As the opening kickoff of the 2020 NFL Season fast approaches, it is worth having one last quick look at what is going on around the Division outside of Philadelphia. The next rival team to take the field is the Dallas Cowboys in less than 24 hours.
(Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer)
· The Dallas Cowboys never fail to generate headlines on the field as Jerry Jones finally ran out of patience with Jason Garrett and replaced him with Mike McCarthy at the start of the year in an attempt to see the Cowboys reach their first Super Bowl since the 1995 season. McCarthy, an experienced Head Coach who lead the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl win in 2010, inherited a talented roster but has been disadvantaged because he has had to install a new system by means of a virtual offseason program as well as deal with a host of new measures and rules introduced by the NFL to enable the season to take place. He appears to have embraced the challenge and has sought to squeeze out any advantage he can to help his team.
· Dak Prescott has managed to stay in the headlines throughout the offseason and preseason. Whether the attention was due to him hosting a party during a pandemic, the tragic loss of his brother, the well documented contract battle between him and the Cowboys, or recently drawing insensitive comments from Skip Bayless for having the audacity of being human, Prescott appears to constantly be in the eye of a media storm. But as the first game of the 2020 season kicks off for Dallas tomorrow, will he be able to set aside everything going on off the field to focus and take full advantage of his upgraded weaponry and lead his team to an NFC East title and beyond?
· Zeke Elliott is one of the top Running Backs in the league. That much is undisputable. But his usage could spell problems for 2020. In his first 4 years in the league, Elliott has had less than 300 carries only once and that was in 2017 when he was suspended for 6 games. That is a great deal of wear and tear that he has put on his body and it is worth asking whether the new coaching regime is going to continue to use him as the Cowboys have to date, especially with the amount of money the team has invested in him? It is a question that Mike McCarthy declined to answer when media raised the possibility of an increased role for backup Tony Pollard who impressed last year when he was on the field.
· The Dallas Cowboys ranked 1st overall in total offence and 2nd in passing in 2019. So when Jerry Jones picked CeeDee Lamb in the first round of this year’s draft, a player who was rated as the top receiver on many boards, this automatically made Dallas a much more potent team on Offence. Teaming up a talent like Lamb with an established top tier receiver such as Amari Cooper and an extremely productive player like Michael Gallup will give Defensive coordinators nightmares this season. PFF has the Cowboys Wide Receiver group ranked #1 in the NFL going into the season. One thing worth monitoring is that Cooper has been dealing with a hamstring injury. Despite him being a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, this may be something worth monitoring.
· The Cowboys Offensive Line has long been considered one of the best in the NFL and has enabled both Prescott and Elliott to be successful. But the O Line starting the 2020 season looks a bit different to the one that took the field in September 2019. Travis Frederick retired in March leaving the door open for Joe Looney to start at Centre for the time being. At Right Tackle La’el Collins will have to start the year on IR due to a hip injury. This means that he is not eligible to return at least until Week 4. Cameron Erving who was signed to be the swing tackle will start in his place until Collins is able to come back. Tyron Smith (RT), Connor Williams (LG) and Zach Martin (LG) are all starting in the same positions as last year.
· The Defensive Line is being kept under wraps at this point, pending the grand unveiling tomorrow against the Rams. Some big name players such as Dontari Poe, Gerald McCoy (since released due to injury) and Everson Griffen were added to the roster to compliment DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Antwaun Wood. On top of this, Randy Gregory has been conditionally reinstated by the League and could return to action in late October.
· The Linebacking group continues to be an impressive unit. The addition of Aldon Smith could be a serious upgrade but it is worth remembering that he may not be the same dominant player that he was in San Francisco. He hasn’t played a game since 2015. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch complete the trio and will be backed by Sean Lee who will also start the season on IR, so again not eligible to play the first 3 games of the season.
· The Cowboys could not afford to keep Byron Jones (CB) and so he left in free agency. They did draft Trevon Diggs in the 2nd Round to replace him. The other 3 starters will be Safeties Xavier Woods and Darian Thompson and CB Anthony Brown. Only Woods was a starter on the team last season and this overhaul has some Dallas reporters worried. Brandon Carr is back with the team in the hope that he will provide some depth and experience. PFF has the Secondary ranked #20 in the league.
Overall, the Cowboys pose the biggest threat to the Eagles with regards to winning the Division. They open up against the Rams tomorrow in LA in a game that should give us a better understanding of how dangerous this team could be. We will have to wait until Novemeber 2nd until the first head to head between the Birds and ‘Boys.