Every year, every writer, blogger and content creator feels some type of way about the team they cover. By a majority, those covering the Dallas Cowboys were not very enthusiastic about the chances of the 2022 version of the franchise. Offseason moves that were and weren’t made were the biggest area of concern, but there was an overall malaise surrounding the fanbase and media from the way the 2021 campaign ended.
In 2021, Dallas raced out to a hot start, quarterback Dak Prescott got injured and things fell apart down the stretch. A couple huge scoring outputs against overmatched and not trying foes allowed Dallas to end the year as the league’s top scoring team, but they fizzled at home in the wild-card round in inglorious ran-out-of-time fashion. That funk carried over through free agency where they appeared to get worse not better and the stench of the loss marinated longer than any in a long time.
Against that back drop, I made a series of early September predictions about what the Cowboys were facing, how they’d perform and ultimately their regular-season record. With one more week to go against a team that doesn’t seem like they’ll put up much fight, Dallas appears on the verge of a 13-win season. It’s only right to look back on all of the things we thought at the time and score them.
In two separate articles, I wrote about 10 bad things I’m thinking about the Cowboys in 2022, followed by 10 good things. The 10 bad things was shared 10x more than the 10 good things. That should give everyone an idea of the fanbases thoughts during early September.
So here’s how we’ll grade each of those 20 thoughts:
Nostradamus (100% accurate)
Spot On (90% accurate or better)
Good Call (60% – 90% accuracy)
Mediocre (40% – 60% accuracy)
Bad Call (less than 40% accurate)
To Be Determined (can’t be graded just yet)
Good Thing: The defense absolutely can lead the league in turnovers again
Here’s why I believe the Cowboys could lead the league again. Their pass rush should be better. Despite the hand wringing over losing Randy Gregory to a free-agency fiasco; if Tank Lawrence is healthy for a full season then that’s a net gain. Micah Parsons is now in Year 2.
The Cowboys had 34 turnovers in 2021. No one, and I mean NO ONE else thought they were going to do it again, because regression to the mean and all that. They won this by a single turnover last year; two teams forced 33.
This year Dallas has 32 going into the final week and has a five-turnover lead over second place.
Bad Thing: It's taking too long to fix OL problem areas
Mike McCarthy’s initial staff construction in joining Dallas didn’t work out well. On defense, coordinator Mike Nolan and assistant’s Jim Tomsula and Mo Linguist were all shown the door after just one season. The offensive staff, McCarthy’s side of the ball, has remained intact, but that includes maligned line coach Joe Philbin.
If the only top-tier play out of the OL comes from first-round picks, then there’s a problem with the coach.
Good Thing: Dak Prescott is going to be a force in the run game
“Remember, he had six rushing touchdowns in each of this first three seasons and averaged just under 20 yards a game until that horrific injury. In 2021 he averaged just nine yards a game.”
Prescott’s improved his average yards per game, but he’s still nowhere near where he was earlier in his career. Through 16 games he has 166 yards, a 4.3 average per carry up from an abysmal 3.0, but has still only scored one touchdown.
Grade: Bad Call
Bad Thing: Michael Gallup will play sooner rather than later, but may not be "himself" this season
ACL surgeries might have progressed to the point he’ll make a miraculous return to the field in just 8-9 months, but at what level?
At his best, Gallup is a field stretcher, a player with uncanny jump ability capable of dominating contested catch points. It feels unlikely.
The Cowboys should have seen this coming, Gallup is a shell of himself in 2022. He’s had one or two flashes, but everything is off. Hopefully the true Gallup returns in 2023.
Good Thing: KaVontae Turpin is going to be what Stephen Jones wanted Tavon Austin to be
He’ll be the primary kick return guy, primary punt return guy and he also will get gadget plays. But perhaps Turpin will be a full replacement for Cedrick Wilson in that he was also be a viable receiving option for Prescott. He looked capable in the USFL, now he’ll just have to prove it on the biggest stage. He shouldn’t be doubted.
Turpin has made the Pro Bowler as a returner, but his usage in the offense has been non-existent. I’d love for this to be a Long Con that Dallas will utilize in the playoffs, but I’ve fooled myself too many times.
