5 things that must go right for Cowboys to win big in 2022

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The Dallas Cowboys had a solid run in 2021 but ultimately fell short of their goals. While winning the Super Bowl is always what a team strives for, that was a huge question mark considering the horrific injury quarterback Dak Prescott was trying to return from.

A hot start gave the fans hope that over two decades of futility would end and the Cowboys would compete for a championship. That wasn’t to be as the team cooled in the second half before being bounced in the wild card round. Instead of knocking their heads against the wall with some players who couldn’t get it done, the organization decided to go in a different direction and do a small rebuild.

Gone are the players the Cowboys felt they couldn’t count on, missing are free agent additions of great reputation and in are rookies the team must hope can help get them over the hump. Mix it all together and here are five paths for a successful season for the Dallas Cowboys.

Dak Prescott leads the way

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys always have faith in their quarterbacks, sometimes too much so, which means Prescott might have to carry the team where they want to go. In the offseason, the front office saw fit to rid the team of its starting right tackle La’el Collins and a starting wide receiver in Amari Cooper. They also chose to not re-sign their starting left guard.

Those decisions could make like more difficult for Prescott. Prescott had a franchise record 37 touchdown passes last season, and he did it despite a nagging calf injury that hampered him down the stretch.

Now fully healthy and able to prepare for the upcoming season without worrying about his 2020 ankle injury, Prescott is in the proverbial best shape of his life.

That’s always fun to say in the offseason, but if it’s true in Prescott’s case, it could make for a more dynamic offense. Last year Prescott’s mobility was used sparingly as the team was weary of his comeback from his ankle injury. No such restriction applies this year and Prescott’s running ability adds another dimension to the offense.

Prescott has gotten better each season, and if that continues the Cowboys will ride their signal caller to success. If Prescott puts together that magical year and plays like Superman, it might be a special season in Dallas.

Micah Parsons transcends expectations

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The linebacker had a fantastic rookie season. Not only did Parsons lead the Cowboys in sacks and tackles for a loss, he did so while lining up at several different positions throughout the year. The impact of Parsons in his first season cannot be overstated, he led a turnaround from a defense that was embarrassed a year earlier.

After being an All Pro as a rookie, the potential is there for Parsons to be even better in his sophomore season. Parsons is already one of the NFL’s best defensive players and if he makes that leap as many second-year players do, he has the ability to carry the Dallas defense.

Parsons is preparing for another big year and has set a lofty goal of becoming the single-season sack leader, besting the current record of 22.5 sacks. That might be tall order considering Parsons doesn’t line up exclusively as a pass rusher, but it would be foolish to doubt him.

Although Parsons doesn’t need the gaudy sack total to takeover the Cowboys’ defense, it could transform them into one of the best units in the league. If Parsons backs up his rookie season with another spectacular campaign in 2022, he has the ability take the Cowboys farther than they’ve been since the turn of the century.

He can be that good.

Offensive line remake works

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

The Cowboys didn’t rebuild the entire offensive line, but they will have two new starters. It felt like the team could no longer trust Collins and decided to make the switch to Terence Steele at RT, who hasn’t been as good. Yet the Cowboys felt the improvement Steele continues to show and his experience with Collins out of the lineup the last two years will work out.

On the left side, the Cowboys replaced Connor Williams at guard with rookie Tyler Smith. The decision to draft Smith was met with some skepticism, but the rookie has shown a willingness to learn early on and the switch from his college position, LT, to LG might prove to make Smith a great selection.

The biggest question for the Cowboys remains at swing tackle. If left tackle Tyron Smith stays healthy for the majority of the season, all the worry could be for nothing. If the rookie Smith is needed at LT and plays well, Dallas has set themselves up for their future.

There are also young tackles Josh Ball, a second-year player, and Matt Waletzko, a rookie, who are competing for the Cowboys’ swing tackle.

It might feel foolish for the Cowboys to put most of their eggs in Steele and Smith’s baskets, but if it works out and both help boost what was a stagnant offensive line, the gamble will pay off. An improvement from this unit could make the Cowboys’ offense even better than last year.

Defensive line depth fulfills their promise

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Cowboys have a plethora of prospects on the defensive line who could take the next step. Defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa and the versatile Chauncey Golston had some nice moments last season, but weren’t consistent factors as rookies. That could change in their second year with a full offseason under their belts.

Fellow DT Neville Gallimore, who is heading into his third year, is primed to breakout and Trysten Hill is still just 24-years old despite being pushed down the depth chart.Nose tackles  Quinton Bohanna and rookie John Ridgeway also have the ability to become good run stuffers, something the defense desperately needs.

On the edge, the Cowboys still have DeMarcus Lawrence, who remains one of the best two-way defensive ends in the game. If he can avoid the injury bug that’s hit him the last few years, he could hit double-digit sacks for the first time since 2018.

Dallas brought in Dante Fowler, who has an 11.5 sack season to his name to pair with emerging Dorance Armstrong and Tarell Basham on the outside. Rookie Sam Williams rounds out a group that might not be feared yet, but could be a very good pass rushing group by season’s end.

If Lawrence returns to form, Fowler lives up to his lofty draft status and Williams can produce, the Cowboys have a formidable pass rush to pair with their potential on the inside. If any of these youngsters turn out to be real players and it all works out on the defensive line the Dallas defense has very good young group in the trenches.

Watch out for the Cowboys on defense if its defensive line finds a few stars.

Rookie class balls out

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys are a team that relies on their drafts to restock positions of need. With the departures this offseason, that led to the team selecting players at specific places where they were weak.

In the first three rounds, the Cowboys got players they hope can contribute right away if the team is going to build off last season’s momentum and replace what they lost. Smith is the biggest piece of the puzzle. If he can be an upgrade from his predecessor, it could catapult the line back to dominance.

Second-round pick Sam Williams has a little more latitude to grow into his role because they defense does have some options at pass rusher. However, if Williams can quickly acclimate to the pro game and become a force off the edge, it would help offset Randy Gregory’s loss.

Wide receiver Jalen Tolbert has an opportunity to have an impact almost immediately. The third-round selection won’t have much competition early in the season with fellow receiver Michael Gallup expected to miss time. Veteran WR James Washington was added this spring to pitch in and appears to be Tolbert’s only real road block to significant playing time.

Coming from a non-FCS college means Tolbert needs to pick things quickly and make the most of his chances. If Tolbert plays well it could prove the Cowboys were right for moving on from Cooper.

Of course Dallas’ draft was nine players deep and if they get significant contributions from eight of them (LB Damone Clark is likely sitting out this year), it could make for another postseason appearance. If the top three picks are home runs, the season could be special.

You can chat with or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi

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