If you ask Prescott, however, he has a different answer. He thinks three players who are also coming back from injury-filled or injury-lost seasons are the most important on the team.
Dak Prescott wasn’t the only injured Dallas Cowboy in 2020
The Cowboys injury that got the most press last year was Prescott’s, and with good reason too. He is the face of the franchise, was playing on the last year of a rookie deal, and the injury itself was horrific to watch.
The ‘Boys 6-10 record wasn’t all because they lost their QB1, though. Injuries plagued the squad in 2020. This rash of players on the injured list also contributed significantly to the sub-.500 record.
Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and the now-retired Sean Lee both spent time on Injured Reserve with a broken collarbone and a hernia, respectively. Defensive tackles Antwaun Woods and Trysten Hill, defensive back Chidobe Awuzie, and tight end Blake Jarwin also spent significant time on IR.
The offensive line took the biggest hit as a group, though. Tackle La’el Collins missed the entire season with a hip injury, and his opposite tackle, Tyron Smith, had season-ending neck surgery after two games, per ESPN. Veteran guard Zach Martin missed six games, the most of his career, with a calf injury and concussion issues.
Prescott named three offensive linemen as the most important players on the team
When asked his opinion on who the key to the Cowboys 2021 season, Prescott immediately identified his three veteran O-linemen who missed a lot of last year:
[Smith, Martin, and Collins] are the most important, if you ask me. From the time that I got drafted until now, this offense is built off of those guys. They’re the three most veteran guys on this team, and that’s for a reason. Those guys are walk-in Pro Bowl guys when they’re healthy, future Hall of Famers. Just to have those three guys lead the five guys up front, everything starts with them. The run game, that allows the pass game to open up. When you have those guys back healthy, energized, it’s special.
It’s no surprise that a quarterback throws credit and praise at his offensive line, but, in this case, Prescott is also correct. For as much talent as the Cowboys offense has – with the likes of Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper, and CeeDee Lamb – their offense starts upfront.
The Dallas recipe for offensive success is pretty easy in 2021. Protect Prescott so he can find his talented receivers downfield and open holes for Elliot. If the line does that, the Cowboys should win games.
The Cowboys offensive line needs to shine in 2021 for the Cowboys to succeed
Even with Prescott’s injury as a significant factor, the lack of production from the Cowboys’ offense without Smith, Martin, and Collins was staggering.
Dallas finished the 2020 season in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards (1,788), rushing yards per attempt (4.2), and overall yards per play (5.3). They finished in the top half of the league in sacks allowed (44) and offensive penalties.
Bringing back three “Pro Bowl guys” in the Cowboys’ O-line mix should help Dallas raise (or lower) all these numbers in the new season. They will join the team’s lone standout lineman from last season, Connor Williams, who started all 16 games.
Tyler Biadasz and Connor McGovern, who both played a little in 2020 but are relatively inexperienced will compete for the center job. Joe Looney, who started 12 games for Dallas last year, including games at center, is still a free agent as well. He could snag an invite to Cowboys camp if Biadasz and McGovern don’t look up to par.
If Prescott’s three most important players can stay healthy and play like they have throughout their careers and the other two line spots can gel, there is no reason the Cowboys can’t have one of the top offenses in the league and win the NFC East.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference