The Dallas Cowboys have plenty of intrigue going into the 2017 season. They are pegged as the favorites to win the NFC and snap a 22-year Super Bowl drought.
The Cowboys made a nine-game turnaround last season, improving from 4-12 in 2015 to 13-3 in 2016. It was the largest one-season turnaround in franchise history.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott is back in play after a Texas judge granted Elliott’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the NFL’s six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Here are some storylines to watch:
It’s no secret that the offense is the marquee unit. The team loves to control the clock and wear down defenses with its physical offense line and tough-running backs. Elliott’s eligibility gives the team a spark. The offensive line must set the tone early, which will make life easier for quarterback Dak Prescott.
Dez Bryant hasn’t been himself in two consecutive seasons, failing to reach the 1,000-yard receiving mark. But he’s flashed Pro Bowl-like plays in training camp. The Cowboys need Bryant to be an elite receiver again. Bryant stretches the field like nobody else on the roster can, and remains one of the best receivers at high-pointing the ball on a catch.
Jason Witten has put together a Hall of Fame career and doesn’t appear to have lost a step going into Year 15. Witten remains a security blanket and should put himself in the record books a few more times this season. Witten is only 16 yards shy of tying Michael Irvin for the most receiving yards in team history (11,904), and is one game away from tying Ed Jones for most games played in franchise history (224).
The Cowboys have what’s regarded as the best offensive line in the league. That has to remain the same going into this season. Two-fifth of the O-line has to be replaced from a season ago. La’el Collins is taking over for Doug Free at right tackle, and there is a battle at left guard among Jonathan Cooper, Byron Bell and Chaz Green. Executive vice president Stephen Jones feels the line could be better than a year ago.
The defense needs to keep its key players healthy. Linebacker Sean Lee had his first fully healthy season a year ago, and played at an All-Pro level. The Cowboys need that again. They also need linemen such as DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford to be healthy and productive, which should mean a more sustained pass rush throughout the season. Keep an eye on top rookie pick Taco Charlton.