DALLAS — It wasn’t the result anyone wanted, but the Dallas Cowboys hung with the Super Bowl champions in the season opener. There aren’t any moral victories in big-boy football, yet the Cowboys did accomplish some good things in the loss that should fill them with confidence about where their season is headed.
Here are five things we discovered about the Cowboys during their last-second Week 1 defeat against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Dak Prescott is fine - There didn’t seem to be many doubters in the organization, but for those outside the team, no one really knew what to expect from Prescott. After missing all but four and a half games last season, and a summer and preseason where Prescott didn’t get the normal amount of time to work with the starters before getting sidelined with shoulder woes in camp, it didn’t look like there was any rust for Dak to shake off.
Of all the things to learn about the team in Week 1, Prescott’s ability to rebound from last season’s injury was far and away the most important. Against a defense that won a championship earlier this year, Dak’s ankle looked fine and held up under some duress. The franchise QB threw the ball well, so the shoulder didn’t appear to be an issue, and he was able to take some big hits and keep going.
Everything you wanted to see from Prescott came in one game, and it all came out positive. We learned that Prescott, health-wise, is good to go and that’s great news for the Cowboys.
Kellen Moore isn’t afraid of being aggressive - Rare is the game plan where you have your QB drop back and throw it 58 times, especially early in the season. The number of passes was also an unlikely total against a team that sports one of the most aggressive defensive fronts in football.
However, the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator was not scared to attack with Prescott and a talented group of skill players. Moore’s strategy wasn’t to run the football for minimal gains and hopeful third down gambles. Instead, he chose to be aggressive with pushing the ball down the field and throwing on first downs. It worked as the Cowboys produced 451 yards of offense.
Dallas needs to be better in the red zone - The work between the 20s was great, but the offense got bogged down in the red zone. Failing to score touchdowns cost the Cowboys dearly in a game where a final minute drive by Tom Brady was the difference. Dallas needs to improve on the red zone offense and Moore could stand to improve on his play-calling in that area.
Perhaps, with the return of Zack Martin, and the ability to feature running back Ezekiel Elliott more near the goal line, Moore and the Cowboys will have additional short-yardage options to punch the ball into the endzone with more regularity going forward.
Defensive rotations were a disaster - The Cowboys mentioned before the game how they were planning to rotate their defense to stay fresh in the Florida humidity. They weren’t lying. Second and third-string defensive linemen saw too many snaps and it burned them.
On the Buccaneers’ game-winning drive, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory weren’t on the field enough. It’s frustrating to know that the two best pass rushers on defense were nowhere to be found on key plays as Brady led his offense into field goal range to win in the game’s waning seconds.
It’s important to rotate your defenders, especially in the first few weeks of the season when players are working themselves into shape. However, leaving your most impactful defenders on the sidelines during crunch time seems like a grave mistake.
Connor McGovern is a player - There was a lot of worrying when it was announced that All-Pro guard Zack Martin would miss the game due to COVID-19 protocols, but 2019 third-rounder McGovern filled in and played well.
It was a tough matchup to be thrown into at the last minute and McGovern held his own against Vita Vea, Ndamukong Su, and a strong pass rushing group from the Buccaneers. Now the Cowboys know that they can count on McGovern if they need him as their best reserve interior offensive lineman.
McGovern’s services might be needed again with La’el Collins expected to be out on a five-game suspension. It’ll be interesting to see what the team does to replace Collins. If the goal is to get the best five linemen on the field, they might move Martin to RT and play McGovern at RG. If that doesn’t happen and Martin comes back at his usual guard position, McGovern will await his next opportunity.
Either way, the Cowboys must be glad that they didn’t trade McGovern when they had offers in August.
Do you feel like you learned more about where the Cowboys are headed in 2021 after Week 1? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.