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Dallas Cowboys Start New Era as 2020 Season Opens

Posted on September 13, 2020 by Chris Kent

It is the start of another new era in Big D for the Dallas Cowboys in 2020 and the biggest change is at the head coaching spot. Former Green Bay Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy replaces Jason Garrett who is now the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator. McCarthy, the ninth head coach in Cowboys’ history, brings a wealth of NFL coaching experience including a 13-year term as the Packer’s head coach from 2006-18. McCarthy lead Green Bay to victory in Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season at AT&T Stadium, Dallas’ home facility in Arlington, TX.

Mike McCarthy was named the ninth head coach of the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 7, 2020.

McCarthy, who was released by the Packers following a 4-7-1 record 12 games into the 2018 season, inherits a team that is in win now mode under the management of team owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones. Now in his 32nd year with the Cowboys, Jones has grown the franchise into a multi-billion dollar enterprise on his shrewd and aggressive business style. That showed this offseason in making a head-coaching change.

Garrett’s tenure in Dallas was marked by too much inconsistency and too many average seasons. Four of Garrett’s nine full seasons as head coach saw the team finish 8-8 with no playoffs including last year. The Cowboys outscored their opponents 97-44 en route to a 3-0 start in 2019. The wheels then came off and Dallas went just 5-8 the rest of the way. The up and down season saw the Cowboys go 2-6 against teams that finished with winning records and 1-6 against teams that reached the playoffs. The bigger picture here is the pattern that formed in the Garrett era. It showed that Dallas was good but ultimately not good enough to win just their own division, the NFC East, a division which much of the last decade had been average at best. Each of the Cowboys’ four 8-8 seasons under Garrett saw them lose to division foes on the next to last or final week of the regular season with the division title on the line. Although Garrett did lead Dallas to three division championships and a pair of NFC wild card victories in his other five full seasons, they could never get passed the divisional playoffs. The fabled pass from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant that appeared to be a catch and was overruled in the 2014 NFC Divisional Playoffs at Green Bay was as close as the Cowboys got to reaching the NFC Championship game under Garrett. It has been 25 years since the last season that Dallas reached the NFC Championship game.

The Cowboys are now at a crossroads with a new head coach. A young and talented nucleus is in place for Dallas to contend for a Super Bowl championship this season and position them to challenge for multiple titles this decade. They did it in the 1970’s when they played in five and won a pair before returning to glory in the 1990’s when they became the first franchise in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span.

Dak Prescott surveys the field for an open receiver. The fifth-year quarterback is playing on the franchise tag in 2020.

Quarterback Dak Prescott is the unquestioned leader of the Cowboys. Along with Ezekiel Elliott at running back and an abundance of receivers, Dallas has balance and flexibility to keep defenses guessing. Prescott, who has started all 67 games that the Cowboys have played since they made him a fourth-round draft pick in 2016, is just entering the prime of his career. Prescott passed for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns – both career highs – last season. An offseason that was due to pay him big money has passed without a contract extension and he is playing this year on the franchise tag.

Elliott ran 301 times for 1,357 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019, good for 4.5 yards per attempt. It was the third 1,300 yard season of Elliott’s four-year career. Elliott, a three-time pro bowler, also had 54 catches for 420 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Ezekiel Elliott ran for 12 touchdowns in 2019.

That run-catch combination is something that Dallas also has in second-year running back Tony Pollard. Pollard ran for 455 yards on 86 carries with a pair of touchdowns in 2019 and also caught 15 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown. He will be looked upon to give Elliott a breather and help provide versatility and depth in the backfield.

The passing game got a boost this offseason with the addition of wide receiver CeeDee Lamb who the Cowboys took with the 17th overall pick in the NFL Draft. The 6-foot-2  189-pound Lamb had a highly productive collegiate career at the University of Oklahoma where he racked up over 3,200 yards with 32 touchdown catches in just three seasons. During that time Lamb played with Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Last season, Lamb caught passes from Jalen Hurts, the one-time Alabama quarterback who transferred to Oklahoma before being drafted by Philadelphia in this past spring’s draft. Lamb had career highs of 1,327 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Sooners on 62 catches in 2019. Even better was his 21.4 average yards-per-catch, also a career best.

