The Dallas Cowboys had a season to forget in 2020 when their franchise quarterback went down with a gruesome leg injury in Week 5 against the New York Giants. As Dak Prescott's compound ankle fracture loomed over America's Team for the rest of the season, backup Andy Dalton stepped in and the Cowboys finished with a measly six wins.
Even with Prescott, the Cowboys' defense was abysmal last year. They allowed 39 points against the Falcons, 38 against Seattle, a whopping 49 against the Browns, and finally 34 against the Giants when Dak exited in the third quarter.
Star running back Ekeziel Elliot was productive when playing with Prescott but saw his numbers fall steadily with Andy Dalton pulling the strings. First-year head coach Mike McCarthy has faced considerable scrutiny for his team's lack of success and efficiency, and finds himself in the host seat in year two.
Where the Dallas Cowboys are in 2021
Hope is back to typical offseason levels in the Big D as Prescott has regained full health and will be the leader of the team for the foreseeable future after inking a lucrative four-year $160 million extension.
Dallas also made a continuous effort to rebuild their atrocious defense with a very solid draft. They went defense-heavy by investing all five of their top-100 picks on defensive players. Headlining those picks is former star Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons. Parsons will be a force in the middle for the Cowboys and will immediately improve one of the worst defenses from a year prior.
Boom or bust? Dallas Cowboys in a precarious situation
Will the work Prescott and the front office have done in the offseason translate to on-field success? If the Cowboys want to win the NFC East and host a playoff game at AT&T Stadium, they will need to accomplish three key goals.
The first is having some semblance of defense. If Dallas doesn't improve on the poor effort on the defensive side of the ball from last year, this will be another lost season. The talent is there. Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and Keanu Neal all have incredible potential.
They will have to stop opposing quarterbacks from escaping the pocket and making plays downfield, both passing and running. Their division features three QBs who are more than capable of doing this: the Giants' Daniel Jones , Jalen Hurts of the Eagles, and Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Washington Football Team. Parsons, who ran a 4.39 40-yard dash, will be a key piece in stopping these mobile quarterbacks.
The second goal for the Dallas Cowboys will be to "feed Zeke." When Elliot gets the carries and the Cowboys control the clock, they win games. Their 2016 season perfectly encapsulates this.
Dallas went 13-2, before resting some starters in Week 17 and lost both games by less than a touchdown combined. They were able to do that with an elite offensive line and the uber-talented RB behind Dak. As teams cracked down on Elliot and the running game, the field opened up for Prescott, who made enough plays to earn his team the number one overall seed.
Elliot is the most important player for the Cowboys and their success this season is directly tied to him getting ample touches.
The final goal will be to avoid a sluggish start. In the Prescott era, the Cowboys have been notorious for starting slowly and airing it out in the second half to mount comebacks. This is not a recipe for success in the modern NFL. They've been down double digits countless times in the first half and were unable to recover despite historic stat lines from Prescott.
Dallas will be an improved team this season, but it may not be enough to make the playoffs.
The Washington Football team has an elite defense and has made mass improvements to their offense with the additions of Curtis Samuel and Ryan Fitzpatrick. The NFC East will come down to a Cowboys defense that likely won't play well enough to capture the coveted division title.
It'll be a close race, but Washington will edge them by a game or two.