Today, we’re taking a closer look at the rest of the Washington Football Team’s division, starting with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Washington Football Team won the NFC East in 2020 with a 7-9 record. If you watched their final regular season game, you have to acknowledge that had Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts been permitted to play the fourth quarter of that game, the outcome may have been different. Had Hurts played and Philadelphia gone on to win, all four teams in the division would have finished the season within a half game of each other.
Clearly this division is wide open.
The last team to repeat as division winner was – do you know? I’ll give you minute to think.
It was the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2004 (when Chase Young was five years old). The Washington Football Team is as well-positioned to win in 2021 as anyone else. A talented young defense, an improving offense, and a quality veteran under center (for at least one season) should place them right in the thick of the fight.
Now that we are through the draft, we take our first look at where the rest of the division stands heading into the 2021 season, in relation to the Washington Football Team. Five key questions each. Or in this case, four questions and one emphatic statement. First up…
Dallas Cowboys Preview
1. It’s all about Dak, right?
Dallas boasts some of the best offensive firepower in the league. When healthy, they have a very good line, one of the best running backs of the last five years, and more receivers and tight ends than you can count. But if they don’t have anyone to drive the car, that offense will stall.
That’s kind of what happened last year when Dak Prescott was lost for the season. Veteran backup Andy Dalton was okay, but when he also went down, the machine sputtered. This year, without Dalton in reserve, it is more important than ever that Dak return from his dislocated ankle at full strength. As cool a name as Cooper Rush is, I don’t think you want him running the show.
2. But isn’t it really all about Zeke?
Sure, the quarterback will always matter. But when you have one of the best backs in football suddenly fall off the table, isn’t that an even bigger concern? Ezekiel Elliott simply did not look like himself in 2020. He never dominated games. He fumbled at key moments. After Prescott’s injury, when you would have liked to rely on your stud runner, he simply plodded along.
By the end of the season, Dallas’ offense looked better with Tony Pollard in the backfield. The big question for Dallas is whether Elliott’s poor year was the result of a decimated offensive line, or whether after five years and more than 1,600 touches, Zeke’s tread is beginning to wear.
3. Speaking of that line, isn’t that where the real trouble lies?
On paper, Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Zach Martin, and La’el Collins should form one of the league’s best offensive lines. Trouble is, in 2020, both tackles essentially missed the entire season, Biadasz missed about two-thirds, and Martin missed about half. The depth, especially at tackle, was not very good.
But, let’s be fair. What team can survive that level of injury at such a crucial position? The venerable Ty Nsekhe and the rookie Josh Ball are on hand in 2021 to provide better depth, but a lot of Dallas’ success will be dependent on how well Smith and Collins return from their injuries.
4. That’s all well and good, but REALLY, IT’S ABOUT THE DEFENSE!
Despite all the offensive travails of 2020, Dallas was undone by a very bad defense. They finished in the bottom quarter of the league in almost every important defense statistic. They have retooled, starting at the top, where Dan Quinn takes over as defensive coordinator from Mike Nolan. In the draft, Dallas spent their first six picks – all in the top 115 selections – on defense.
New linebackers Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox could prove to be big-time playmakers. Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright should help rebuild a depleted secondary. And Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Golston hoped to pump some life into a porous defensive front. Quinn has also brought in a couple players he coached with the Atlanta Falcons in Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee. Will it help? Relying on so many rookies and free agents is usually a sign of desperation, and that’s exactly what it is in Dallas.
5. But in the end, isn’t it really about the coaches?
Not many fans were happy when Mike McCarthy was chosen to replace Jason Garrett before the 2020 season. Over the past decade, McCarthy’s once-bright rep has taken a hit, and now the narrative tends to be that Aaron Rodgers won in Green Bay despite McCarthy, and not because of him. 2020 did nothing to stem those fears.
Mike Nolan presided over a train wreck of a defense. And who can forget the failed fake punt against Washington, which essentially put the final nail in the Cowboys 2020 season? Dan Quinn should help restore the defense. Though his departure as head coach in Atlanta was ugly, Quinn has always had a good defensive mind. Kellen Moore is still a bit of a question mark, but with reasonable health, he should have the offense running at high speed. In the end though, it all comes down to McCarthy. Does he still have it? Did he ever? 2021 should be his chance to answer a lot of critics.
Next up – the Washington Football Team’s closest challengers in 2020, New York Football Giants