Last season, the NFC East title race was close. But not in a good way. The Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles had disappointing seasons and Philly just barely ran away with the division title as they won their last four en route to a 9-7 record. Meanwhile, the Cowboys finished the season at .500 and missed the playoffs.
The race for the division was expected to be close as both teams were expected to be competitive, but both ended up with mediocre records. However, the division was only decided until week 17 came around.
One year later, they’re both the two favorite teams in the division again and are expected to battle it out once more. This time though, they should be very improved teams.
On one side, you can’t ignore the injuries the Eagles suffered. While you could look at Quarterback Carson Wentz’s stats and assume he played bad, you can’t overlook the fact that he played with backup wide receivers most of the season.
Per Pro Football Reference, the Eagles’ leading receivers were TE Zach Ertz (916 yards), TE Dallas Goedert (607), and RB Miles Sanders (509). Two tight ends and one running back leading the team in this category can’t be a good sign. Just remember week 2, when the Eagles witnessed how Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, Goedert, and Nelson Agholor had to be taken out of the game due to injuries.
Jackson played only three games in the season, and Agholor and Jeffrey missed a combined 10 games. The Eagles just had too many injuries to overcome. Carson Wentz, however, still managed to play decent football. While Cowboys and Eagles fans can engage in all-out social media wars on who’s got the better QB, the truth is both are good and their teams are right to bet on them for the future.
After playing his first full season in the league, Wentz and the Eagles should drastically improve if their receiving corps remain healthy next season. Philadelphia has done an excellent job of adding more talent to their defense as they welcome in CB Darius Slay and should be a tougher rival in 2020.
As for the Cowboys, their improvement shouldn’t be expected from the injury standpoint. Although some key players like WR Amari Cooper dealt with injuries, they really didn’t miss a lot of playing time.
The Cowboys’ biggest area for improvement in 2020 lies in coaching. There are many reasons to believe the coaching staff cost this team a handful of wins last season. The clearest example might be the deliberate abandonment of play-action throughout the year.
DallasCowboys play action % on passes by game:Week 1: 46.9% Week 2: 39.4% Week 3: 32.4%Week 4: 20.0%Week 5: 17.6%Week 6: 14.3%Week 7: 29.0%Week 9: 33.3%Week 10: 31.9%Week 11: 34.7%Week 12: 26.5%Week 13: 12.5%Week 14: 7.8%Week 15: 33.3%Week 16: 12.8%
The Cowboys went 8-2 when using play-action at least at league average while going 0-6 when they used it less, per Warren Sharp’s 2020 season preview.
While the team improved in many areas offensively, their tendencies in the run game were still predictable, running on what felt like every first down (57% of their first down and 8-10 situations they ran the ball). Not to mention, despite being efficient, they still weren’t truly a pass-happy team. Although Dak Prescott posted career numbers, the team’s offense still bet on the running game instead.
If the new coaching staff manages to make this offense a more efficient unit by becoming more pass-happy, Dak Prescott could be in place to improve his game more than he did last year. Mike McCarthy has been known for his passing offenses and paired with Kellen Moore, things could go pretty well.
The Cowboys should also improve on defense, where they took a step back in 2019. They added two good defensive tackles in Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, who should in turn help DeMarcus Lawrence face less double-teams and open up play-making opportunities for the linebackers.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the two teams headed into the 2020 season. The NFC East will once again be a close race, only this time the two teams might actually be pretty good.