Considering Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin signed elsewhere in the offseason, Lamb’s selection by Jones and the Dallas brass was a good move. Lamb adds depth and offensive spark to a team needing a boost on offense. McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will have more flexibility to work with as they retool the offense, one that lead the National Football League in total offense in 2019 with 6,904 yards.

Rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb will seek to make an impact on the Dallas offense this season and become another fabled player to wear #88 for Dallas.

Lamb joins veteran Amari Cooper and third-year player Michael Gallup to give the Cowboys three top flight wide receivers. Cooper, an exceptional route runner, caught 79 passes for 1,189 yard and 8 touchdowns a season ago while Gallup had 66 catches for 1,107 yards and 6 touchdowns. Gallup doubled his receptions and more than doubled his receiving yards from his rookie year in 2018 when he had 33 catches for 507 yards. This trio of wide receivers is a potential juggernaut but this is not all Dallas has to offer for pass catchers. Despite the Cowboys losing their all-time leading receiver and likely future hall of famer in Jason Witten – who signed with the Raiders – Blake Jarwin is coming into his own as a solid tight end. He had 31 catches for 365 yards and 3 touchdowns last season. Dallas also signed tight end Blake Bell in the offseason and have depth at the position with third-year tight end Dalton Schultz.

The offensive line, while a bit in transition, is still one of the best in the league. Although perennial pro-bowl center Travis Frederick was forced to officially retire in March due to complications from Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that he had been diagnosed with before the start of the 2018 season, the line is still one of the best in the league. Mainstays Tyron Smith at left tackle and Zack Martin at right guard are two of the best in the business and are coming off pro bowl seasons. Left tackle La’el Collins is a top-5 player at right tackle but will miss the first two or three games of the season after TMZ Sports reported he was involved in a recent car accident after which he experienced neck pain. According to the Cowboys, the team placed Collins on injured reserve yet claim that move was for a hip issue he was dealing with prior to the car accident. Six-year veteran tackle Cameron Erving is a likely replacement for Collins. Joe Looney is the starter at center where the nine-year veteran has played before in place of Frederick. To address the center spot, Dallas also drafted Tyler Biadasz, a 6-foot-3 and 316-pound rookie from Wisconsin, where Frederick also played. Third-year lineman Connor Williams is listed as the starter at left guard on the depth chart heading into the season opener. Terence Steele, a 6-foot-6 310-pound tackle from Texas Tech, is also on the depth chart as an undrafted rookie.

While Prescott will be looking to benefit from a retooled offense, the Cowboys’ defense also is in transition. Two former head coaches of the San Francisco 49ers are now leading the Dallas defense with Mike Nolan as the new defensive coordinator and Jim Tomsula as the new defensive line coach.

To make up for the offseason losses of defensive lineman Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins, the Cowboys signed Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy. However McCoy was released by Dallas after suffering a ruptured quadriceps and Poe is currently on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. To fortify the defensive line, the Cowboys signed former Minnesota Viking defensive end Everson Griffen, an 11-year veteran. Griffen had eight sacks and one interception last season. Over 10 seasons in Minnesota, Griffen had 353 tackles and 74.5 sacks. An aggressive presence, Griffen also had 16 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, and 6 fumble recoveries during his time as a Viking. Dallas can use this kind of disruptive action on the defensive line and veteran end DeMarcus Lawrence is sure to welcome Griffen to the unit. Lawrence had 45 total tackles (30 solo), 5 sacks, 10 tackles for a loss, and 16 quarterback hits a year ago. Providing depth along the defensive front will be third-year defensive end Dorrance Armstrong, second-year defensive tackle Trysten Hill, and third-year defensive tackle Antwaun Woods. Rookies Neville Gallimore and Bradlee Anae were also drafted to help the defensive line. Gallimore played at Oklahoma and is a tackle while Anae is an end out of Utah. Both will come in handy to offset the absence of Tyrone Crawford, a nine-year veteran defensive end who is on the PUP list as the regular season starts.

