The football season is now officially over with the completion of the Super Bowl. This week's column focuses on things the Cowboys can learn from that game, plus other aspects to build from as they get ready for the offseason.
It's all about the quarterback.
The playoffs reminded the football world that the top teams must have difference makers at the quarterback position. Super Bowl LV only confirmed that sentiment with Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady playing critical roles in each of their team's successful playoff runs. The Cowboys have a Top 5 quarterback in the fold, but the contentious contract negotiations with Dak Prescott could leave the team without a game changer at the position.
While opinions differ in the Twitter-verse on whether No.4 is really an elite player, the Cowboys' coaches and executives got a chance to see what the team looks like without Prescott under center and the results should make them fork over the cash to keep their QB1. The 27-year old is a thermostat leader with an evolving game that has enabled him to average 300-plus yards since the beginning of 2019.
From his improved pocket presence to his pinpoint accuracy and ball placement, Prescott has evolved game manager to playmaker for the Cowboys. In addition, he has elevated the production and performance of the players around him. Ezekiel Elliott averages 11 more rushing yards (72.8 rush yards with No.4 compared to 61.5 rush yards without him) and almost 30 more scrimmage yards (107.4 scrimmage yards with No.4 compared to 78.0 scrimmage yards without him) with Prescott at the helm.
On the perimeter, Amari Cooper averages almost three more receptions (7.8 catches with No.4 compared to 4.8 catches without him) and 20 more receiving yards (84.8 receiving yards with No.4 compared 62.7 receiving yards without him) with Prescott leading the offense. The drastic difference in production proves that the Cowboys' QB1 makes those around him better.
At a time in which every franchise is looking for a "truck" at quarterback with the capacity to carry the offense to the Promised Land, the Cowboys should appreciate Prescott's potential to lead a deep playoff charge.
The Cowboys need to stockpile O-Line talent.
Super Bowl LV put the spotlight on the difference between the "haves" and "have nots" when it comes to offensive line depth. The Chiefs' offense unraveled with a pair of backup offensive tackles thrust into duty against a formidable frontline. The Buccaneers ran past the Chiefs' edge blockers like entering a Subway station through a turnstile without paying a fare. The constant harassment disrupted the flow of the NFL's hottest offense and made a mercurial talent like Patrick Mahomes run for his life for 60 minutes.
The Cowboys are well aware of the challenges of playing without their top blockers after spending the 2020 campaign without Tyron Smith and La'el Collins on the edges. The offense's inconsistent performance due to their blocking woes should encourage the team to invest draft capital and resources in a talented offensive linemen with starting potential. Whether that's draft a franchise tackle early in the draft or a versatile swing player with inside and outside capability, the Cowboys need to focus on having seven starting-caliber blockers on the roster.
Given their offensive firepower on the perimeter, the Cowboys must build a fortress in front of Prescott to enable him to throw the ball all over the yard while also having the luxury of grinding it out with Elliott leading the way. The offensive line has always been the strength of the team when the Cowboys are serious contenders. The upgrading the overall talent of the unit should remain a top priority to give the offense a fighting chance in every situation and circumstance.
Speed, speed, speed.
It doesn't take long to speed and athleticism from each team in Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs' high-powered offense features an Olympic-like 4 x 100-meter relay team on the perimeter with their wide receivers and tight ends blazing the turf with their speed and explosiveness. On the other side of the field, the Buccaneers were able to neutralize the Chiefs' electric offense with a lightning quick defense sparked by a pair of linebackers chasing ball carriers and pass catchers from sideline to sideline.
After watching Super Bowl LV, the Cowboys must compare the overall speed of the playmakers and defenders on their roster with the speedsters who took the stage on Sunday. The defense, in particular, needs more explosive athletes on the second and third level. The Cowboys must have enough speedsters on the field to neutralize some of the explosive offenses that are lighting up scoreboards around the league.
Dan Quinn wants to prioritize effort and energy from his players while utilizing a simple scheme . He needs some decathletes at his disposal to make his Xs and Os come to life. If the Cowboys want to close the gap on the title contenders, the roster needs an infusion of explosive athletic defenders this offseason.
Defense must be strong down the middle.
If you ask old school coaches how to construct a championship-level defense, they will quickly suggest building a unit that is strong down the middle. The presence of blue-chip defenders at defensive tackle, linebacker and safety is essential to fielding a unit with the capacity to control the middle of the field.
The Buccaneers overpowered the Chiefs with a defense that was loaded with dynamic playmakers like Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea, Devin White, Lavonte David and Antoine Winfield, Jr. occupying key roles in the middle of the defense. The collective strength, speed and explosiveness from the group stabilized a unit that could go toe to toe with any offense in the league. The overall talent, athleticism and explosiveness is required to neutralize elite offenses in the postseason tournament.
The Cowboys must assess their current personnel and determine if they have enough blue-chip players in those important spots. Moreover, they must make it a priority to upgrade the talent in the middle to optimize their chances of competing with the elites in the league. From defensive tackles to linebackers to safeties, the Cowboys need five-star players in each of those positions or they won't close the gap on the competition in 2021.
Can never have enough pass rushers.
Pass rushers are the most important position players on the defensive side of the ball in a pass-happy league. Elite defenses traditionally feature two or more pass rushers on the frontline to harass quarterbacks in the pocket. Some teams opt for a pair of edge defenders to attack the passer while others will partner an inside rusher with an athletic edge rusher to destroy the integrity of the pocket.
The Buccaneers and Chiefs showed the football world how each team-building approach could flourish in a league in which the quarterback must feel the pressure on every play. The Buccaneers relied heavily on Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett to harass the quarterback off the edges. Although they were occasionally joined by Suh* on a pass rush, the Buccaneers' edge rushers took turns pummeling quarterbacks into submission. The speed and snap count anticipation from each player gave them a decided edge in their one-on-one matchups.
Chris Jones and Frank Clark gave the Chiefs an inside-outside combination that created nightmares for offensive coaches around the league. The pocket pushing skills of Jones forced quarterbacks to move off their designated spots and into the hands of Clark crashing off the edge.
The Cowboys have an established pass rusher in Demarcus Lawrence but they need a complementary rusher to emerge (Randy Gregory?) or they could find themselves searching for a second pass rusher on the free agent market or in the draft. Considering the boom-or-bust prospects at edge rusher and defensive tackle, the Cowboys need to re-examine their own roster and determine if they're some developmental players with the potential to pop at a marquee position.