The Dallas Cowboys have been one of the NFL's hottest teams to start the 2021 season. They're riding a five-game winning streak into their bye and have accomplished this with several missing starters and key roleplayers. At least a few of them are expected back after the off week, meaning this already-strong team should be even better next time we see them.
The biggest absences so far in 2021 have been DE DeMarcus Lawrence, WR Michael Gallup, and OT La'el Collins. While Tank is expected to be out for at least a few more weeks with his foot fracture, the two offensive starters are expected back when the Cowboys travel to play the Minnesota Vikings in Week 8.
While Cedrick Wilson has been very good as the third receiver in his absence, Gallup takes things to another level for Dallas' offense. He's their best “jump ball” receiver and a guy that Dak Prescott has proven confidence in to make contested catches. Michael's been the security blanket in the passing for a few years now.
Teams already have enough trouble trying to shut down all of the Cowboys' offensive weapons. Getting Gallup back out there will only further exasperate and demoralize opposing defenses
Speaking of security, getting La'el Collins back is another huge boon. While Terence Steele deserves high praise for his play and improvement from 2020, he's not one of the best right tackles in football.
Collins had emerged as a top-graded player and Pro Bowl snub by 2019. But a hip condition forced him to miss all of 2020 and then a suspension took him out for the last five games. Week 8 will be only the second game that La'el has played so far for Mike McCarthy.
The Cowboys have done a good job so far of helping Steele and the rest of the offense line with scheme and playing style. They've had one of the fastest snap-to-release times so far in the NFL; calling plays to help their pass protection not have to hold up too long.
Collins' return should allow for longer times in the pocket, which means more time for receivers to get open and get further down the field. The big-play potential will be higher with La'el back up front.
Getting Collins back should also help with some of the short-yardage problems we've seen. While the Cowboys have gotten hosed on two QB sneaks this year, we've also seen them struggle at times to pick up those few yards needed to move the chains or even get into the endzone. La'el should provide more push in those critical moments.
The defense could also get a lift from 2nd-Round rookie Kelvin Joseph. It may not come immediately as Joseph has yet to play in his first regular-season game, but he could be an eventual improvement later in the year over Anthony Brown or Jourdan Lewis in pass defense.
Dallas has already gotten nice early returns from defensive rookies Micah Parsons, Osa Odighizuwa, and Chauncey Golston. Joseph, who was drafted well before the two defensive linemen, will hopefully be able to make a similar immediate impact.
This is only the first round of potential booster shots for the roster. DeMarcus Lawrence's return will be huge whenever it happens, not to mention getting Dorance Armstrong, Neville Gallimore, and Carlos Watkins back in the d-line rotation with him.
And while the offense doesn't seem like it could get anymore potent, backup TE Sean McKeon is an athletic receiver who just might make defenses pay for focusing too much on his better-known teammates. He's also expected to rejoin the active roster in Week 8, though his actual playing time is yet to be determined.
Of course, we may lose some guys as others return. That's the nature of football.
But right now, with the Cowboys putting together a potentially special season, all of this missing talent makes it even more remarkable. What this group is capable of when it's at full strength remains to be seen, and that should be a scary thought for 31 other teams.