The Dallas Cowboys are looking to bounce back in a big way in the 2021 season. In 2020, the first season under Mike McCarthy, the defense was an absolute mess and injuries ravaged the roster. Despite that, the team still had a chance heading into the final weeks of the season at a playoff spot because of how poor the NFC East was.
This season, Dallas is hoping for some better injury luck and improvements from its defense. Dan Quinn, the former Atlanta Falcons head coach, will be taking over as defensive coordinator from Mike Nolan. There is optimism that his energy and adjustments gameplan-wise will get the most out of a defense that has some talent but couldn’t stop anyone in 2020.
Getting Dak Prescott back under center will also be a boon for the offense, but getting the offensive line healthy will truly determine how improved the offense will be.
Expectations are high once again in Dallas, as a talented roster just needs some molding from the coaching staff. Which players will help get Dallas back into the playoff picture? Here are two x-factors for the Cowboys in the 2021 season.
Tyron Smith, Offensive Lineman
Tyron Smith has been the left tackle for the Dallas Cowboys since 2012 when he moved over from the right tackle. Injuries have become an unfortunate norm for Smith, as he missed three games every season from 2016-2019 and he missed all but two games in 2020.
Getting him healthy and on the field is paramount for the Cowboys’ success as good left tackles are hard to come by and even more difficult to replace. Dak Prescott knows how important it is to have his offensive line healthy, as he recently said Smith, Zach Martin and La’el Collins are the three most important players on the team.
“They’re the most important, if you ask me,” Prescott said. “From the time that I got drafted until now, this offense is built off of those guys. They’re the three most veteran guys on this team, and that’s for a reason. Those guys are walk-in Pro Bowl guys when they’re healthy, future Hall of Famers. Just to have those three guys lead the five guys up front, everything starts with them. The run game, that allows the pass game to open up. When you have those guys back healthy, energized, it’s special.”
The Cowboys have a lot of star power and big named players at the skill positions. However, they cannot do their job if the offensive line is not performing up to par.
Randy Gregory, Defensive End
The Cowboys have long relied upon Demarcus Lawrence as their pass-rushing presence. They need more from him this upcoming season, but Randy Gregory is the real X-Factor.
When Gregory has played, he has shown that he can be a force as a pass rusher. The problem is getting him on the field to play.
Gregory was selected with the 60th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft out of Nebraska. In the six seasons since, he has appeared in only 38 games because of multiple suspensions. He has crossed the 300-snap threshold only once in his career, and that came in 2018.
Now 28 years old, Gregory is part of the team’s offseason program for the first time since a rookie. If they can get him up to speed and he stays out of trouble, the Cowboys will have a strong addition to their defense.