NFL football finally returns this evening, and with everything we all have been through as a nation in recent months, I’m not sure we have ever needed it more.

We have had months to hypothesize, and this weekend our theories will all begin to be put to the test. It’s been 256 days since our Cowboys last took the field. I haven’t allowed a single one of those days to pass without thinking about, studying, or writing about the Dallas Cowboys.

I’ve developed some strong beliefs about this year’s squad, and I want to put them on record.

You all can either praise or shame me just over 5 months from now.

1) The Offensive Line Will Struggle, but Dak and Mccarthy Will Overcome It

The offensive line may be the design flaw in the battleship. The tackles (Tyron Smith, Lael Collins) seem to be perpetually nicked up. Collins is on injured reserve as we speak, and will miss a minimum of three games. Anymore, you can pretty much count on Tyron Smith either missing or grimacing through a half handful of games. Zack Martin is an All-Pro rock at right guard.

Aside from him, there is a lot yet to be decided at the left guard and center, depending on how the four-way tussle between Joe Looney, Connor McGovern, Connor Williams, and Tyler Biadasz shakes out. It’s not hard to imagine two very inexperienced players manning those two spots. Regardless of who wins those jobs, I expect some shuffling, and time will be needed to develop chemistry and rhythm.

What absolutely cannot happen is a scenario where the outside guys get hurt and miss a significant time before the interior guys find their footing. A weak link can be overcome.

Multiple leaky spots across the line will spell doom for the offense.

While we are all traumatized by the indelible vision of Dak Prescott being repeatedly smeared across the Atlanta turf in 2017 when Tyron Smith’s backups proved to be doggy doors. However, Prescott has quite a bit more seasoning at this stage of his career, and coach McCarthy has been down that road enough times to know the value of the ability to adjust. I don’t expect to see backups left to fend for themselves, and expected to perform to the level of the starters they replaced. A rash of injuries across the line would be less than ideal, but the coach and quarterback are equipped to endure some instability upfront.

2) The Pass Rush Will Eat

Just a few short months ago it looked as if it was going to be DeMarcus Lawrence against the world. Give the Cowboys front office credit. They have assembled one of the most formidable front 7s in the league. Even with the extremely unfortunate loss of the newly acquired Gerald McCoy, guys like Trysten Hill, Neville Gallimore, DeMarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen, Aldon Smith, Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford, Bradlee Anae, and even linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch will be able to harass quarterbacks like nothing we have seen in Dallas in over a decade. The 2008 Cowboys lead the NFL in sacks (59), and this group has the chance to do the same.

Mike Nolan has to be downright giddy looking at all of his pass rush chess pieces. Imagine facing 3rd and long, and being able to present a front line consisting of Lawrence – Smith – Griffen – Gregory, with guys like Jaylon Smith, and Bradlee Anae available to be the 5th rusher behind it. The combinations are endless, and the Dallas pass rush should be one of the team’s most exciting aspects.

3) This Will Be Ezekiel Elliott’s Best Season as a Pro

Most of this is merely a hunch. The rest is based on Zeke’s current physical appearance. “Sleek Zeke” appears to be back, and training camp photo and video evidence seems to suggest that Zeke is down a few pounds, and looking more like the 2016 rookie who set the league on fire. The only thing missing from Zeke’s game in recent years has been his explosiveness and breakaway ability. If a lighter Elliott can regain even a portion of that, this team is seriously in business.

I suspect that his overall usage may actually go down, while his efficiency goes up. I just think that coach McCarthy, experienced, and also open-minded towards the world of analytics may be less apt to using Zeke as a battering ram to “establish identity,” and more inclined to use Zeke as a weapon. Hopefully, we see a lower number of predictable run calls, from both a down and distance standpoint and as far as the style of runs that are called.

With all of the weapons the Cowboys have on offense, Elliott really has a chance to be the guy that defenses forget about. This won’t hold true from a usage standpoint, but Zeke should probably be the 4th or 5th most worrisome Cowboy to opposing defenses. That is a great thing for Zeke.

4) There Will Be Blowouts

This is not even to say that the Cowboys are going to be some 12 or 13 win wrecking ball. This prediction is just based on the makeup of the team. Potent offense plus voracious pass rush spells blowout, and it will happen a handful of times this season.

Notorious for slow starts last season, if McCarthy can solve the puzzle, and figure out how to get this team to score early more often, some teams are going to get run off the field. If Dak and company go up a couple of scores on you early, Nolan can release the hounds on defense, and things could get unsightly, quite swiftly. As many one-score games as this team put us through in the Garrett era, it will be nice to occasionally enjoy a pressure-free laugher.

5) The Secondary Will Struggle

This whole unit is talented, but many key guys are still sipping on Enfamil, and that is frightening. Adding Brandon Carr to the room is a big help but nonetheless, there will be young guys learning on the fly. Rookie Trevon Diggs will almost certainly start. Donovan Wilson and Darian Thompson will be seeing their first heavy workloads as NFL players, and rookie Reggie Robinson should be in the mix a decent amount as well.

This will be a work in progress, and hopefully, they have things settled before we hit the home stretch. One thing working in their favor is the fact that they have a ravenous pack of wolves hunting in front of them, and opposing QB’s won’t be able to comfortably sit back and pick them apart.

6) Cowboys Will Start Slow, Finish Strong

As I mentioned, the offensive line and secondary have riddles to solve yet. The defense will be learning a new system, the offensive will be tweaking a familiar system, and the bulk of the work had to be done in a weird, abbreviated Covid-19 offseason.

Teams who underwent staff overhauls during this unique shortened offseason will likely struggle early on. I am not granting the Cowboys an exemption from that.

7) Dak Prescott Will Be the League’s MVP

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No punches pulled. This is Dak’s year. He has improved on a steady arc his entire career. He was nearly elite last season, the next step is elite. He has weapons. He has the coach.  He has always had the drive and may have an even heavier chip on his shoulder this time around after enduring personal tragedy, fan scrutiny, and contract disputes. There is just a look in his eye and inflection in his voice. This guy is laser-focused, and this just feels like the year it all comes together.

I’m not sure we see him nearing 5,000 yards again, because he may not need to. However, I expect Dak Prescott to enter the 40+ touchdown stratosphere, which he will probably make his home going forward. I see him used efficiently as a runner as well. Dak Prescott will again be the best player on one of the leagues best offenses, but this time will lead his team deep into the playoffs, and possibly to the promised land.

All questions, all hollow arguments about Dak Prescott get vaporized this season. This is the year Dak strolls into the penthouse of the elite, hangs up his coat, and takes off his shoes.
We will see how this has aged by February.

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