FRISCO - The Dallas Cowboys are set to kick off the 2021 season on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as they look to rebound from a brutal 2020 campaign in which they finished 6-10, and missed out on the postseason yet again.
Health permitting, things should turn around for Dallas. Of course, in the Jerry Jones era, we, and they, have always harbored that sort of optimism.
In truth, there are also a variety of other factors that will play into the team's success.
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The NFL is "a 500 league," as we say so often. The Cowboys can take advantage of mediocrity. If they go 9-8, they will quite likely run away with the so-so NFC East. That is within the Dallas capabilities and now, second-year head coach Mike McCarthy, who as Cowboys icon and broadcaster Troy Aikman told us last year deserved a "mulligan,'' does not deserve a second mulligan.
Dak Prescott's desire for the 2021 Cowboys?
"First and foremost, (to be) the best offense in the NFL,'' Prescott said.
Oh. The best?
"Stats; scoring; whatever; we want to be the best offense in the NFL," Prescott said.
Dallas might've been on the verge of that last fall before the season-ending injury to the QB, but Prescott is fully recovered from his ankle injury to start training camp. And his sore shoulder from a month ago is also fine.
Meanwhile, the Pro Bowl QB recently noted the return of injured teammates Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Blake Jarwin, "The band is back together.''
Well, not entirely, as Martin is now considered "out'' for Thursday due to COVID.
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But generally? Along with running back Ezekiel Elliott showing up this summer in terrific physical condition (he's down 10 pounds to 218) and receiver CeeDee Lamb bigger and stronger as he enters his second season to join with Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup as well, the "band'' is indeed back.
This might be a top-one offense. But it certainly seems top-five.
Outside of the resting DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys have this summer put on display evidence of a defensive turnaround under new coordinator Dan Quinn. Quinn is among those who will matter if Dallas is to avoid a repeat of last year's six-win effort - and the defensive ends, Lawrence and Randy Gregory, might be the guys who will matter if the Dallas defense is to do its part to keep up with what the Cowboys believe can be the No. 1 offense in the NFL.
"We just got to be dogs out there,'' said Gregory. "We got to trust and believe in each other, believe in the scheme, and we'll be all right. I think we've shown that so far during this preseason. We've shown it in practice, certainly.''
McCarthy recently told us that he emphasized the importance of "putting the resources'' into the defense, because, "to get to the championship game, you’ve got to have a great defense. I had one top-five defense (as the Green Bay head coach) in 13 years and won a Super Bowl.''
It's impossible to know yet that Dallas has a "great defense,'' let alone one that won't again finish 31st in the NFL, as was the case a year ago.
But there is some evidence.
Cowboys Record: 9-8
Expected Depth Chart
QB: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
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RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard
WR: Michael Gallup
WR: Amari Cooper
WR: CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson
TE: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
LT: Tyron Smith, Ty Nsekhe
LG: Connor Williams, Connor McGovern
C: Tyler Biadasz
RG: Zack Martin
RT: La'El Collins, Terence Steele
DE: DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong
DT: Carlos Watkins, Osa Odighizuwa
DT: Brent Urban, Quinton Bohanna
DE: Randy Gregory, Tarell Basham
LB: Keanu Neal, Jabril Cox
LB: Micah Parsons
LB: Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith
CB: Trevon Diggs, Nahshon Wright
CB: Anthony Brown, Kelvin Joseph, C.J. Goodwin
NCB: Jourdan Lewis, Maurice Canady
FS: Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker, Israel Mukuamu
SS: Donovan Wilson, Jayron Kearse
K: Greg Zuerlein
P: Bryan Anger
LS: Jake McQuaide
PR: CeeDee Lamb, Cedric Wilson
KR: Tony Pollard
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