Dak Prescott is going to have to do more than simply prove he’s better than Matthew Stafford in 2021. The Dallas Cowboys are generating buzz as a threat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ throne in the NFL, and it’s not just because of the quarterback. A defense armed with new personnel and a different scheme can complement an already explosive offense. History is on the side of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has a trio of third-round picks to add to his unit. That round has been particularly kind to this franchise over the years.
Here’s what’s true or false about the Cowboys in July. Make sure to check out the team’s June edition.
The Cowboys Can Threaten Tampa Bay?
False. Former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum isn’t bashful about the Cowboys’ potential in 2021. He told ESPN’s Get Up! that the Cowboys are a safe bet to contest the NFC title against the Bucs. The roster in Dallas is loaded, but this is a fanciful prediction.
Prescott leads an offense with playmakers in both phases, but his supporting cast is not as deep as the crew around Tom Brady in Tampa. Quinn will put some much-needed oomph into the Dallas defense, but this unit is nowhere near as intimidating as the group Todd Bowles coordinates in Florida.
A direct comparison with the reigning Super Bowl champions is a little unfair to the Cowboys. It’s more accurate to consider the other notable contenders in the national conference. Take the Green Bay Packers, who could compete if Aaron Rodgers decides he still wants to play. There’s also the San Francisco 49ers, who will be a force again if they stay healthy.
The Cowboys aren’t even guaranteed supremacy in the NFC East. Ryan Fitzpatrick is an interception machine, but he’s also daring enough to take advantage of a deep and retooled stable of receivers in Washington, where head coach Ron Rivera already has a dominant defense. Dallas will be in the thick of the playoff hunt, but it’s too early to raise the ceiling on the Cowboys’ title expectations.
Prescott Will Be Better than Stafford in ’21?
True. ESPN personalities have been kind to the Cowboys recently. Dominique Foxworth ranked Prescott ahead of Los Angeles Rams starter Matthew Stafford. Foxworth’s opinion sparked a fair amount of debate, but the more important question is which QB will be better in 2021? The answer is Prescott.
Both the Cowboys and Rams are built to win now, so productive play from under center will be key to their chances. The Rams traded Jared Goff and draft picks for Stafford hoping to get exactly that, but there are reasons to be dubious that the deal will work out. For one thing, Rams head coach Sean McVay hasn’t been able to find answers since the New England Patriots smothered his offense in Super Bowl LIII. It’s too easy and convenient for McVay to lay all the blame at Goff’s feet.
Stafford might offer some statistical improvement, but he’s not a winner like Prescott. The latter has a 45-29 record as a starter. Prescott already has more playoff wins in his short career than Stafford has managed in 12 years. Granted, Stafford suffered from playing with the perennially struggling Detroit Lions, but he’s still not in a better situation than Prescott entering the season.
Head coach Mike McCarthy helped the Cowboys rank seventh in passing yards in 2020, despite Prescott missing 11 games with an ankle injury. McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will produce even better numbers with Prescott back and throwing to Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. The Rams’ wide receivers are no slouches, either, but this Dallas group is younger and more dynamic.
Dallas Drafted Another Pro Bowler in the Third Round?
True. No assistant in the league has a tougher job than Quinn, who is tasked with improving a defense that ranked 28th in points and 23rd in yards last season. History can lend a helping hand, though, at least based on an interesting article on the team’s official website. The article deals with third-round draft picks who outplayed their status and became Pro Bowlers for the franchise.
It will please Quinn to know a lot of the Cowboys’ third-round success stories played defense. They include linebackers Dexter Coakley and Godfrey Myles, as well as safety Charlie Waters. Significantly, the Cowboys have often found success in this round when they’ve had three third-round picks. The same haul occurred this year when Dallas took defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa, defensive end Chauncey Golston, and cornerback Nahshon Wright off the board in Round 3. Odighizuwa and Golston will boost a pass-rush rotation already featuring DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Meanwhile, a secondary still seeking an identity under a new play-caller will find room for Wright.
All three rookies are excellent scheme fits for what Quinn wants to do, but Odighizuwa is the strongest candidate to make an immediate impact. He’s an active but undersized tackle who can work as a three-technique or over the center in a scheme set to mix 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. Quinn had tremendous success with another small defensive tackle, Grady Jarrett, during his days with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Cowboys Don’t Need a Veteran Backing up Prescott?
False. Garrett Gilbert and Ben DiNucci are far from convincing as the potential stand-ins for Prescott. The latter’s injury problems a year ago, along with his risk-taking style, mean the Cowboys would be wise to invest in some veteran insurance. It’s unlikely to happen before the start of training camp, but McCarthy could cast a net ahead of the preseason. He won’t be picking from a sea of riches, but the coach might be tempted by a former starter like Matt Moore. The 37-year-old knows how to stay prepared in case of emergencies.
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