Sunday marked the last day of the preseason, meaning meaningful football is on the horizon. All the hope, expectation and optimism that exists in every NFL fan will soon be tested. But we cannot ignore the past four weeks.
Yes, pre-season wins and losses are largely irrelevant. You can read more about the impact of preseason success on regular season performance here. However, with the Dallas players entering the field for the first time in 214 days, there are some important headlines that shouldn’t be ignored.
While we’re taking a look at the most intriguing take-out of the preseason, these trends should be taken lightly. This is less of a statement about the future of the team and more of an idea of ââwhat Cowboys fans should be looking for.
Cowboys focus on defense in draft paid off
As Dallas has selected six straight defensemen to start the draft, it’s clear where the Cowboys’ priorities lie. That dedication to defense paid off with four preseason games. Again, it wasn’t meaningful football, but the rookies are off to a good start.
The first-year Cowboy defensemen performed as well as we could have hoped. Of the last twelve defenses in 2020, only the Detroit Lions have seen greater production from their top three defensive picks in preseason. These numbers don’t even include Jabril Cox, who we’ll get to later.
The emergence of Micah Parsons has obviously been the headliner of the Cowboys preseason. Not only did the first-round pick score the best defensive score in the race among all rookies, he finished as an 18e Defensive player rated according to Pro Football Focus. Of the 972 defensemen who saw 20 or more snaps in the preseason, Parsons finished among the best.
The focus on Micah Parsons has eclipsed how successful Jabril Cox has been. The fourth-round pick finished with a 5.9% missed tackle rate, well below the preseason average of 12.3%. With the second highest number of tackles among all rookies, it’s clear Cox has the ability to reach for the ball and finish the game.
While not all defensive rookies played perfect football, it was a breath of fresh air after the 2020 defense that we saw. Put simply, the Cowboys rookies should give fans hope the defense will improve in 2021.
Special teams are a factor to watch out for
In terms of Pro Football Focus standings, the Cowboys finished with the second worst special teams of the preseason. This is not an indictment against John Fassel, and it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. The kicking and returning units were not playing with their normal starters. Very little, if any, value should be given to this final mark.
However, there isn’t much depth when it comes to Cowboys specialists. Over four games, the Cowboys kickers have only converted 57.1% of their baskets. Dallas would need to find a competent free agent quickly if Greg Zuerlein were to be injured again. Assuming full health, this will likely be a non-issue. But for a team that has attempted the most field goals in 2020, having a kicker save plan wouldn’t be the worst idea.
The return of punt is also a facet to consider. While CeeDee Lamb is expected to retain this role in 2021, the WR star cannot be placed in an unnecessary risk position forever. It was speculated that Cedrick Wilson could take on this task, but only Johnny Dixon and Reggie Davis got the chance during the preseason. Obviously, neither of these players is the answer.
Dixon and Davis averaged 3.7 yards of punt returns per attempt in their six combined preseason returns. It would have been by far the lowest in 2020 of anyone who returned more than five punts. Again, it’s not a problem if Lamb is going to continue to field punters. But with Lamb set to play an increased role in the coming season, other options must be considered.
The WR Cowboys body runs deep
This section will not include any discussion of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, or Michael Gallup. They are great at what they do; we didn’t need proof of that in the preseason. It was the other Cowboy receivers who shone in the preseason.
Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Malik Turner and Simi Fehoko all finished with a contested catch rate above the preseason average. These four people also averaged a score of 85.0 when targeted. This is especially impressive considering the Cowboys quarterbacks finished with a 68.0 passer rating when they didn’t target any of those four.
The number of WRs the Cowboys will carry is still in question. However, if you are forced to choose between these four, this is a good position. Even though Wilson and Brown are the only ones on the list, they have proven that both can produce at a very efficient level.
Hope it was a warm up for the backup offensive line
As 2020 saw the line constantly spinning, it was messy at times. That’s why we can attribute the performance of the offensive line in the preseason to defining a healthy line.
That being said, it wasn’t a good performance for the in-game Cowboys who are likely to make the final roster. Ty Nsekhe, Terence Steele, Brandon Knight and La’el Collins all finished in the top half of quarterback pressures allowed in preseason. While Brandon Knight won’t start, he’s still put on the most pressure among all linemen over the past four weeks.
Compare that with the fact that Connor Williams, Connor McGovern and Zach Martin all performed very well statistically during the preseason. This section could easily have been titled âKey Offensive Linemen Impressâ. But last season proved that the depth of the offensive line matters, and there is still room to grow for a few of the reinforcements.
The Cowboys starting the LBs actually performed well
Before Jaylon Smith’s foes got too enraged, it was only the preseason. There are 17 meaningful football games to come, which is the real test for the Cowboys linebacker body. However, in the limited number of reps received by the starters, the LBs performed admirably.
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and Keanu Neal all had no missed tackles on their 84 combined pre-season snaps. While that number does not stay at zero in the regular season, it could improve from the 10.3% missed tackle rate we saw in 2020. The performances of these three helped the Cowboys finish. with the third best tackle score throughout the preseason, a statistic, they finished 18th in 2020.
Keanu Neil should be more prominent. Although he played 17 of his 21 passing games on cover, not a single target was thrown at him. This is less due to luck and more to the fact that Neal finished with the best cover among all the players who played more than 20 snaps. It’s early days, but Keanu Neil could provide a hard-hitting skill for a team in need of cover-up help.
Once the preseason is over, all NFL fans can begin to anticipate the season ahead. While there are still questions the Cowboys have yet to answer, fans should feel a little confident with the progress made over the past four weeks.
How did you think the pre-season went? Take the poll below and let’s all be happy that football is upon us again.
Do you feel more confident in the 2021 Dallas Cowboys after watching the preseason?
This survey is closed
I feel the same
1682 votes in total