DALLAS — Mike McCarthy’s first season with the Dallas Cowboys wasn’t a banner year. The frustration that comes from finishing 6-10 and failing to reach what was thought of as attainable goals is a humbling feeling. There is little doubt that disappointment resonated with everyone in the organization following a third-place finish in the NFC East.
From Owner Jerry Jones to the last player on the roster, right on down to the fans, it wasn’t the kind of season anyone wanted or expected. There were championship aspirations for the Cowboys in 2020, and the results were anything but title-worthy.
A new season brings fresh enthusiasm for each of the 32 NFL teams, but no franchise feels the sense of urgency like the Cowboys. It’s well known that it’s been 25 years since the team has appeared in an NFC Championship game and the same amount of years since Dallas has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. That’s an eternity for America’s Team.
However, despite last season’s failure, it’s not difficult to be positive about the Cowboys in 2021. Here are three of the biggest reasons for fans of the Cowboys to be optimistic ahead of training camp:
Dak Prescott’s return
This rings true for the Cowboys overall, who were amply bitten by the injury bug last year. Every team has injuries, but McCarthy’s team was hit hard at the worst positions, none more important than the quarterback.
The return of Prescott provides hope for the Cowboys. The QB is the most important player for any team and he’s usually more responsible for wins and losses than anyone else, so Prescott was missed last season. Despite having an admirable backup in Andy Dalton, the offense wasn’t the same with Prescott missing from under center.
Prescott’s presence cannot be overstated in Dallas. He’s one of the Cowboys’ best players, yes, but Prescott is also a leader whose teammates will follow no questions asked. Dallas lost their heartbeat early in the 2020 season and the team didn’t have the same energy after Prescott’s injury.
That enthusiasm and leadership returns this season. Prescott’s comeback and the work that he has put into getting back onto the field is an inspiration to the team, who is ready to follow him again where an offense that was averaging north of 30 points per game with him will be grateful to have the ball in his hands once more.
A new chapter for the defense
The Cowboys went through a lot of player turnover on defense this offseason, but nothing the team has done feels as important as the hiring of Dan Quinn to be the new defensive coordinator. In 2020, Mike Nolan presided over one of the worst defenses in team history and change was needed.
Quinn enters with a resume that includes being a major part of the Legion of Boom defensive reign of terror from the Seattle Seahawks over the last decade. As the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator for two seasons in 2013-2014, Quinn won a Super Bowl in 2013 as his unit led the league in total defense, allowed the fewest points against, and had the most takeaways that year.
Quinn’s defense also helped lead Seattle back to the Super Bowl the following season. Two seasons after that, Quinn helped steward the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl as the team’s head coach.
It’s a tough task for Quinn to get the Cowboys to the levels of where the Seahawks were in his first season in Dallas but getting to the middle of the league in defense would be a great start. With how good the Cowboys’ offense is anticipated to be, a moderate improvement could make a big difference.
Quinn’s already finding a rhythm with the Cowboys that Nolan never had as Dallas has been able to practice more in person this offseason. His addition might be the best move that Dallas made this offseason.
Full offseason and McCarthy’s second season success
One of the factors in the disappointing 2020 was the lack of a normal offseason for a team trying to adjust to new systems and coaching on both sides of the ball. Things never quite clicked for the Cowboys in McCarthy’s first season, but with a more common offseason filled with on-field workouts instead of virtual learning sessions, a turnaround could be in the works.
At McCarthy’s last coaching stop, the Green Bay Packers went from 8-8 in his first year, to 13-3 in second season. The Packers went on to make the NFC Championship Game, a place the Cowboys haven’t been since 1995.
The Cowboys should benefit from another year under McCarthy and with the continuity of a regular offseason. At the very least, this upcoming season should look much more stable for the Cowboys than the previous version.
Do you think the Cowboys will be contenders in the NFC in McCarthy’s second season? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.