Dallas Cowboys 2021 Season Recapby Darius Walker January 25, 2022 1 comment
The Dallas Cowboys had high expectations coming into this season. With a healthy Dak Prescott and a retooled defense, this was a team with Super Bowl aspirations. They ended the season with a 12-5 record but lost in the Wild Card round against the San Francisco 49ers. The team did not come to play, which raises questions about head coach Mike McCarthy heading into the offseason. Prescott will have also be under the microscope as he is now 1-3 in the playoffs. He is one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL, so he has to rise to the occasion in the playoffs. The Cowboys have one of the most talented teams on paper so ending the season with a home playoff loss is unacceptable.
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What Went Right
Last season, the Dallas defense ranked 28th in points allowed and 23rd in yards allowed. They fired their defensive coordinator and brought in Dan Quinn to improve the defense. The defense made a big leap in Quinn’s first season, ending the season ranked seventh in points allowed, first in forced turnovers, and third in quarterback hits. Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons earned pro bowl nods and showed their potential as building blocks for the franchise. The Cowboys already had a high-powered offense, so the improvements on defense made the Cowboys a true Super Bowl contender. With the team finally having multiple playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, Dallas was a force to be reckoned with this season.
What Went Wrong
Another year, another playoff loss for the Cowboys. They can not get things right when it matters most in the postseason. Dallas had a home playoff game but somehow managed to underperform. There is a lot of money tied into Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, and both failed to perform in the team’s Wild Card loss. The offensive line lost the battle up front, giving up five sacks to the San Francisco defense. The Dallas run defense gave up 169 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. The team was out of sync in all areas, which is a direct reflection of the coaching staff. Kellen Moore is a hot commodity on the coaching trail right now, but his offense failed to find a rhythm against the 49ers. Regular-season success is not what the Cowboys are striving for, so this season was a failure.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Dak Prescott
After a season-ending injury in 2020, Prescott signed a four-year, $160 million contract in the offseason. With big contracts come big expectations, and Prescott delivered. He had a career year statistically; recording 4,449 passing yards and 37 touchdowns while completing 68.8 percent of his passes. Prescott was the leader of the highest-powered offense in the NFL. Dallas led the NFL in both yards and points scored. He led the Cowboys to a division title and the number four seed in the NFC. Prescott has solidified his position as a top ten quarterback in the NFL, but the next step is joining the league’s elite class of quarterbacks. He had a great regular season but left a lot to be desired with his performance in the Wild Card loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Prescott could be under even more pressure next season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Matt Farniok
Dallas spent their first six picks in the 2021 NFL draft on defense, so there were not many choices for this award. Of the 11 draft picks, only three were on offensive players; receiver Simi Fehoko, offensive linemen Josh Ball and Matt Farniok. Farniok was the most active rookie, making the game-day roster for 12 games. He played several snaps in Weeks 16 and 18, but overall, he was just a depth piece this season. Farniok was the team’s seventh-round pick and seems to have a chance to slide into one of the starting spots on the offensive line in 2022. The Dallas offensive line needs a major shakeup, so Farniok could end up starting at either guard or center next season.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Micah Parsons
The Dallas defense had several rookies show glimpses of their potential, but Parsons was the best of the bunch. He was special in his rookie season, starting games at both linebacker and defensive end, showing his versatility as a defender. Parsons was ranked top ten in the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterback hits. Not only was Parsons the best rookie, but he was also arguably their best player on defense. Impacting the game in multiple areas is key for any linebacker today, and that is his specialty. He ended the season with 84 tackles, 13 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, and 30 quarterback hits.
Biggest Surprise – Trevon Diggs
Diggs had a productive rookie campaign in 2020, but he burst onto the scene this season, emerging as one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks. Diggs recorded an interception in each of the first six games this season, which was two away from the NFL record of eight. He led the NFL in interceptions, interception yards, and defensive touchdowns. Diggs finished the season with 11 interceptions, 21 pass deflections, and two defensive touchdowns. His 11 interceptions were the most in the NFL since 1981. Diggs earned both an all-pro selection and a pro bowl selection in 2021. It was a fantastic season for the second-year pro, but there is room for improvement. Diggs allowed over 1,000 yards in coverage, a number that is unacceptable for any high caliber cornerback.
Biggest Disappointment – Amari Cooper
Amari Cooper is a talented receiver and one of the best route runners in the NFL. With that said, Cooper vastly underperformed this season. He ended the season with 68 catches, 865 yards, and eight touchdowns. Those are good numbers for a number two receiver in the NFL, but Cooper is supposed to be the most talented receiver on the Cowboys roster. He ranked third on the team in catches and second in yards. Cooper has a $100 million contract and is the fourth-highest-paid receiver in the NFL. Prescott spreads the ball around on offense, but Cooper still has to perform better. The team needs elite production from him for his contract to make sense. Cooper put in a solid game in the playoffs with six catches, 64 yards, and a touchdown, but the team needs more from him.
One Burning Question
Can Dak Prescott become an elite quarterback?
Dallas will have several key players hit free agency this offseason. Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Randy Gregory, Leighton Vander Esch, and Dalton Schultz are just a few names that will be hitting the market. Prescott, Elliott, Cooper, Tyron Smith, and DeMarcus Lawrence are amongst the highest-paid at their positions. This is why the Cowboys have the third-worst amount of cap space in the NFL. The team will have to make big decisions in the offseason, which involves the Cowboys losing depth. The time is now for Prescott. He must perform like an elite quarterback if he is going to be paid like one. The Cowboys have no shortage of weapons, so there are no excuses for Prescott.
Once a quarterback gets a big contract, it cripples the teams’ cap space, so the quarterback must be good enough to cover up the holes on the roster. Prescott has yet to prove that he is that kind of quarterback. He’s a good quarterback, but Dallas needs him to be great. Elliott’s best years are behind him, so the fate of the team will be in Prescott’s hands. McCarthy and Moore have gone to a more pass-heavy approach in the last two seasons, so Prescott must rise to the occasion. Great regular season numbers are nice, but it’s time for Prescott to turn those numbers into postseason success. If not, the Cowboys could miss out on their window to win a Super Bowl ring.
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