It has been 25 seasons since the Dallas Cowboys won their fifth Super Bowl, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX 27-17 in Arizona. There are a lot of Cowboys fans (including our own Mauricio Rodriguez) who weren't alive to see that. For many others, it's a distant memory. As good as some of the teams were that the Dallas Cowboys have put on the field in the last 25 years, none of them were able to get beyond the divisional round of the playoffs, let alone compete for that elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Could this year be the year?
As the Dallas Cowboys concluded a disappointing 8-8 season in 2019, a frustration brewed as the team took a turn for the worst amidst raised expectations this time last season. Coming off a 10-6 season that saw them rebound from a 3-5 start to win the NFC East, hopes were high that the Cowboys could build off of that performance and make a run. The level of optimism grew to deafening proportions after a 3-0 start to the 2019 season, but that optimism was quickly silenced as they'd go on to lose their next three games and struggle for the rest of 2019. That led to massive changes to the coaching staff, which led to an increased urgency to take advantage of one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys swiftly hired the experienced and very successful Mike McCarthy to take over as the head coach who then proceeded to overturn nearly his entire coaching staff. The only coaches to carry over; Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore and Tight Ends Coach Doug Nussmeier, who would move to Quarterbacks Coach. The rest of the coaching staff was made up of highly respected coaches as both coordinators (Mike Nolan and John Fassel) and position coaches (Joe Philbin, Jim Tomsula, and Special Assistant for the Defense George Edwards). It didn't take long for the excitement about the new Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to take hold to raise the hopes and expectations for this season.
After they assembled the coaching staff, the Cowboys went to work in free agency to begin finding players that would fit Mike Nolan's multiple look defense. In particular, they went after interior defensive linemen in Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy. They then added a bevy of defensive backs in the hopes of offsetting the loss of Byron Jones in free agency.
If free agency wasn't enough to get fans and analysts excited about the potential of the Dallas Cowboys in 2020, then came the NFL Draft in April.
Held remotely, it was a surreal experience looking into the homes of general managers and coaches from across the league. Though there was no secret that the Dallas Cowboys had their sites set on Former LSU EDGE Rusher K'Lavon Chaisson, no one, not even the Dallas Cowboys, could anticipate the gem that would fall into their lap when they went on the clock at 17 overall.
When CeeDee Lamb was available for the Dallas Cowboys at 17 overall, it seemed that the stars had aligned for them. For an offense that was one of the best in the league in 2019, they had the opportunity to draft arguably the best wide receiver in a very deep draft class. And while they probably had targeted wide receiver as a position that they would want to attack, landing CeeDee Lamb is like finding a $100 bill in your jacket pocket.
That's when the excitement about this team skyrocketed.
On any given play, the Dallas Cowboys would be able to deploy a wide receiver group that featured three players that could be considered a WR1 on many other NFL teams. In Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, the Cowboys had two players go for more than 1,100 yards and more than 15 yards per reception in 2019. One could make the argument that those two could have had more if not for issues with drops and injuries.
Things were looking fantastic with the offense after the first round of the draft, and then the Cowboys went to work finding players to help on the defensive side of the ball. With Trevon Diggs, Neville Gallimore, Reggie Robinson II, and Bradlee Anae, the Cowboys grabbed players that were being projected a round or more higher than where Will McClay and company selected them. Their draft got rave reviews from local and national analysts alike. And while it will take a year or two to evaluate this draft class, this was the nuts on the ice cream sundae the Cowboys had been building all offseason.
And if this draft class was the nuts, the pass rushers they added this offseason are the whipped cream and the cherry.
When the Dallas Cowboys signed Aldon Smith in early April, expectations were pretty low. He hadn't played a down of football since 2015 when he was with the Oakland Raiders, and he only played nine games that year. However, once reports came out of training camp about his play and his physique, it didn't take long for the expectations to begin growing for Aldon Smith. Nobody is saying he'll be the most feared pass rusher in the NFL as he was in the early part of the decade. However, there is a growing expectation that he can be a force for the Dallas Cowboys defense.
Then as if it had come out of nowhere, the Cowboys signed arguably the best pass rusher in the free-agent class of 2020 in former Minnesota Vikings Defensive End Everson Griffen. Though he'll turn 33 in December of this year, Griffen has remained productive in the twilight of his career. He recorded eight sacks last season while playing 15 games for the Vikings, giving Tyron Smith fits in Minnesota's 28-24 win over the Cowboys in 2019. While he only had 0.5 sacks that day, he finished with four quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.
A defense that already boasted DeMarcus Lawrence can now roll out Everson Griffen and Aldon Smith in their pass rush packages. Be afraid, be very afraid.