Jaylon Smith is one of the most active and fastest linebackers in the NFL.

The linebackers are the heart of the Cowboys’ defense with Jaylon Smith on the weak side and Leighton Vander Esch in the middle. Smith was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2019 when he lead Dallas with 142 total tackles, 83 of which were solo, and recorded 2.5 sacks. Aldon Smith, who the Cowboys signed in the offseason, mans the strong side. This group will also be supported by the veteran wisdom of linebacker Sean Lee, a cornerstone player for Dallas over the last decade.

The defensive secondary has a new face in cornerback Trevon Diggs, who the Cowboys drafted out of Alabama in the second round in April to offset the free agency losses of Byron Jones and Jeff Heath. Diggs, the younger brother of Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, was a first-team All-SEC performer at Alabama last year when he was also named a third-team All-American.

Rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs brings coverage skills to the Dallas secondary to help boost the defense.

Fifth-year veteran Anthony Brown will start at the other corner while Xavier Woods and Darian Thompson are listed atop the depth chart at free safety and strong safety. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis provide depth and experience at cornerback while Reggie Robinson II is a rookie out of Tulsa with versatility to play corner or free safety.

The special teams are solid with nine-year veteran Chris Jones handling the punting duties and 16-year veteran L.P. Ladouceur providing the long-snapping. Due to some shacky kicking in recent years with Brett Maher and Kai Forbath, Dallas signed nine-year veteran placekicker Greg Zuerlein, formerly of the Los Angeles Rams, to a 3-year $7.5 million dollar contract in March. In eight years with the Rams, Zuerlein converted 82.0 percent of his field goal attempts with a career long of 61 yards. He also logged 395 touchbacks in 594 kickoffs. Reserve wide receiver Cedrick Wilson and Pollard are listed among the punt and kickoff returners.

Through hiring McCarthy, the draft, and free agency, the Cowboys made a lot of good moves to bolster their team for 2020. Included in this was the signing of former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton as the new backup to Prescott. The addition of Lamb gives Dallas more diversity on offense. The defense stands to be upgraded with the additions of Poe, Griffen, and Diggs. Keep an eye on Gallimore as his 6-foot-2 frame and 302-pound size can help in the trenches. Together they can help the Cowboys improve on their 39 sacks from a year ago which was just 19th in the league.

Dallas was virtually even with their opponents in average time of possession per game in 2019. More consistent production from Elliott combined with more options in the passing game would be a formula where the Cowboys can control the clock and win the time of possession battle. This would also mean they are sustaining drives and converting third downs more frequently. Dallas converted 47 percent of their third downs and allowed their opponents to convert at a 33.3 percent clip a year ago. Slight improvements in each of these spots would be to their advantage if they are to return to the playoffs.

The Cowboys have a competitive schedule which opens in prime time on Sunday Night Football on Sept. 13 against the Los Angeles Rams who will be unveiling their bran new state of the art venue, SoFi Stadium. A home game against the Atlanta Falcons follows  before a trip to Seattle on Sept. 27. A three-game homestand follows against the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, and Arizona Cardinals. The Arizona game on Oct. 19 will be the only appearance on Monday Night Football for Dallas this season. A trip to division rival Washington follows before a Sunday Night football encounter at Philadelphia on Nov. 1. A home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers is next in week nine followed by a bye in week 10. The Cowboys then play at Minnesota on Nov. 22 before returning home to face Washington on Thanksgiving Day. A week later, Dallas make their only appearance on Thursday Night Football when they play at Baltimore on December 3.  A trip to Cincinnati follows on Dec. 13 before returning to AT&T Stadium for a showdown with the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football on Dec. 20. The Cowboys then play division rivals, hosting the Eagles on Dec. 27 before visiting the Giants on Jan. 3 in the regular season finale.

While this football season will look, feel, and sound different across the land due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it will be good to have it again even if that means fans watching from afar or with social distancing guidelines in place. Dallas has the pieces in place to win now and challenge for supremacy in the 2020’s. America’s Team is coming.

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