Excitement is in the air as the NFL football is upon up. The Dallas Cowboys travel to Canton, Ohio to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first official preseason game of the 2021 season. How thrilling is that? It's just preseason, and we aren't likely to see many of our favorite players log much playing time, but after such a long layoff without football, we'll take it.
It's hard not to be intrigued by what the new season brings. Despite only winning six games last year, there's a lot of reasons to be hopeful this season. The team will have several key players returning from injury, most notably quarterback Dak Prescott, who missed 11 games last year with an ankle injury. The team also attempted to revamp their defense as nine of their 11 draft picks this past April were used on defenders across all areas. We certainly don't know how all this is going to play out, but many of us get a sense that things are looking up. I had the great please to sit around the hotel lounge in Oxnard and talk with a couple of my former colleagues from Blogging the Boys, and I offered up this hypothetical - what is the one thing that could derail this otherwise promising season?
Dak Prescott's throwing arm
The Cowboys have been incredibly fortunate to have had a talented quarterback behind center for the last decade and a half. Tony Romo was an undrafted free agent that fell into their lap in 2003, but didn't throw a regular season pass his first three years in the league. It wasn't until the 2006 season that Romo finally was called to action, replacing the struggling veteran Drew Bledsoe.
The team also caught a break with the draft selection of Dak Prescott as it's been heavily documented that the front office was targeting other candidates like Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. Fortunately for Dallas, Prescott was still available late in the fourth round. The selection of Prescott paid off right away as the team suffered injuries to both Romo and then backup Kellen Moore, thrusting the rookie Prescott into action right away. He took control of the reins and has never let go.
While the Cowboys have gotten lucky with Romo and Dak, they haven't been so fortuitous when it comes to other backups. Dallas has had three seasons since 2010 where they have failed to win more than six games and in each of them their starting quarterback has missed at least 10 games. This team has shown that when their starter goes down hard, they completely collapse.
Prescott entered camp looking good when it comes to his ankle. His movement has been great and there doesn't appear to be any residual effects. Sadly, Prescott is not participating in practices that involve throwing after suffering a strain in his right shoulder. While the team proclaims he is just being held out for precautionary measures, it's hard not to wonder if this could have any lingering effect throughout the season.
Defense is still atrocious
While the Prescott injury last year was a back-breaker, we have to be real about this team as a whole. Even with Dak, the Cowboys started the season with a 2-3 record. The biggest reason for this was because their defense was absolutely miserable. The team allowed a franchise-worst 473 points last year and had eight games where they surrendered at least 30 points. Between a new defensive scheme and inadequate players, this group just wasn't capable of making stops a year ago.
The new season brings with it a new defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn. The team has also beefed up their defensive squad by adding several new faces via free agency in the draft. While all of these changes are reasons to be optimistic, none of them offer any guarantees. What happens if the players struggle with Quinn's schemes? Or what if the players themselves just aren't all that good. There are so many areas on this defense that brings questions, would it really be unreasonable to think the defense once again falters?
Mike McCarthy is terrible
It may not feel like it, but the Cowboys only had one losing season under Jason Garrett (in 2015 when Romo went down). And while the team was successful at times, they were never was able to get past the Divisional Round of the players under his control. The Cowboys had three shots in a five-year span (2014, 2016, and 2018), but came up short each time. So while Garrett's Cowboys weren't bad, the ultimately were never good enough.
We are all holding our breath that the change from Garrett to Mike McCarthy will offer better results. Last season certainly wasn't a great way to start, but hopefully that can be attributed to extenuating circumstances that involved a COVID-restricted season and a slew of injuries. But again, we don't know that was in fact the real reason. There were times last year where it seemed like the coaches lost control of the locker room as there was a lot of finger pointing going on. That's something that never happened with Garrett's Cowboys. McCarthy also is building himself up a resume of consecutive losing seasons (he's at three now if you count his last two in Green Bay), and in a "what have you done for me lately" league, that certainly doesn't bode well for him. And pay no attention to the fact that the Packers have flourished since McCarthy's departure with two-straight 13-3 seasons.
In a season that is likely have some challenges, hopefully the veteran coach doesn't buckle under adversity and can provide the team the leadership they need.
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