Cowboys kick off 2017 with high expectations

Plenty of questions face the Cowboys as they open the season tonight.

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Prescott
Nov 20, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) celebrates as he heads to the locker room after the game against the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Raven 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Opening Sunday of the 2017-2018 NFL season is here, the most wonderful time of the year. A new season brings new hope for thirty-two teams, who are all fighting for a Lombardi trophy.

For Cowboys fans, the expectations of hoisting the Lombardi trophy this season are as high as the 2008, 2010 and 2015 seasons were. Unlike 2008, 2010 and 2015, the Cowboys will “fight” to do something they haven’t done since 1999, make the playoffs for consecutive seasons. Although some may feel the Cowboys have the best roster since 2007, the breaks for a playoff berth should be pumped for three key reasons.

In 2016, it’s no secret the Cowboys caught fire thanks in large part to the play of rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. However, the strength of schedule was in their favor facing teams with a combined record of 119-137. In 2017, the Cowboys will be tested their opponents having a combined win-loss record of 136-120(.531 win percentage). On paper, the only two games the Cowboys should have no problem with are the Rams and 49ers. Teams such as the Broncos, Seahawks, Packers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers and defending NFC champion Falcons will be tough tests.

Not to mention, each team in the NFC east has improved dramatically in the offseason, most notably the New York Giants. Adding Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram to go alongside Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard will cause nightmares for opposing defenses. The Giants’ ability to move the ball through the air will also open up their running game, too. Many are discounting running back Paul Perkins who could have his breakthrough season. The Cowboys cannot afford to drop both games to the Giants like they did last season, adding emphasis to the opening night showdown.

La'el Collins
Aug 19, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett takes the field with tackle La’el Collins (71) and Tyron Smith (77) prior to the game against Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Another reason for concern is the Cowboys’ strength of 2016, may become a problem in 2017. The Great Wall of Dallas known as Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and La’el Collins could be the Achilles heel. Two offseason moves which aren’t being talked about enough are the departure of Ron Leary and the retirement of Doug Free. Both moves have changed the outlook of the Cowboys offensive line. La’el Collins is forced to move from left guard to right tackle. The transition has shown a lot of hiccups in the preseason, especially against Khalil Mack in the dress rehearsal.

Collins’ move to right tackle opens up left guard which has been the battle between Chaz Green and former first-round pick of the Cardinals, Jonathan Cooper. Green who has been injury plagued throughout his tenure with the Cowboys was once again battling injury this offseason. Cooper has received many reps this offseason, if Cooper ends up being the missing piece to the Cowboys line, the front office will look like geniuses for this signing at the end of last season.

It seems the front office is looking to give the job to Green, their third-round draft pick of 2015 to see if he can warrant their selection. I believe Green will start on Sunday Night, it’ll be interesting to see how he does against Snacks Harrison. My biggest concern is Tyron Smith who is dealing with back issues. If Smith misses time throughout the season, the Cowboys will be losing their most important piece on offense. A healthy Smith will be key to the Cowboys keeping their title of “The best offensive line in football”.

While one weakness was addressed this offseason, another was exposed. The pass rush of the Cowboys has been an issue since 2012, but this could be the best defensive line they have had in years. After a slow start from first-round pick Taco Charlton, he finally picked up some steam as pre-season progressed. Maliek Collins and Charles Tapper could be real difference makers.

Demarcus Lawrence may finally have his breakthrough year. While the pass rush could be fixed, the secondary has slowly become this team’s biggest weakness for the time being. Youth could be a team’s biggest blessing or a curse. Going young at a position is usually beneficial because of less likelihood of injury. However, the Cowboys have already seen sophomore Anthony Brown hurt along with rookie Jourdan Lewis.

Players
Aug 3, 2017; Canton, OH, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver J.J. Nelson (14) runs after a catch against Dallas Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown (30) during the first quarter at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys will use Nolan Carroll on the field to start the season, more than some may hope for. Drafting Chido and Jourdan Lewis in the 2017 NFL draft will pay off, however, it will take some time. As we saw with Morris Claiborne, cornerback is a difficult position to adjust to from the college to pro level.

Lewis most likely won’t be ready for Week 1 as he saw limited playing time in the month of August, hence why the Cowboys traded for veteran Bene Benwikere. Safety is also an issue, Jeff Heath looks to be a starting safety thanks to the loss of Barry Church to the Jaguars. I wouldn’t be surprised if Xavier Woods or Kavon Frazier take over for Heath as the season progresses. Expect teams to be pass-heavy when they face the Cowboys’ young secondary this season, especially the Giants on opening night.

Super Bowl aspirations should be the expectation every season, however, Dallas making the postseason would be an impressive feat and a step in the right direction. The Cowboys have lacked consistency from a team standpoint from season to season, could this finally be the year they break out? It’ll be an uphill climb. I expect an 8-8 season due to strength of schedule, offensive line health and a young secondary.

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