Just a season ago, the Cowboys finished the 2015 season with an abyssal 4-12 record, the worst in the entire NFC. Tony Romo was hurt the majority of the season, and the Cowboys went 1-11 without him at the helm. In the third week of the 2016 preseason, the Cowboys got more devastating news, as Romo was set to miss an extended period of time with a back injury.
However, unlike last season, the Cowboys had a reliable quarterback who took his place and now have the best running game to go with it. Dez Bryant is getting healthy at the right time and the Cowboys still have the best offensive line in the NFL by a long shot.
As a result, the Cowboys have the best record in the league, and are winners of 11 straight games. Dallas is also the first team to punch a ticket to the postseason. At this point, nobody would blame you if you predicted Dallas to be the Super Bowl LI champion, as the Cowboys seem to be nearly impossible to beat. Key word: nearly.
As we’ve seen in recent history, Dallas has had great regular season success, only to fall flat in the postseason. Like every other team, Dallas has weaknesses that can be exploited. But, what are they? What stands in the way of Dallas and another ring?
- Jerry Jones
Jones isn’t a player or a coach for the Cowboys, but he still has a huge say as to what happens to his football team. Jones is known to get too involved in team decisions, which could potentially put the Cowboys in harm’s way. We all know how fond Jones is of Romo, and it’s not totally out of the question to see Jones encourage head coach Jason Garrett put Romo in if Prescott starts to struggle. A decision like this could do more harm than good, which could potentially end Dallas’ reign of terror of the entire league.
- A subpar secondary
Dallas’ secondary has had their fare share of struggles this season. In fact, the Cowboys’ pass defense is ranked 29th in the NFL in yards allowed and has tallied the second-fewest interceptions in the league (four). Dallas hasn’t recorded an interception in five straight games, which is cause for concern, especially since the playoffs are lurking around the corner. Opposing teams will take advantage of this, which could spell trouble for the Cowboys in the postseason.
- Prescott’s inexperience
Dak Prescott has looked like anything but a rookie in 2016, and is a serious contender the win the NFL MVP award this season for his stellar, and surprising, performance thus far. So far this season, Prescott has only thrown two interceptions in 12 games, all while completing an impressive 67.9 percent of this passes. However, history doesn’t favor inexperienced quarterbacks in the postseason. In case you weren’t aware, no rookie quarterback has ever won a Super Bowl before – ever. If Prescott wants to defy history, he can’t afford to miss passes to open receivers, and he can’t afford to be strip-sacked, which has been one of the only problems Dallas has encountered in 2016.
- Elliott wearing down
This is truly a nightmare scenario for the Cowboys, but it could very well happen. Ezekiel Elliott has already carried the football an astounding 263 times this season. Dallas needs to avoid overworking him at all costs, as he is a crucial element to Dallas’ success this season. At the rate Zeke is going, he could potentially finish the season with 350 or more carries. Keep in mind, Elliott isn’t just a running back; he blocks for Prescott in the backfield on some plays while catching passes from Prescott in the backfield on others. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, no matter how young and fresh they are.
- Potential injuries later on down the road
The Cowboys have already been bitten by the injury bug in 2016, watching Tyron Smith, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, and La’el Collins all go down at some point this season. It’s no secret Dallas has depth, but an injury to a player like Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, or even Sean Lee has potential to send the Cowboys’ season up in flames. The NFL is an unpredictable league. Any player could get injured at any moment.
- A weak pass rush
Dallas’ inability to rattle opposing quarterbacks is a legitimate cause for concern. Dallas has only racked up 23 sacks this season, which ranks 22nd in the league. Their sack leader is Tyronne Crawford, who was a defensive tackle once upon a time. In other words, the Cowboys don’t have a pass rusher who can make an impact in the game by giving opposing offensive lines trouble on the edge. This gives opposing quarterbacks more time to wait for a play to develop, which could result in a big gain since Dallas’ secondary isn’t phenomenal either. The Cowboys have nobody but themselves to blame for this one. They ignored a pass rusher during free agency, the draft, and even before the trade deadline. It may come back to bite them later.
- The Seattle Seahawks
Even without Earl Thomas, or a competent offensive line, the Seahawks are the best team standing in Dallas’ way. The whole reason the Cowboys have been so successful this season is because of their ability to protect and run the football. Seattle, on the other hand, is excellent at both stopping the run and creating turnovers, making them a huge threat to Dallas. Because the rest of the NFC has been rather underwhelming this season, the possibility of these teams meeting in the NFC Championship game is high. If the Seahawks neutralize the Cowboys’ run game and force turnovers, this game could get ugly, as Russell Wilson has many dangerous weapons at his disposal, and should have no problem shredding the Cowboys’ defense, which is nothing out of the ordinary. If these teams met in the playoffs, the Seahawks could easily walk away victorious.