Editor’s note: The following story is a part of the 2019 Cowboys/NFL preview section, which will be included in print editions of The Dallas Morning News on Thursday, Sept. 5.
Their competition is merely trying to shed a hangover, as in the Super Bowl case. Or at least that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles are hoping is their biggest problem. For the Cowboys, it’s a bad dream that has overstayed for an entire generation — the kind of thing one loses track of as the years pass.
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones demonstrated this in August during the press conference to announce Jaylon Smith’s contract extension.
“It’s been 30 years, you know — not quite 30 but a long time since we won a championship in this organization,” Jones said. “The best way to get that done is to keep as many of the young players that we’ve been able to draft as we can.”
Technically, it’s just been the last 23 Super Bowls (and NFC Championship Games) that the Cowboys have failed to attend. That’s a significant absence for any team. But for the Cowboys, who played in eight of the first 30 Super Bowls and 16 Championship Games during that stretch, it feels like forever to everyone tied to the franchise from the Jones family on down.
The Cowboys believe they now have the team to move forward, to do more than simply reach the playoffs and fade before the big games arrive. An examination of their roster puts plenty of check marks in their corner.
It all starts with the only offensive line in the NFL that includes three former first-round picks along with a second-rounder. The Cowboys won the East and defeated Seattle in last year’s playoff without the guiding hands of center Travis Frederick all season. He has returned from the debilitating muscle weakness syndrome and showed no ill effects in camp or preseason games. And so the Cowboys’ line has every chance to get back to its 2016 level when the team enjoyed a franchise record 11-game winning streak and a 13-3 record.
“I think we are going to have a team that has a great front line,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the team’s 34-0 preseason win over Houston. “And I think we have the best depth we’ve ever had since I’ve been in football.”
The latter is most evident at defensive end, where Taco Charlton may have arrived as a productive first-rounder in Year 3 and the club made two important offseason acquisitions. Robert Quinn, a former Rams first-rounder who once had a 19-sack season, arrived from Miami but will miss two games with a suspension. Kerry Hyder, coming over from the Lions, was the most productive lineman in the month of August and clearly earned a real place in the rotation that includes the team’s best defender, DeMarcus Lawrence, along with veteran Tyrone Crawford and second-year player Dorance Armstrong.
Who else has six defensive ends they want to play?
It’s the strength up front in both units that gives the Cowboys the best chance to end another lengthy drought. The Cowboys have not repeated as NFC East champs since the Barry Switzer days.
Practically speaking, only one team stands in their way. I probably like Washington more than most folks, but a rookie quarterback with limited receiving weapons doesn’t usually translate into a playoff invitation. And it’s an even safer bet that the Cowboys’ Sept. 8 opponent, the New York Giants, is looking more toward competing in 2020 after letting wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., safety Landon Collins and pass rusher Olivier Vernon find new homes in the offseason.
But the Eagles went just as far as the Cowboys last year, winning one playoff game and then losing in the next round. Philadelphia came much closer to upending the Saints than the Cowboys did to defeating the Rams, for what that’s worth. They had to retool a crippled secondary as the season wore on, and that no longer appears to be a weakness.
Strangely, many of the Eagles’ questions center on quarterback Carson Wentz, drafted 133 spots ahead of Dak Prescott in the 2016 draft. Wentz at his best has the upper hand on Prescott. But how often is Wentz at his best? Prescott never misses a down while Wentz has finished just one of three seasons, and it was the team’s only non-playoff season in that stretch.
The Cowboys’ seventh and 15th games will be with Philadelphia, and that’s not to say that all that comes before will be nothing but prelude. But it’s hard to imagine that so much of the energy and effort the Cowboys have poured into the 2019 season won’t come down to how they fare against the team that has served as the biggest division rival and stumbling block this century.