Dallas Cowboys 2019 Season Preview: A Step Forward or Another in Reverse?

Cameron Smith

The Cowboys appeared ticketed to the Super Bowl in 2016. They finished 9-7 and out of the race in 2017. Jason Garrett and co. finally won a playoff game in 2018. Could 2019 be the year?

Maybe, but a lot will have to break the right way for Dem Boyz to reach a stage where fans won't be upset with the final outcome.

2018 SEASON RECAP

— 10-6 regular season, won NFC East title

— Won Wild Card playoff game vs. Seattle, 24-22

— Fell in NFC Division Playoff at Rams, 30-22

NEWCOMERS

— TE Jason Witten (came out of retirement to return to team)

— DT Trysten Hill (drafted in second round, pick 58)

— OG Connor McGovern (drafted in third round, pick 90)

— RB Tony Pollard (drafted in fourth round, pick 128)

— DE Joe Jackson (drafted in fifth round, pick 165)

— S Donovan Wilson (drafted in sixth round, pick 213)

— DE Jalen Jelks (drafted in seventh round, pick 241)

HIT THE TRAIL

— WR Cole Beasley (signed four-year contract with Bills)

— TE Geoff Swaim (signed two-year deal with Jaguars)

— LB Damien Wilson (signed two-year deal with Chiefs)

Dallas' roster changes were a matter of opportunism and cap necessity, and the latter more than the former. While Beasley has been a strong slot contributor over his time with the Cowboys, he was always likely to leave for greener pastures, particularly after he publicly criticized the offense and his lack of targets. Swaim's departure was welcomed and accompanied by the return of Witten, one of the best tight ends to ever play. And while the team didn't directly replace Wilson, their depth at linebacker is stronger than at many other positions, particularly behind breakout rookie sensation Leighton Vander Esch.

Make no mistake, the Cowboys team that will start 2019 is largely indistinguishable from the one that ended 2018.

2019 SCHEDULE

Week 1: vs. Giants

Week 2: at Redskins

Week 3: vs. Dolphins

Week 4: at Saints

Week 5: vs. Packers

Week 6: at Jets

Week 7: vs. Eagles

Week 8: BYE

Week 9: at Giants

Week 10: vs. Vikings

Week 11: at Lions

Week 12: at Patriots

Week 13: vs. Bills

Week 14: at Bears

Week 15: vs. Rams

Week 16: at Eagles

Week 17: vs. Redskins

2018 QUALITY STAT ANALYSIS

For a playoff team, the 2018 Cowboys had striking dissonance in their strengths and weaknesses. While the offense was unquestionably driven by star running back Ezekiel Elliott, the team's running game wasn't that efficient — it finished 20th in Offensive Rusher Rating, in large part because of a TD-to-lost fumbles ratio of just 13-10. And at No. 17 in the rankings, quarterback Dak Prescott was also decidedly middle of the pack when it came to Real Quarterback Rating, though that mark certainly improved after the trade deadline arrival of wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Meanwhile, the team's true strengths came on the other side of the ball, where the run defense was ranked seventh in Defensive Rusher Rating (and played even better than that down the stretch) and Total Team Yards Allowed, where Dallas was sixth.

Yet perhaps the truest sign of the Cowboys' improvement was the team's relatively strong performance in always key Bendability. Dallas finished the season ninth in that category, but was ranked higher for much of the year. That stat underscored just how difficult it was to score on Dallas' defense when it was clicking. Or you could just re-watch tape of the Saints game in the Superdome for more ample proof of that.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Trying to pick this Cowboys team's trajectory is a bit of a flip a coin exercise. The schedule gets gradually more difficult as the season wears on, with an additionally tricky patch in weeks four and five, so it will be essential for Dem Boyz to get out to a quick winning start; anything less than 3-0 entering Week 4 in New Orleans would have to be considered a disappointment. However, if the defense continues to play at a high level and Witten makes a successful return and emerges as a resurgent weapon for Prescott there could be more room for growth from a roster that has significant continuity with an impressive 2018 season all bets are off.

OVER/UNDER

The opening O/U for the Cowboys was set at either 8.5 or 9, depending on the book. We're tempted to push at an even 9 and take the over on 8.5, but neither would be an automatic bet per our analysis.