And then the news came in last week from the NFL that Randy Gregory would be reinstated. Though he won't be available for the active roster until October, Gregory will be a welcomed midseason addition that will give offensive lines another player to think about on the pass rush.
The injury to Gerald McCoy was certainly a punch to the gut, but the emergence of Trysten Hill, who, according to Stephen Jones, has earned his starting spot, eases the pain a little bit. Indeed, the injury to La'el Collins and Xavier Woods are troubling. Still, with the pass rush the Cowboys will deploy and the bevy of weaponry at Kellen Moore's disposal, they should be able to overcome average play at both right tackle and safety.
Even with injuries, the Dallas Cowboys hype train continues to roll down the tracks. Look around the NFL at the regular season predictions, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a publication or network that doesn't have the Cowboys winning the NFC East. Many have gone so far as to predict the Dallas Cowboys will win the Super Bowl this season, including yours truly.
As optimistic as I am, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat concerned about the amount of hype surrounding this team. We've seen teams that were highly thought of in years past fail to meet even the most conservative expectations of a playoff appearance. Each of the 2008, 2010, 2015, 2017, and 2019 teams was unable to live up to expectations for one reason or another. Can this year's Cowboys team rise to the occasion?
I think they can and will. Here are three reasons why.
1. Mike McCarthy
As much of a fan of Jason Garrett as I am, simply put, Mike McCarthy is a better football coach. He's proven it. Sure, McCarthy had Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback and only won one Super Bowl during his tenure with the Green Bay Packers. However, the NFC has been a deep conference for two decades. The only team with multiple Super Bowl wins in the last 20 years is the New York Giants. Yuck.
Mike McCarthy has a proven track record of success. And while the players played for Jason Garrett, there's a certain amount of gravitas that comes with the resume that Mike McCarthy brings to the table.
When your ultimate goal is to win a championship, you need someone who wants to go out and take a game. Too often, it seemed like under Garrett that the Cowboys were trying not to give the game to their opponents. It's that aggressive nature that is going to help get this team to where it wants to go.
2. Dak Prescott
It's incredible to think that Dak Prescott is just 27 years old. Though he's just entering his prime, he's already played in 64 regular-season games and three playoff games. As we witnessed with Tony Romo, good quarterbacks get even better as they age and have a better grasp of NFL defenses and a deeper understanding of how to beat them.
Things weren't perfect for Prescott and the Cowboys last year, but he was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in 2019. As we've seen from him during his four-year career in the NFL, Prescott will only continue to get better. There's no reason to think Prescott can't build off of his stellar 2019 that saw him throw for 30 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards. He may not hit 5,000 yards in 2020, but he'll undoubtedly exceed the 30 touchdowns he threw for last season.
With his progression and the Cowboys advanced offensive weaponry, Prescott is about to take his game to another level, and that will lead to wins for this team.
3. Built to Win When it Matters
NFL teams that find success in December and January are teams that can run the football, rush the passer, and take the ball away.
The Cowboys have been built to run the football for nearly half a decade. Here's where despite our feelings for Jason Garrett, we stand and humbly acknowledge that he helped build the Cowboys into one of the best running teams in the NFL.
Take a moment for internal reflection.
The difference moving forward is that the running game won't be the primary focal point of the offense. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard will get their carries, but the Cowboys will throw the ball more under Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy. Even if the passing game gets them to the playoffs, the running game becomes vitally important in the playoffs.
The teams that can create splash plays in the playoffs are the teams that typically advance. And by splash plays, I mean take the ball away from the offense and sack the quarterback.
For a team to advance to the Super Bowl, they have to have a defense that can help them win some games. It's not enough to not give up points. The defense has to create short fields for their offense to work with and prevent opposing offenses from sustaining drives.
With a shift in coverage technique and a focus on creating turnovers, the Dallas Cowboys will take the ball away more in 2020 than they have in recent years. Life is going to be incredibly difficult for opposing quarterbacks with the plethora of pass rushers the Cowboys will roll out on any given Sunday. That will, in turn, create more opportunities for turnovers.
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The Dallas Cowboys aren't strangers to the spotlight. As the most recognizable franchise in North American Sports, the Cowboys always get a lot of attention and hype. Any level of optimism is generally blown out of proportion to the potential questions facing the team. This year, however, the Cowboys have the squad and the coaching staff that will be able to overcome the problems that follow every team from training camp into the regular season.
As good as we think this team is and can be, the time has come to finally take what we see on paper and put it on the football field. It doesn't matter how good we think this team is or can be. All that matters is what they do when they line up on game day.
This year's team is ready for the moment. The Dallas Cowboys are ready to take the next step toward winning that elusive sixth Super Bowl.
And come February, we'll all be screaming in the legendary voice of The Rock,
“Finally, the Lombardi has come back to Dallas!!!”