It’s getting close to go time.
Most of the Dallas Cowboys boarded the team plane and headed to California for training camp Thursday afternoon. The most notable absence reported was star running back Ezekiel Elliott. At this point, I don’t think there is any reason to panic as I think Elliott will be there for the regular-season opener, September 8th, against the New York Giants at AT&T stadium.
The Cowboys held their first press conference Friday afternoon with Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett.
Jerry noted that Elliott is officially a holdout but declined to comment on whether Elliott would be fined for his absence.
Stephen sounded optimistic about getting a deal with Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Zeke at some point during camp.
The Cowboys come into 2019 trying to repeat as NFC East division champs, which has not been done by an NFC East team since 2004.
I have three reasons why the Cowboys will repeat.
On the flip side of that, I also have three reasons why they will not repeat as division champs.
The Cowboys WILL repeat as NFC East champs if these three things happen
Fixing the third Quarter woes
Many around the NFL would say that the NFL is an 8-8 league because the talent from team to team is so close. They would also say the NFL is a 7 point league. In 2018, the Cowboys went 9-3 in games decided by 7 points or less.
It is unlikely that the Cowboys see that same success in 2019. The Cowboys played themselves into a lot of close games because of their third quarters.
For the season, they were outscored by 16 points in the third quarter and that was caused by a combination of things, including conservative play calling.
According to Warren Sharp, the Cowboys passed at a 48% rate in the first half with a 56% success rate with 8.0 yards per attempt. In the third quarter, they passed on just 41% of first down plays averaging only 6.2 yards per attempt.
The Cowboys ran the ball 60% of the time on first downs out of halftime and their first down run success rate went down from 47% to 39%.
Defense takes the next step
The Cowboys defense ranked top 10 in total yards allowed (7th, 329.3), rushing yards allowed per game (5th, 94.6) and most importantly points allowed per game (6th, 20.3).
While those stats are great, there is another step the Cowboys defense must take in 2019 and that is to create more turnovers. They created just 20 takeaways in 2018, which was 16th in the NFL.
Dak Prescott has three winning seasons in his first three years of his career. His leadership has never been questioned since he took over for Romo in 2016.
Now, with a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback coach, I feel the “training wheels” are going to come off for Dak Prescott in 2019.
Dak building on his improved footwork and accuracy from the offseason will ultimately determine if the Cowboys can get back to the playoffs.
The Cowboys will NOT repeat as division champs if these three things happen
Kellen Moore struggles as a first-year offensive coordinator
This is the biggest unknown for the 2019 Cowboys team. No one truly knows how Moore will handle his first season as offensive coordinator. We know Moore and Dak have a great relationship.
It was Moore and Mark Sanchez that has been credited for helping Prescott during his record-setting rookie season in 2016.
However, until the Cowboys go out on the field and the product on the field looks different and is successful we won’t know. Moore not adapting well could derail this team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Offensive line question marks (health)
There is no doubt that the Cowboys offensive line is still among the best in the league when healthy. Health has been an issue as of late. If all-pro tackle Tyron Smiths back flares up or Travis Frederick doesn’t come back full force that could present a problem for the Cowboys.
Going into camp, the Cowboys received good news. Frederick will officially not be placed on the PUP list to start camp and the Cowboys are hopeful that Frederick will be on the field for the teams’ first practice on Saturday.
Frederick missed all of 2018 after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system.
Yes, the kicker is this important. Just ask the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears who never could get their kicking situation right last season.
The Cowboys played 12 games that were decided by 7 points or less last season. Six of those games were decided by 3 points or less.
Last year in training camp, who knew that Dan Bailey’s job was in jeopardy. A year after taking over for Bailey, I think Maher could be in the same situation. In 2018, Maher made 29 of 36 field attempts. However, he missed 3 attempts over the final 4 games of the season, including the playoffs.
In a league that has a lot of games decided by 3 points or less, the Cowboys not getting the kicking situation right could be costly.
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