The Dallas Cowboys are coming off of an impressive 2018 campaign in which they won 10 games and captured the NFC East division title before ultimately bowing out to the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Now, going into 2019, the Cowboys might be a darkhorse Super Bowl contender, as they are largely bringing back the same team they had this past year and even added Jason Witten back into the fold.
But in an NFC that houses the Rams, the New Orleans Saints, and the Chicago Bears, Dallas is going to have to be special in order to make a run to the Super Bowl.
Here are the three biggest X-factors for the Cowboys in their quest to return to prominence:
3. The Health of Tyron Smith
When he is right, Tyron Smith is one of the best offensive linemen in football. After all, he has made six straight Pro Bowl appearances and has earned a couple of First-Team All-Pro selections during that span.
However, he has not played a full season in four years, missing three games each season between 2016 and 2018.
Now, the good news for Smith is that his injury issues this past year were not a result of his back, which had given him problems in 2016 and 2017, but still, the Cowboys would like to see him stay on the field for a full 16-game campaign.
Obviously, given that Smith is protecting Dak Prescott’s blind side, he is one of the most important pieces on Dallas in general, so him having a healthy year in 2019 is paramount to the Cowboys’ success.
2. Playmaking in the Secondary
The Cowboys only had 20 takeaways in 2018, which, while okay, is hardly elite, as Dallas ended up ranking 16th in the league in that category.
For comparison’s sake, the Rams, who represented the NFC in the Super Bowl, ranked third in the NFL with 30 takeaways.
Much of Dallas’ struggles in forcing turnovers has to do with the fact that its secondary totaled just six interceptions on the year, a very low number that some defensive backs reach on their own.
A lot of that likely had to do with the overall lack of experience in the Cowboys’ defensive backfield, but going into 2019, there should be no more excuses for this group. It simply has to do a better job of forcing turnovers and making opposing quarterbacks work.
If the defensive backs can do that, it will make the job of the front seven (which is already very good) that much easier.
1. Jason Witten
Witten took a year off to do some broadcasting, but now, the Cowboys legend is back in tow.
Of course, we can’t assume that Witten is going to have as large of a role in Dallas’ offense as he did in 2017 prior to his brief retirement, but given that he is a great route runner with great hands, he will likely still provide Prescott with a sort of security blanket.
If Witten can match his 2017 production when he hauled in 63 receptions for 560 yards and five touchdowns, it will be a major boon to the Cowboys’ offense.
Dallas has a couple of dynamic weapons in Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper, but it doesn’t have a ton of depth on the offensive side of the ball. Witten could potentially provide that for Jason Garrett’s club.