For the Dallas Cowboys and other teams, the road traveled to procuring an NFC East division title and clinching a playoff spot has been rather unconventional the last few seasons. That was particularly true in 2020.
Every team in the division wound up finishing below .500 with the Washington Football Team ultimately coming out on top with an overall record of 7-9 before being eliminated in the wild card round.
Well aware that this year’s division crown is up for grabs, each team in the NFC East has made it a priority to assemble rosters that are battle tested to compete for a playoff spot this upcoming season, a feat that is all but guaranteed for the four teams in 2021.
The Dallas Cowboys saw a year in which they were on the precipice of securing a spot in the postseason, but were stifled by an albatross of injuries paired with subpar play in the end.
While they are favored by many to run away with the division title based on sheer talent this year, America’s Team will still have their work cut out for them in a division that has gotten immensely better following the draft and free agency.
Each of Dallas’ division foes feature electrifying talent that could ultimately lead to the team’s demise if not neutralized in 2021.
Here is one player from each NFC East rival that the Cowboys must prioritize in order to circumvent yet another year of disappointment.
Dallas Cowboys must contain Chase Young
Chase Young was the unequivocal Defensive Rookie of the Year following a season in which he wreaked havoc on opposing offenses down the stretch.
What’s most petrifying about Young is his youth and tremendous upside. The former No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft recorded 12 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in his Age-21 season alone.
Now entering his sophomore season in which he will be just 22 for the duration, Young has already established himself as an early candidate for Defensive Player of the Year honors under head coach Ron Rivera.
Washington already possesses a hellacious defensive front with three former first rounders on the defensive line. Pairing him with 2019 first rounder Montez Sweat is all the more reason Young will be a force that must be accounted for this season.
The return of starting tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins should alleviate some of the pressure on starting quarterback Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t negate the fact that the team must prioritize Young, an individual who has the ability to single handedly take control of a game in various ways.
Dallas Cowboys defense line against Saquon Barkley
It was incumbent upon Dallas to address its rush defense this offseason, a group that ranked 31st in rushing yards allowed and 30th in yards per carry surrendered.
This elucidates why the majority of their offseason additions have been on players who are expected to bolster their front seven such as Micah Parsons, Osa Odighizuwa, Keanu Neal, etc.
New defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and the rest of the Cowboys’ coaching staff made these adjustments knowing that a superstar tailback within their division is returning from injury and will be a full go come start of the season.
That guy is fourth year running back Saquon Barkley.
When healthy, Barkley is as good as advertised with an unprecedented combination of size, speed, power, balance and elusiveness.
The 2018 first rounder no longer has to be the workhorse that he once was early on in his career which should be frightening for Dallas and the rest of the East.
The New York Giants have added more pieces to third year quarterback Daniel Jones’ weaponry and can also expect more consistency out of the offensive line which should relieve some of the work off of Barkley in turn.
Slowing him down should absolutely be at the top of Dallas’ checklist in 2021.
Devonta Smith is going to be a problem
The Philadelphia Eagles utilized their first round pick from this year’s draft on arguably the most dominant player in all of college football this past season in Devonta Smith.
The 2020 Heisman Trophy Winner was dynamic with the ball in his hands and found creative ways to separate from corners despite his slight frame.
First-year head coach Nick Sirianni will look to find innovative ways to exploit defenses utilizing the 6-foot-1 wideout’s unique skill set.
If he can be anything remotely close to what he was under Nick Saban at the University of Alabama, Smith will be an absolute headache for secondaries within the division for years to come.