Bad Thing: The young wideouts aren't going to contribute as much as Dallas hopes
They probably won’t get what they are looking for here. Tolbert was spotty through preseason, the others showed promise in training camp as down roster guys. But when the lights come on? It’s a tall ask they’ll be ready to assume roles in a No. 1-ranked offense, and that’s the standard in Dallas.
Absolutely zero contributions.
Good Thing: Ezekiel Elliott and the run game can have a great year
Dallas finished ninth in rush yardage in 2021; expect them in the top 5 in 2022 with at least 2,400 ground yards.
With one game to go Dallas has 2,234 rushing yards. While that only ranks seventh that’s due to the Bears, Ravens and Eagles’ QB-driven rushing attacks. Dallas also has 24 rushing TDs, which ranks second.
Grade: Spot On
Bad Thing: Kellen Moore's game design could hinder the team
“He had difficulty putting together entire-game gameplans last year, and failed to adjust to adjustments defenses made to him over the course of the year. To ascend to elite status, he’s got to do a better job of having plays flow into each other.
One note, in 2021, Dallas ranked second in the league in first-half touchdowns with 31. They dropped to 12th in the second half with just 23. “
Moore has done a much better job of reacting to opposing adjustments. Through 16 games Dallas has scored more TDs in the second half than the first, 27 to 24.
Good Thing: Will McClay's worth will once again be proven
McClay’s ability to consistently identify talent at the collegiate level is paramount to the Cowboys success because they don’t go hard in the other two phases of talent acquisition: free agency and trading.
There will be another core of youth who steps up to the plate over the course of the season, including one or two that emerge to be actual stars.
DaRon Bland has five interceptions in 10 games as a fifth-round pick. Sam Williams is the fourth-highest graded rookie edge despite being the 10th taken and buried behind four vets. Jake Ferguson is likely TE1 in 2023. Damone Clark is getting major run when most thought he’d have to redshirt.
Grade: Spot On
Bad Thing: Mike McCarthy may not see Year 4 in Dallas
“The expectations in Dallas are allegedly Super Bowl or bust, but Jason Garrett survived almost a decade without ever going to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. McCarthy failing to get Dallas further than last year’s first-round exit may be the last of the coach who seems to finally relaxing around the media.”
Dallas has made it back to the postseason, so that’s a plus, but that first playoff game will likely decide the head coach’s future.
Grade: To Be Determined
Good Thing: Micah Parsons will win Defensive Player of the Year
Parsons was the leading candidate through three quarters of the season and has definitely staked his claim to being one of the best defenders in the game. But he hasn’t garnered many sacks over the last several games, and others like Nick Bosa have. He may not win it, but he’s certainly still in the conversation.
Grade: Spot On
Bad Thing: Anthony Barr may not be much of a contributor
“Barr is now oft-injured, missing 25 games over four years and now four seasons removed from his last Pro Bowl. If he’s just a mentor, he didn’t cost much, but he’s been brought in to produce on the field.”
Barr has missed three games and while he’s had a handful of wow plays they’ve mostly come from when he is coming down hill. He has been more of a liability on passing downs than a helper and the defense has struggled when he’s the top off-ball linebacker when Leighton Vander Esch is out.
Grade: Spot On
Good Thing: Brett Maher could be really good
“One of the reasons I based those candidates on is the bounce-back philosophy that seems to happen to kickers. Oftentimes, kickers emerge after getting their feet wet. Things may not work out for them immediately, or they may suffer a down year and then bounce back. Maher firmly fits as a candidate for this to happen to him.
Also, that big leg means that Dallas isn’t going to have to worry about what all of their opponents will, kickoff returns.”
Maher has been absolutely magic for the Cowboys, now accurate from up close, still with one of the biggest legs in the game. Absolutely win for them.
Bad Things: This could be the final season in Dallas for a bunch of fixtures
“Tyron Smith, Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz appear at the top of the list on offense, but Tony Pollard is in the final year of his deal, too.
On defense it’s not the stars who could walk but still plenty of integral pieces. Anthony Brown and Donovan Wilson in the secondary are in the final years of their deals, while 2018 and 2019 top picks Leighton Vander Esch and Trysten Hill are in walk years as well.”
