DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys are on summer vacation, left to their own devices to prepare for the upcoming season.
Training camp is in less than a month, and the team is hoping to build upon a 2021 season which saw them win the NFC East and compete in the playoffs for the first time in three years.
But with this quiet before the storm comes reflection on the offseason.
There’s been some turnover from last year’s team to the one that’s about to head to California, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The 2021 Cowboys weren’t able to meet their lofty expectations in the playoffs but perhaps the organization has found the right formula.
If the Cowboys want to make a deep run, they’ll need to have some things go their way this season.
Here are four things Dallas must hope for in order to make a Super Bowl run:
1. Good health
This isn’t a huge secret. The teams that make it far in the playoffs are usually among the healthiest teams in the league over the course of a season. The Cowboys have had a rough stretch in that regard in recent years, and it has affected their chances of winning.
Quarterback Dak Prescott started out last year on fire, but his calf injury changed everything after the team’s bye week. Without Prescott again in 2022, the Cowboys would be in serious trouble. No. 4 is obviously the player that the Cowboys need to keep healthy throughout the year, but there are others that Dallas will be wishing to maintain good health.
Left tackle Tyron Smith hasn’t been able to stay healthy for several seasons, but if he can limit the nagging injuries, the offense will be better off. The Cowboys don’t have a good enough option behind Smith and his availability can make or break the overall success of the offensive line.
The goal is to delay using the rookie Tyler Smith at left tackle until necessary, which would benefit the Cowboys’ offense and the team’s raw first-rounder.
On the defensive side of the ball, an injury to Micah Parsons would be devastating. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn uses Parsons as his chess piece, so any ailment that takes Parsons off the field would be a massive problem.
2. Dak becomes Superman
The Cowboys have always believed in Prescott and his ability, in much the same way that the team believed in former quarterback Tony Romo. To that end, the organization puts a hefty amount of weight on the quarterback and expects him to lead the way. Prescott is handsomely-paid to be that guy for the Cowboys, and the team hasn’t even used all of its resources under the salary cap to improve their problem areas. Dallas’ front office believes that Prescott can get it done without bringing in more help.
Thankfully, Prescott has it in him to be a superhero. The veteran quarterback out of Mississippi State continues to get better every year, which culminated in breaking the team’s franchise record for passing touchdowns in a season, a feat accomplished just one year removed from a major ankle injury.
The trajectory for Prescott remains in an upward direction, and if he has a magical quarterback season, it could be Dallas’ year.
3. Limit penalties
The Cowboys were the most-penalized team in the NFL last season and that lack of discipline cost them a few games. Cornerback Anthony Brown’s participation in the flag-filled debacle on Thanksgiving was a major factor in the Cowboys’ loss. In addition, the 14 infractions in the season-ending defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in the wild-card game was infuriating.
However, the Cowboys have also been victimized by some questionable calls that have gone against them in key moments in recent years. In Week 1 of the 2020 season, wide receiver Michael Gallup was called for a questionable offensive pass interference that sealed the teams’ fate in a loss.
Last season, the officials swallowed their whistles on Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin’s push-off of Jourdan Lewis in another season-opener that came down to the wire.
There have been too many instances like that for the Cowboys, but they’ve done themselves no favors to get the benefit of the doubt. If Dallas can get a few calls to go their way and avoid costly penalties in 2022, they’ll have a better chance at winning more games.
4. Dan Quinn’s defense improves
The Quinn effect was something to behold in Dallas last season. After a disastrous year under Mike Nolan in 2020, the Cowboys brought in Quinn to fix a soft, ineffective defense. Quinn led a remarkable turnaround which saw the Cowboys lead the NFL in defensive takeaways and improve to a unit that actually helped Dallas win games.
However, the defense was far from perfect. The Cowboys were bullied at the line of scrimmage at times and allowed over 112 yards rushing per game. Also, troubling is the fact that the run defense got worse as the year went on.
The passing defense did lead the league in interceptions, which included a huge second year from corner back Trevon Diggs, but Diggs has room to improve in his coverage ability as well.
Meanwhile, Parsons appears ready to build on one of the best rookie defensive performances in recent memory, and with almost all the defense returning, there’s no reason that the group can’t be even better in year two under Quinn.
Turnovers rarely translate from one year to the next, but that doesn’t mean Dallas won’t be better overall on defense. If Quinn continues to lead a defensive resurgence, the Cowboys could keep trending upwards.
What do you believe is the No. 1 key to success for the Cowboys in 2022? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.