true number one guy, the secondary is young and awfully thin though there are promising talents like Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie who may break through this year, and there is no starting tight end to write home about.
However, the O-Line will be strong as always, Elliott is back and raring to go, and the front seven looks as good as it has in years. Leighton Vander Esch lining up alongside Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee is an exciting trio across the middle and DeMarcus Lawrence teaming with Kony Ealy and the enigmatic Taco Charlton could be a big problem for opposing O-Line's.
Prescott will be reliable, if not spectacular, again and having his RB1 back should give him more time in the passing game.
The schedule is really tough again though. Dallas faces seven playoff teams from last year and the NFC East should be one of the best divisions in football once more.
Unfortunately they've drawn the NFC South and AFC South, both of which contain teams that went to their respective conference championship games in 2017 and have at least two other potential playoff teams.
The prospect of facing Carson Wentz, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Desean Watson is not going to be pretty if the secondary is leaky again, and though they have improved in certain areas it will be tough to exceed last year's win total all things considered.
The division is really tough, and it's hard to see the Cowboys usurping the Eagles whilst the Giants made significant upgrades this offseason too. This team will be good, and they have a good chance to grab a Wild Card spot, but we predict another 9-7 season in Dallas in 2018.