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Previewing the Dallas Cowboys

Expect Dallas to challenge the Eagles for the NFC East title again. The key is how Dak Prescott plays in big games.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott getting sacked by Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry in last year's game at the Linc.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott getting sacked by Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry in last year's game at the Linc.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Last year: 8-8, second place in NFC East. Missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

Coach: Mike McCarthy, first year with Dallas; Green Bay, 2006-18, 125-77-2.

Dates with the Birds: Nov. 1 at Philadelphia; Dec. 27 at Dallas.

Top offensive players: QB Dak Prescott (388-596 passing, 4,902 yards, 30 TDs, 11 INTs in 2019). RB Ezekiel Elliott (301-1,357 rushing, 12 TDs). WR Amari Cooper (79-1,189 receiving, 8 TDs). WR Michael Gallup (66-1,107, 6 TDs). OG Zack Martin (six straight Pro Bowl berths).

Top defensive players: LB Jaylon Smith (142 tackles). DE DeMarcus Lawrence (45 tackles, 5 sacks). LB Leighton Vander Esch (72 tackles).

What they are saying: The Cowboys and Prescott didn’t agree to an extension, and he had to settle for the franchise tag, playing for “only” $31.4 million this season. Maybe Dallas is worried that Prescott has trouble against quality teams. Last year, he was 2-7 against teams .500 or better and 6-1 against teams that had losing records.

Last year, with the division title on the line in the next-to-last game, he completed just 25 of 45 passes for 265 yards, no touchdowns, and a 74.5 passer rating in a 17-9 loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Cowboys have made the playoffs in two of his first four years, going 1-2.

So the biggest question will be: Can he show up in the big games?

That said, this has a chance to be an explosive offense. McCarthy called Gallup a No. 1 receiver despite the presence of Cooper. Galllup is one of the keys, but he said he wants to stay humble.

“You want to think of yourself as a No. 1 receiver, but I will never tell myself or say it to anybody else I am No. 1,” he said in an interview on the Cowboys website.

There is no doubt he will take pressure off Cooper, and so will rookie CeeDee Lamb, the No. 17 overall pick in the NFL draft from Oklahoma. Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb give the Cowboys among the best trios of receivers in the NFL.

Elliott remains among the top five running backs in the league, and despite the retirement of perennial Pro Bowler Travis Frederick, the offensive line remains among the best in football. A key will be keeping Martin and left tackle Tyron Smith healthy.

Dallas has added some aging players on defense who they hope have something left, such as 32-year-old defensive end Everson Griffen (8 sacks last season for Minnesota). The secondary has plenty of uncertainty. Trevon Diggs, a second-round pick from Alabama, should be a welcome addition.

Conclusion: The Cowboys should again battle the Eagles for the division title, but Prescott must prove he can elevate his game and that of his teammates for Dallas to be a playoff team.