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Mick Shots: 'Hear' is the long road to victory


FRISCO, Texas – This just occurred to me out here at the second of two Cowboys OTA practices when Mike McCarthy was asked his general impression of the 2024 schedule.

Me, had previously centered my attention on the order of games, the clump of three games in 11 days games involving Thanksgiving and the fact of potentially having only two cold-weather road games from Nov. 24 on.

And now a week later, on second thought, here is what previously should have struck me about this schedule and the upcoming season:

The Cowboys must play better, much better, on the road.

Not sure why this escaped me, but that is a fact. Glaringly.

Why, during a 12-5 regular season, the Cowboys were 8-0 at AT&T Stadium and, in fact, had won 16 consecutive home games after losing the 2022 season opener, 19-3, to Tampa Bay. All that until losing that first-round home playoff game to Green Bay, 48-32.

But all five of the Cowboys' regular-season losses came on the road, going 4-5. And including the 2022 season also finishing 12-5, the Cowboys are now 8-9 on the road over the past two seasons – meaning nine of their past 10 regular-season losses have occurred on the road.

Got to be better. And if you think about it, one of their four road victories last year almost wasn't, squeaking by the Chargers in Los Angeles, 20-17. First-year kicker Brandon Aubrey broke up a 17-17 tie with 2:19 left in the fourth quarter thanks to a 39-yard field.

Also, the four road victories came against teams with losing records, a combined 17-51.

Now then, do the Cowboys suffer from road voodoo or does it come down to just who they are playing on the road? Take last season. Of the five road losses, four were to playoff teams: San Francisco, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Miami. The other, almost inexcusably, was to 4-13 Arizona, 28-16.

So this begs the question in 2024, just who do the Cowboys have to play on the road besides their three NFC East foes, the Eagles, Giants and Commanders? Well, glad you asked. The answer is Cleveland in the opener, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Atlanta and Carolina. Meaning four of those eight games against 2023 playoff teams.

And now we will find out if it's really the road or playing in the friendly confines of AT&T Stadium since five of the nine home games are against Philly, Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and Tampa Bay. All finished with winning records and all qualified for the playoffs with four being division winners (Eagles the exception). And two of those (Detroit and Baltimore) advanced to the conference finals.

Will this be the where the Cowboys play or who they play?

  • Wide Open: There is much talk about just who becomes the Cowboys third receiver behind CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks, and most of the discussion involves 2022 third-round draft choice Jalen Tolbert, who made a significant second-year jump, catching 22 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns after basically a washout rookie season. But hey, don't go to sleep on Jalen Brooks, last year's seventh-round draft choice. He's 6-1, 203 with speed, and has made some nifty catches during this week's OTA practice sessions. Also, let's not forget the speedy KaVontae Turpin. Just figure out how to get the ball in his hands. And this year's sixth-round pick, Ryan Flournoy, is no slouch. Don't let having gone to Southeast Missouri State diminish his perceived capabilities.
  • Three Wide: Once again, this is a sight for sore eyes, the Cowboys, having been purported to be a 4-3 defense, now actually employing three linebackers on the field at the same time. Saw it with my own eyes, Eric Kendricks, Damone Clark and rookie third-round draft choice Marist Liufau. Now, the still rehabbing DeMarvion Overshown (torn ACL) might have something to say about that third spot, but a 230-pound Overshown or a 234-pound Liufau, sure looks better out there against teams trying to run a two-tight offense or one with a fullback than having a 215-pound safety masquerading as a linebacker as the Cowboys were forced to do last year once losing Leighton Vander Esch.
  • Feed Him: Ezekiel Elliott sure seems a happy camper to be back with the Cowboys and back in Dallas, which he always considered home even after spending that one season last year with New England. Appears to be in good shape, sure has some jump in his step and resumes being a shining light in the locker room in his own quirky way. And on the field, still can't sit still. During special teams drills in the OTAs, and since he's one of the guys unlikely to be in coverage or on the return teams, instead of standing around watching, there Zeke goes over to where the QBs are throwing, inching out there to catch passes. As head coach Mike McCarthy said of Zeke, "Very impressed with him."
  • For Starters: Even though the Cowboys spent two of their first three draft choices on offensive linemen, Tyler Guyton in the first and Cooper Beebe in the third, they continue as usual deferring to veteran status at the start of these workouts. Out on the first-team offensive line, from left to right, has been veteran Chuma Edoga, Tyler Smith, Brock Hoffman, T.J. Bass (not needing to work 11th-year starter Zack Martin so soon) and Terence Steele. But both Guyton (LT) and (C) Beebe are working with the second team. Also, as McCarthy has pointed out, Bass is getting some reps at center, too. And as predicted, seventh-round choice Nathan Thomas, an offensive tackle in college, is working at guard, as is last year's fifth-rounder Asim Richards, a tackle at North Carolina.
  • Tidbits: Best move of the day was moving Wednesday's outdoor OTA workout at The Star inside to Ford Center just in time before a huge rainstorm blew through here … Cowboys having no problems with Micah Parsons once again working on his conditioning with personalized boxing workouts, though McCarthy saying Micah continues to check in with the team, having done so this past Friday, and likely will be back with the Cowboys during OTAs next week … Also, even though wide receiver CeeDee Lamb is trying to gain negotiating leverage by withholding services during these voluntary workouts, he has been in contact with the coaches as well with Dak Prescott saying, "He's ready to go, looks like CeeDee Lamb." … Kudos to Dak for taking part in the Children's Cancer Fund's $2.1 million donation to Children's Health here after Wednesday's OTA workout, having joined Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman as co-chairs in this past weekend's CCF's "Knight To Remember" fundraising gala, reminding one and all how, "Everybody in some way has been affected by this disease," and I'll second that.

Let's turn to QB for this week's final word, Dak asked if he's envious having to watch the Dallas Stars and Dallas Mavericks advancing to their respective conference finals when the Cowboys continue to come up short advancing to the NFC finals since last doing so during the 1995 Super Bowl winning season.

"Hell yeah, obviously supporting all the Dallas teams, been rooting them on through it all," Dak said. "Time to go get these conferences for both of them.

"It's not jealously. It fires you up, yeah, 100 percent. I mean, any competitor – damn sure in my position, leader of a team – understanding what winning means here, not getting it done and watching your brothers, you say, your brothers across the city going and making things happen. I want it for them, trust me I want it for them. It only raises the stakes and makes it tougher on me and I'm for that.

"So go win it, go win it. Rangers did it, the other two go do it. Put more f-ing pressure on us."

Hear, hear.

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