Good Thing: Malik Hooker is going to play like a first-round pick
“In 2022, it will be Hooker who takes the spotlight. The former first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts is primed to play like the prospect he was coming out of Ohio State before all of the injuries piled up.”
Hooker has been solid, making several plays and generally patrolling the deep centerfield to good effect. He’s also been at fault for, or at least a contributing factor in, a couple of Dallas’ biggest blunders in pass coverage. He’s been good, but not a “first-round pick” level performance.
Grade: Bad Call
Bad Thing: Rookie tight ends behind Schultz are going to have meaningful growing pains
“Fourth-round rookie Jake Ferguson and UDFA Peyton Hendershot both appear to have promise, but the state of the offensive line dictates that TE2 is going to have a lot of blocking responsibilities, and that’s a lot to put on Day 3 and post-draft rookies.”
Both young TEs have the dog in them and have shown plenty promise as receivers, but neither has held a candle to Schultz in run blocking grades (Schultz is fourth in the NFL per PFF, Ferguson 46th, Hendershot 48th). Even with Hendershot’s drop, no one is unhappy with how these two have performed, so a negative prediction can’t be measured as correct.
Good Thing: CeeDee Lamb is going to be force-fed, and he's going to eat well
“Lamb was already the Cowboys No. 1 receiver, but the Kellen Moore offense has always been about Prescott finding the open receiver. This year, there will be a focus on getting the best player the ball as much as possible. His 120 targets in 2021 should balloon to the atmosphere of where Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp reside. 9-to-12 looks per game will have Lamb approaching 1,500 yards on the season.”
9.3 targets per fame, 1,307 receiving yards with one more to go.
Grade: Spot On
Bad Thing: Problems with run defense may not be resolved
“Dallas is going to have to get their act together; even in a pass-first league a weakness in stopping the run will result in lengthy opponent drives that can take those deep shots at will and still come back and convert shorter third downs.”
The run defense, which I continue to say is one of the least important facets of a team, has improved significantly. They rank 5th in defensive rush DVOA after being 17th last season.
Despite some games where they gave up big yardage, they have not been burned by it. Dallas chose to make an in-season move to acquire Johnathan Hankins but they’ve only had four games out of 16 where their DVOA was positive (negative is good for defense).
Grade: Bad Call (thankfully)
Good Thing: Division Title Defense
“The Eagles are improved. The Giants will improve solely by having a competent coach, but the roster is still in need of help. Washington’s QB play will be improved, but not by much and their org is a dumpster fire.
Dallas should eek out the division win by a game, becoming the first back-to-back NFC East champions since 2003-2004.”
A second-half collapse against Jacksonville away from this being a Nostrodamus…
Grade: TBD but likely Bad Call
Bad Thing: They might "keep that same energy"
“The energy around the organization has been one of sadness, disappointment, malaise and in some cases toxic.
The offseason was not fun, following the head coach stating that his team was nervous going into the wild-card home game.
The malaise over the way 2021 ended cascaded into one bad headline after another. So while hope is rekindled every training camp, it won’t take much for the fanbase and potentially the organization to backslide into bad vibes.”
I made a horrible mistake here, equating the mood of the fanbase with the mood of the people inside the building. I normally don’t err this way but fortunately I was proven wrong.
Mike McCarthy’s resilience mantra rings absolutely true. After losing Prescott for five weeks, this team immediately rose to the occasion and hasn’t lost back-to-back weeks all season. They did keep the same energy; a belief in their ability and thankfully didn’t let the Eeyore section of the fanbase steal their mojo.
Grade: Bad Call
Defense will lead league in turnovers again
Brett Maher being awesome
OL is going to be a problem
Michael Gallup won’t be good
Young wideouts will be of no help
Spot On Predictions
CeeDee Lamb’s ascension
Anthony Barr won’t contribute much
Micah for DPOY
Will McClay gets another scout-god perk
Run game is going to bounce back
Rookie TE growing pains
Kellen Moore’s adjustment issues
Turpin will be a weapon in both phases
Bad Call Predictions
Keep that same energy
Run defense still an issue
Malik Hooker ascension
Prescott will be a run-game force
Division title defense
Final seasons in Dallas for group of players
McCarthy may not see Year 4