The 2020 season for the Dallas Cowboys has been about as bad as any team has had this season. No team came in with as high expectations as the Cowboys and performed as poorly as they have this season. And yet, as things stand 10 games into the season, the Cowboys find themselves with a legitimate shot to win the NFC East at 3-7.
Sure, winning the NFC East isn't something to be overly proud of this season, but it's like the adage goes, “it's not how you win, it's how many.” The same can be said for the NFC East. It doesn't matter how you win it. It doesn't matter how you get into the playoffs; getting to the playoffs gives you the opportunity for so much more.
Though it's tempting to wish this team to a top-five pick in the NFL Draft, and they still might end up there, the greater likelihood is that this team will win enough games to put themselves in contention for the division by season's end and likely find themselves in the playoffs.
Though we're a long way from crowning this team, there are certainly good things happening that the team and the fan base can take confidence in.
1. Defense Doing Just Enough
The defense has rebounded nicely over the last few weeks against the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Minnesota Vikings. It hasn't been perfect, but they've been good enough to allow the Cowboys to win each game.
They've done just enough the last few weeks to give the Cowboys a chance to win. Even against the Vikings with Kirk Cousins throwing for 300 yards, Dalvin Cook running for 100 yards, and Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson having their way with the Cowboys secondary, the defense made the stops needed to make for Dallas to come out on top.
On the Vikings' final drive of the game, the defense came up with a big four and out with the Vikings unable to get a single first down.
The defense is coming up with turnovers, and the pass rush is getting to the quarterback. They still have problems and have things to correct, but if they can get some turnovers and a few stops, the offense should put some points on the board over the final six games.
2. Andy Dalton Driving the Bus
The Cowboys have had their share of poor quarterback play this season. From Andy Dalton's first two starts with the team to Ben DiNucci, they've struggled to get anything consistent out of the position. Andy Dalton flipped the script on Sunday against the Vikings, posting his best game.
On the day, Dalton was 22 of 32 for 203 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Like the defense, he did just enough throwing the ball to keep the Cowboys in it. When your backup quarterback comes in the game, all you're hoping to get is someone who won't turn the ball over and can sustain drives regularly.
On Sunday, Dalton showed why the Cowboys made him one of the highest-paid backups in the NFL. Because he's a quarterback that can help you win games, if the Cowboys can get that kind of performance out of Dalton over the final six games, it will go a long way to getting the Cowboys to the NFC East title.
3. Offensive Line Finding its Stride
This team needs the offensive line to play well, and for much of this season, it hasn't played well enough to win. They haven't been able to protect any of the four quarterbacks back there, and they haven't been able to consistently provide running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard in the running game. That all changed Sunday when the Cowboys bumped Zack Martin out to right tackle and inserted Connor McGovern in at right guard.
It was arguably the best combination of players and the best performance by their offensive line all season, especially since Tyron Smith was lost for the season.
The Cowboys ran for 180 yards on 30 carries per Pro Football Focus, and they combined with Ezekiel Elliott's savvy footwork helped to open up holes that lead to big plays in the running game. Tony Pollard was also a beneficiary as he broke one for 42 yards and had 60 rushing yards on the day on five carries.
Andy Dalton wasn't under pressure much and was only sacked once and was only under pressure four times. It was a far cry from what the offensive line has provided for much of this season.
There's little reason for the Cowboys to change up their offensive line grouping moving forward because this has been the best iteration yet. If the Cowboys offensive line can perform similarly over the season's final six games, the Cowboys will find themselves winning more often than losing.
It seems like this coaching staff is finally hitting its stride after the team struggled over the first seven games of the season. Because COVID-19 took away the rookie minicamps, the minicamps, OTAs, abbreviated training camp, and eliminated the preseason, this coaching staff was largely new to the Dallas Cowboys didn't have a great opportunity to install their defensive scheme or build an identity for the 2020 season.
Over the last three games, we're beginning to see that identity take hold. The Cowboys offensive coaches have come up with game plans to highlight their quarterbacks' abilities and find other ways to win without relying on their quarterback to throw them to a victory.
This team is playing hard at the moment and is establishing a culture that will carry over into 2021 regardless of how this season goes.