The regular season is a few days away, but the questions persist around the Cowboys. A team that is expected to compete for another division title has a few unresolved issues that could prevent the team from reaching its potential this season.
Given some time to review the tape from each of the Cowboys' preseason games, I have come up with a set of questions that must be addressed early in the season to keep the team's title hopes alive. Here are five questions to consider:
Is Tyler Smith a franchise tackle?
If an offensive tackle is selected in the first round, the team expects him to develop into a blue-chip player with the potential to solidify the position for the next decade. Smith was expected to serve as an apprentice to Tyron Smith while spending his rookie campaign at left guard. However, an injury to the All-Pro tackle has forced the Cowboys to scrap their plans and insert the rookie at the marquee position on the offensive. How well the youngster fares could determine whether the Cowboys are able to claim back-to-back division titles and emerge as a viable title contender this season.
How much does Jason Peters have left in the tank?
It was sensible for the Cowboys to add a future Hall of Fame offensive tackle to the practice squad as an insurance policy against Smith's injury, but it is hard to imagine a 40-year-old player with an extensive injury history playing at a high level at this stage of his career. Although Peters started 15 games in 2021 for the Bears, the * time Pro Bowler did not play well as a blind side protector and it is hard to imagine him making significant improvements as a player. That said, the veteran's knowledge and wisdom could make him a valuable asset to the team as a mentor for Tyler Smith. As an accomplished edge blocker who is regarded as one of the best offensive tackles in the 2010s, he can offer to teach the youngster the nuances of playing the position in the practice and in the film room.
Who is WR2?
The decision to trade away four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper has elevated CeeDee Lamb into the No.1 role, but questions persist on which Cowboys' wideout will act as his sidekick in the passing game. Although Michael Gallup is the natural choice based on his previous production as a WR2/WR3, the veteran is returning to action following a season-ending knee injury that could alter his game or require some acclimation time when he returns to the lineup. The uncertainty put the pressure on a collection of unheralded wideouts to step up their respective games until No.13 is ready to reclaim his role as a primary playmaker. With Jalen Tolbert, Noah Brown, and Simi Fehoko vying for playing time, it could take a few games to settle the pecking order on the perimeter if Gallup is not ready to go at the beginning of the season.
Can Mike McCarthy clean up the penalty problems?
The Cowboys' miscues and blunders undermined their season in 2021. The team not only led the league in penalties (141) but the combination of sloppy play and poor situational awareness cost the Cowboys dearly in key moments. Despite promises to address the issue in the off-season, the team continued to struggle with penalties throughout the preseason, particularly in a preseason game against the Broncos that featured 17 penalties against the Cowboys. With the sloppiness and lack of situational awareness continuing to show up in the preseason, the coaching staff must find a way to curb the mistakes in practice to reduce the number of infractions that occur on game day. Although talking about it will not completely eliminate the issues, the Cowboys need to learn how to avoid penalties by utilizing officials in practice and pointing out every infraction that occurs on the field during a walk-through, practice, or game. By harping on the details at every turn, the Cowboys might be able to clean up some of the sloppiness
How will Dan Quinn transform the defense into a top 5 unit?
The Atlanta Falcons' former head coach turned the defense into a turnover machine in his first season as defensive coordinator. The defense led the league takeaways by emphasizing ball drills, punch-outs, and scoop-and-score sessions that helped foster a "take it away" mentality that showed up on game day. The Cowboys' star players swiped the ball at will and their penchant for creating turnovers masked some of the unit's deficiencies (rush defense and deep coverage) that proved costly in the post-season. With Quinn committed to simplifying the game plan and call sheets to help his star defenders play "fast and free" at all times, the Cowboys' renewed commitment to the fundamentals could help the defense play stifling defense in 2022. If Micah Parsons and Treyvon Diggs can lead a dynamic defense that is capable of winning with substance over sizzle, the Cowboys have enough talent (SEE: Anthony Barr, Dante Fowler, and Sam Williams) to create chaos at the line of scrimmage. Given how chaos and disruption impact the quarterback within the pocket, the turnovers could flow again with the Cowboys dialing up a variety of pressures from the second level designed to put their top playmakers in a position to chase the ball.