Week one of the 2021 NFL season has concluded as half of the teams are looking to rebound after their first loss. The Dallas Cowboys (0-1) were among those teams that suffered a loss in week one. Dallas lost on the road to the defending Super Bowl champions in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) 31-29 on Thursday Night Football.
Several signs should give the Cowboys some worry as they continue the 2021 season. There were, however, some positive signs that will give the Cowboys some hope as they grind through the season. The Cowboys are looking to make the NFL Playoffs for the first time since the 2018 NFL season when they last won the NFC East Division. There are five signs from this loss to the Buccaneers that indicate that Dallas is in good shape.
- Dak Prescott plays fantastic since returning from injury.
Dallas' season fell apart last year when their star quarterback in Dak Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation to his right ankle in week five of the 2020 season. After a full off-season of surgery, healing and a new contract, Prescott was eager to get back to a high-performance level. His first real game back with the Cowboys would be against a loaded Buccaneers defense that returned all of their starters from Super Bowl LV.
Prescott threw for 403 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a QBR of 74.4 on 42 completions (out of 58 passing attempts). He outperformed seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, who had a successful game this past Thursday. Prescott was needed to be the main facilitator of the Cowboys' offense as their running game was shut down by Tampa Bay's defense. He will not be asked to throw more than 50-times a game every week, but in his first game in the lineup after a devastating injury and playing at an elite level is tremendous for the team.
- Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are finally catching up
Two players that benefitted the most with the return of Prescott are the Cowboys' star receivers in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. Coopper caught 13 receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns. This was his first game where he accounted for at least 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns since 2019. Lamb caught seven receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. Lamb was also targeted 15-time by Prescott in the game. He struggled significantly as he was constantly double-teamed by the Bucs' secondary. Last season, Lamb was looking to grow as a rookie under the inconsistent quarterback play of Andy Dalton while Prescott was out. Lamb is being challenged under the direction of a healthy Dak Prescott. This was the third professional game where accumulated over 100 receiving yards.
- Zack Martin will be back for Dallas
The offensive line for the Cowboys has seen some troubles due to injuries over the past few seasons. The Cowboys hoped that they would start all of their main offensive linemen in the game against the Buccaneers, but six-time Pro-Bowl right guard Zack Martin was placed under COVID-19 protocols after a positive test four days before the game. Martin will be back in the starting lineup for the Cowboys either at his natural right guard position or at right tackle with La'El Collins being suspended for five games for missing a drug test. Martin's consistency as a pass protector and run blocker will be needed further into the game. The Cowboys needed a boost in the run game after rushing for only 60 yards on 18 carries against the Buccaneers' defense.
- Cornerback Trevon Diggs continues to grow
The defense for the Cowboys continues to be a concern despite switching defensive coordinators from Mike Nolan to Dan Quinn. The defense for the Cowboys allowed 431 total yards from offense the Buccaneers, but there were some bright spots. Second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs continues to be a rising defensive back as he shut down the elite Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans on Thursday. According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Diggs covered Evans on 39 routes of his 47 routes. Diggs only allowed one reception for ten yards to Evans on three targets. Evan was a rare non-factor for the Buccaneers' offense as they had to rely on Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin. As the Cowboys continue their season and address some concerns on defense with the pass rush and deep coverage, they will not have to worry about the play of Diggs as their main coverage cornerback.
- It is only one game
The good news for all NFL teams that lost in week one of the season is that it is only week one of the 2021 season. There is plenty of time left for teams to rebound and build some momentum based on the progress from week one. For the Cowboys, they have shown they can beat the Buccaneers, as they led 29-28 with 1:24 left in the game. They lost at the last play of the game by a field goal in a typical clutch performance by Tom Brady. The Cowboys look like the most aggressive team in the NFC East despite the loss. As long as they beat their NFC East rivals, they will get into the playoffs for the first time since the 2018 season.