Dallas Cowboys should embrace underdog role as expectations shrink

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

Last year at this time, the Dallas Cowboys entered training camp with lofty expectations on offense because Dak Prescott was healthy, had recently signed a lucrative contract, and he was surrounded by offensive weapons galore.

Besides having the dynamic duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys true strength on offense was in its group of receiving threats: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, and followed by tight ends Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin. However, it was the quartet of the former that gave the Cowboys the best collection of wide receivers in the league.

But after Coop was traded, Wilson left via free agency, Gallup still on the mend of an ACL tear, and the recent foot injury to wideout James Washington, the Dallas Cowboys once vaunted wide receiver group is no longer a strength and more of an unknown, making them less and less a contender.

With a depleted roster, the Dallas Cowboys expectations are low, and the Cowboys play better as the underdogs.

Unlike those receivers, this young core of receivers has more of a promising upside and are led by Pro Bowler Lamb.

When the news hit that wide receiver James Washington would miss 6-10 weeks after fracturing his foot, all of the air and confidence in already shaky receiver group went out of the window. Fans and critics alike were sitting on the fence about CeeDee Lamb being a reliable and capable WR1, wondering how Lamb would react to being the focal point of opposing defenses.

Although Dallas returns a veteran-laden and stout defense, it is the offense that is going to have to carry the burden of proving the doubters wrong because it lost so many weapons on offense, and Washington and Gallup will not be back when the season starts. So, what does that mean for America’s Team? Glad you asked.

Quite frankly, the Dallas Cowboys play much better when they are considered the underdogs and not expected to do much. This is well documented history, and all you have to do is look recent history. For example, critics are picking the Philadelphia Eagles to win the division because PFF ranks the Eagles as having the 7th ranked most talented team in the league.

Good. Let’s see what Jalen Hurts do with all of those offensive weapons.

One of the most recent examples of Dallas outperforming expectations was in their 2021 season opener against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady. Although Dallas lost 31-29 in the waning minutes, they entered the game as huge underdogs to the tune of +7.5. Dak threw for 403 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, -even giving Dallas the lead late in the game.

Yep, Dak played just as good or not better than the future Hall of Famer Brady. And Dak didn’t lose the game, either.

Not only were the critics shocked that Dallas battled the defending Super Bowl champs to the end, but they walked away giving Dak his credit as a franchise quarterback deserving of his massive contract. Even notoriously “Dak Hater”, Dan Orlosvsky of ESPN, said he was wrong about Dak and he’s definitely a legitimate quarterback.

The game against the Buccs set the tone for Dallas having a successful season and proved three critical things: Dak was a top-10 quarterback, they had the best offense in the league, and the defense played better than expected (led the league with 34 takeaways). And speaking of defense and being the underdog…

Just like the 2020 defense was the worst in franchise history, Dallas’ defense in 2013 was historically bad as it gave up 40 first downs to the New Orleans Saints in game that is still embarrassing. Still haunted by that awful defense of the previous season, the Dallas team of 2014 were predicted to finish last in the NFC East and prepare for a top-10 draft pick.

In one of the franchise’s best season’s ever, Dallas rode the underdog label like a champion and won 12 games, captured the NFC East, won a playoff game, and lost sadly to the Green Bay Packers in one of the most controversial calls ever. Dallas was not even supposed to make the playoffs, let alone lose the game because of one bad call.

Looking back at that year, who would have thought of Dallas winning 12 games. They overachieved mightily in every game-even in their losses. I have to give credit to former head coach Jason Garrett because he motivated them in each and every game.

The same underdog tag attached itself to Dallas two years later when starting quarterback Tony Romo went down with a severe back injury in preseason. Despite Dak balling out in his preseason games, nobody gave Dallas a fighting chance to win with a fourth-round rookie quarterback and a suspect defense to boot. Garrett was coming off another losing season and staring another one right in the face, but Dak and Zeke had other plans.

After losing the season opener to the New York Giants, Dak, Zeke, and the rest of team rallied of 11 straight victories (a franchise record), and had impressive road wins over the Packers, Vikings, and Pittsburgh Steelers (they beat the Steelers in overtime). In Dak’s rookie season, he would set an NFL record for the most pass attempts to start a career without throwing an interception (176)-breaking Brady’s record of 162.

That same year Zeke led the league in rushing with 1,631 yards, 15 touchdowns, averaged 5.1 yards a carry, and caught 32 passes for 363 yards and one touchdown.

Dallas would enter 2018 as underdogs because they missed the playoffs in 2017, Dak’s sophomore season was not great, and Dallas let go of fan favorite Dez Bryant. So, with Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Terrance Williams, Brice Butler and Cole Beasley leading the way as receivers, this group didn’t put fear into opposing defenses at all. That underdog label was truly warranted until…

After starting the season 3-4 and realizing Dak needed a true WR1, Dallas traded for Amari Cooper, and they rode that man to an 10-6 record and winning the NFC East for third time in five seasons. Dak would win his first playoff game of his young career against the Seattle Seahawks.

And this season is eerily similar to the one of 2018 because of the perceived question marks with the wide receivers. Because of that, it sets up Dallas perfectly to enter the 2022 season as underdogs. Unlike those receivers, this young core of receivers has more of a promising upside and are led by Pro Bowler Lamb.

Must Read. The Dallas Cowboys receiving corps needs help NOW. light

Next. How the Dallas Cowboys survive their losses at WR. dark

This season Lamb can be what Coop was to Dallas ‘offense in 2018 if Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy use him correctly. Sure, a veteran receiver could come in and hold it down until Gallup and Washington returns.

But if not, expect the Dallas Cowboys to overachieve, feature a few breakout stars, and proudly wear that underdog hat and shock the world like they always do. And there is enough recent history to say it will happen and then some!