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The reasons to be intrigued by the Cowboys’ chances in 2020

With Training Camp ramping up in the NFL, it’s time to start thinking about the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys and how they can win in 2020.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (19) celebrates his touchdown with teammate wide receiver Michael Gallup (13) in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Dallas Cowboys have reported to the facility and are about to get things going in training camp. 

While this season was already going to be unlike any we’ve seen from the Cowboys in a decade, the COVID-19 pandemic is making things drastically different for the entire league.

Without preseason, it might be tough to get a gauge for how the team will look, but here are a few things to be excited for this season in Dallas should the NFL be able to go on as planned:

New coaching staff

For the better part of a decade, Cowboys fans had a familiarity with the coaching staff. Jason Garrett led the offense with his philosophy of being physical in the trenches, establishing the run, and taking shots in the passing game when it was advantageous. 

Of course, there were times where things went off script, but for the most part, you knew who the Cowboys were offensively.

On defense, it was much of the same. Rod Marinelli believed in swarming to the ball, playing off man in coverage to prevent big plays, using stunts to get to the quarterback and rarely blitzing. 

The idea was to force opponents to sustain long drives and make them make mistakes before putting points on the board.

Both philosophies worked to an extent, but the franchise never got over the hump under the old staff.

Enter an entirely new staff with new styles and a more aggressive approach on each side of the ball. Gone are the days where everyone seemed to know what play was coming on offense or getting frustrated watching Cowboys corners allowing a completion on third and short because they were playing off coverage. 

New head coach Mike McCarthy kept offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and will tweak the offense with a more aggressive approach and you can expect to see the defense under Mike Nolan utilize more blitzing packages to keep pressure on opposing QBs.

The Cowboys also have a new dedication to improving special teams, which had fallen off in the last few seasons. They brought in John Fassel to bring a necessary fresh approach to the special teams units.

It’s an impressive group that is now tasked with getting a talented Cowboys roster to clear the Divisional playoff round hurdle, something Dallas hasn’t done in 25 years.

Skill players are skilled

It’s no secret that the Cowboys have one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. Quarterback Dak Prescott continues to get better and he has a multitude of weapons at his disposal. 

The trio of wide receivers atop the depth chart for Dallas is arguably the best in the league as the team brings back two 1,000 yards receivers – Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup – and one of the best rookie wideouts – CeeDee Lamb - as their top selection from the draft. 

Add in a more athletic tight end in Blake Jarwin, who is capable of stretching the field in ways that Jason Witten had aged out of, and the receiving options have never been better for Prescott. 

To his credit, Prescott also took advantage of the time where the players couldn’t all workout together in the spring. He had a field built so he could get his reps in with his weapons so that they can be as sharp as they are able to be with September around the corner.

Of course, in addition to the newfound air raid, there is always star running back Ezekiel Elliott to contend with from out of the backfield where he stands behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. 

Elliott is one of the top backs in the sport and with the explosive Tony Pollard behind him, the Cowboys also boast possibly the best RB duo in the NFL.

Defenses will be having nightmares about how to slow down the Dallas offense, and that should excite every Cowboys fan.

Defense allowed to let out their aggression

The word blitz seemed a tad foreign for the Cowboys’ defense in the past few years, but that is about to change under Nolan. Be prepared to see the defense attack more. DeMarcus Lawrence should see his sack totals get back into double figures with an aggressive scheme and there is hope for a resurrection from DE Aldon Smith. 

Fans might also want to get excited by the thought of Jaylon Smith coming off the edge and hopefully, rookie Bradlee Anae can add some pass rush.

There might be some questions about the depth at edge rusher for the Cowboys, but expect a more aggressive approach with their talented starters.

The same can be said in the secondary, where the former staff favored a soft man coverage approach and dictated playing the receiver, rather than the ball. The results weren’t good enough and the defense had issues creating turnovers and were especially inept at intercepting passes. Tasked with sustaining drives, too often opposing offenses simply obliged.

Hopefully, the change to playing more man and turning to play the ball will result in more secondary takeaways. The adjustment in the style of defense might make a major difference in the secondary and perhaps we’ll see the best in players whose skill sets favor a more aggressive approach such as cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.

Special teams could be special again

The Cowboys had one of the worst special teams units in the NFL over the last few years. Making field goals was an issue, Chris Jones has drastically declined as a punter where he ranked last in the league in 2019, and the coverage units were abysmal. The team also gained close to no value in their return games recently.

The arrival of “Bones” Fassel gives hope to a revival on special teams. Even a modest improvement can provide the Cowboys with the extra help they need to win close games. 

The Cowboys weren’t that far away from being a playoff team in 2019 and they have the look of a serious contender in 2020. There are things to be excited about in all facets of the team, which should make for an interesting season for the Cowboys.

What are you most excited to watch from the 2020 Cowboys? Share your thoughts with Ben Grimaldi on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.