How do the Dallas Cowboys get back to the playoffs?

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55)(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)
Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55)(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Dallas Cowboys will try to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2018. America’s Team has not made it in back-to-back seasons after losing to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round. This is the first time that Dallas has missed out on the playoffs in consecutive years since 2012 and 2013.

Now, the Cowboys are looking to end that drought in 2021. As a result, this team is probably more excited than ever to start this season. Quarterback Dak Prescott is back from that gruesome injury and running back Ezekiel Elliott likely hopes to put his worst season behind him.

Dallas now just has to put everything together. Even with Prescott having a career year, the Cowboys weren’t a top team in the NFL. Through five games, the former rookie of the year had 1,856 yards (371.2 yards per game), nine passing touchdowns, and four interceptions. However, they were just 2-3 in those games.

Assuming that the Cowboys are back to full strength in 2021 with their offensive line back as well, their offense should one of the best in the league. In those five games with Prescott, Dallas scored a total of 163 points (32.6 points per game), which was the second-most points scored in the NFL after week 5.

With their star quarterback back and their offensive line healthy again, this offense should be able to score close to 30 points a game almost every week. Furthermore, according to, with wide receiver CeeDee Lamb expected to breakout in 2021, this should make it much harder for teams to guard Dallas’ trio of wide receivers (Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb).

How exactly do the Dallas Cowboys get to the playoffs though?

Dallas is going to score, that’s not the team’s problem. However, if they want to make it back to the playoffs and have a chance at the Lombardi trophy, their defense probably has to step up.

Although the game is possibly changing to more offense and scoring, defense still does “win championships.” One example is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from a season ago.

The Buccaneers had a firepower offense but also had a solid defense that ranked sixth in yards allowed per game (327.1), first in rush yards allowed per game (80.6), and fourth in quarterback sacks (48). Yes, they had quarterback Tom Brady, but they held arguably the best offense in the league (Kansas City Chiefs) in the Super Bowl to just nine points.

Defense is just as important as offense, especially in the playoffs. As a result, the Cowboys likely have to play much better defense than they did in 2020. This unit ranked at the bottom of the league in almost every defensive category including rush yards allowed per game (158.8), points allowed per game (29.6), and opponent’s yards per game (386.4).

The Dallas Cowboys need to be much better on defense in 2021. Even when looking back at the last seven times they have made the playoffs, all their defenses were either solid or at best “average.” Below is where the Cowboys ranked in the league in terms of points allowed and yards allowed each season that they made it.

2018- 11th in points allowed, 9th in yards allowed 
2016- 5th in points allowed, 14th in yards allowed
2014- 15th in points allowed, 19th in yards allowed 
2009- 2nd in points allowed, 9th in yards allowed 
2007- 13th in points allowed, 9th in yards allowed
2006- 20th in points allowed, 13th in yards allowed
2003- 2nd in points allowed, 1st in yards allowed

Last season, the Cowboys ranked 28th in points allowed (473) and 23rd in yards allowed (6,183). In Dallas’ 61 year history, they have never ranked lower than 20th in either category and made the playoffs.

Accordingly, the Cowboys hopefully believe that they made enough moves this offseason to ensure that their defense isn’t as poor as it was last season. Adding key players like safety Keanu Neal, safety Damontae Kazee, and Tarell Basham will possibly make this defense more solid.

Additionally, Dallas spent eight of their 11 picks on defensive players in the 2021 NFL Draft. Mixing those players with former Super Bowl-winning defense coordinator Dan Quinn, the Cowboys can only hope that he can develop these young players into superstars.

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There’s no way of knowing how the Dallas Cowboys will do this season, especially when they haven’t even played in one preseason game yet. The competition in the NFC East is likely better than it was a year ago. However, if the Cowboys’ defense can just improve a little bit and be a middle-of-the-pack defense, America’s Team can be in good shape to make its first postseason appearance since 2018.