Head coach Jason Garrett is on the hot seat in Dallas. Make no mistake about it, the Cowboys need to have a good season or he’ll be given a pink slip. Jerry Jones made that very clear when he took away the play calling from Garrett. Bringing in new offensive coordinator Bill Callahan in January is a message that Jones isn’t happy with the way the Cowboys have played. There is no way Garrett keeps his job is they miss the postseason for the 4th straight year, that’s never happened since Jones has owned the team. And he won’t settle for it.
It isn’t all Garrett’s fault or even quarterback Tony Romo’s. There’s enough blame to go around and the offensive line has allowed Romo to be sacked 72 times in the last 2 seasons. 3rd most in the NFL during that period. The OL has been a MASH unit and Romo has been under pressure constantly and it doesn’t look to changing heading into this season.
Travis Frederick was drafted high, 31st in the 1st round when most draft experts thought he was a 3rd rounder. But, improving the line was a huge need and they drafted a player from a school that is well known for sending OL to the NFL. Frederick will start at center because they need to protect Romo, but he needs to improve his pass blocking against quick players. Brian Waters signed recently, but he’s 36 and missed all of last season. However, he played very well for the Patriots in 2011 when he made the Pro Bowl. He’s a definite upgrade over Doug Free. Free has never played guard and Dallas was thinking about playing him there. Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau allowed 13 sacks last year so Waters was a welcome addition and he should provide some stability to an area that desperately needs it. Tyron Smith will be the left tackle and Free should end up at the right tackle spot.
If he has a healthy OL, Romo is a fantasy football fans dream. He might make some bad throws that result in interceptions, but he can sling the ball all over the field. Romo had an excellent season last year (he completed 65.6% of his passes for 4,903 yards, 28 touchdowns)and, at 33, he should have several more productive years ahead. The one area the Cowboys would like to see improvement would be his 19 INT’s, but a lot of that could be due to him rushing his throws because of the OL situation. Romo has to stay healthy because Kyle Orton is strictly a backup. If he starts, the Cowboys are in trouble.
It would benefit the team if they ran the ball more and Romo didn’t have to throw 40-45 times a game. Garrett loved to throw the ball when he was calling the plays, even if the OL wasn’t great at pass blocking.
Dallas has a good RB in DeMarco Murray (66.3 yards per game, 4.1 yards per carry, 39 first downs, 5 runs of at least 20 yards and 4 TD’s in 10 games), but he needs to stay healthy. An improved OL should help in that regard as well. The Cowboys covered their bases though when they drafted Joseph Randle. Randle could see increased playing time because he is a good pass blocker and that could get him a chance. He’s also a good receiver and doesn’t turn the ball over. Lance Dunbar is more of a scatback, he doesn’t have the size to be a consistent player or starter if Murray gets hurt.
Dez Bryant had a breakout year last season (92 catches, 15 yards per catch, 54 First Downs, 19 catches of at least 20 yards, and 12 TD’s) as he finally lived up to the lofty expectations that came along with being a 1st round draft pick in 2010. Bryant had just 3 TD’s through his first 8 games, but Romo found him 10 times for a TD in the second half of the season. Bryant has also increased his catches each year since being drafted (45, 63, and 92) and is on the cusp of being a top 5 wide receiver in the League. Lets see if he can continue to improve. Stardom is within his reach.
Miles Austin (66 catches, 14.3ypc, 13 catches of at least 20 yards and 6 TD’s) is now the #2 WR with the emergence of Byant as an elite WR. Austin seems to be always fighting a hamstring injury, but he is a first down machine. 48 of his 66 catches were for a FD (73% of his receptions). Romo has a nice 1-2 duo to throw the ball to, so WR’s aren’t his problem.
Rookie Terrance Williams was a 3rd round draft pick and will be the 3rd WR. Williams caught 59 passes, including 11 for TD’s without Robert Griffin last year at Baylor. He has great size for a WR and is a player who can get the jump balls. However, he’s not a great route runner and just a speed guy. He’ll be fighting with 3rd year player Dwayne Harris (17 catches for 231 yards, 3 receptions of at least 2o yards and a TD) for playing time.
Jason Witten led the team in catches with 110 (3 for TD’s) at 33 years old. Romo is comfortable with him and it shows when he can’t find an open receiver. He looks for Witten and dumps the ball off to him. Witten also led the team with 56 FD’s.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is returning to the NFL after spending the last 3 years in college as an assistant head coach with Tennessee and USC. Kiffin spent 13 years with the Tampa Bat Buccaneers when they had a top 10 defense 12 times. Kiffin is going to help the Cowboys switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 and the personnel is better suited to it.
The defensive ends will be last years linebackers, Demarcus Ware (56 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles) and Anthony Spencer (94 tackles, 11 sacks, 7 tackles for a loss and 2 FF’s). On the interior line are defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Justin Hatcher. Ratliff played in just 6 games and needs to bounce back strong, but at 32 he should be able to. Hatcher (51 tackles and 4 sacks) and Ratliff gives them an experienced duo at the DT position.
Sean Lee is coming off a subpar injury prone 2012 campaign, but he should be the anchor of the linebacking unit. In 2011, he had great season (105 tackles, 7 passes defended and 4 intercerptions) and is just 27, he should be the captain of the defense for many years. Justin Durant (103 tackles and 3 PD’ed with the Lions) was a free agent signing to play the strongside LB position where he will help against the run game. Bruce Carter will play weakside LB in his 2nd NFL season. Ernie Sims will be a key backup (44 tackles) and can fill in as a starter if Carter or Lee can’t stay healthy. Sims has 81 career starts and can play WLB or MLB.
The cornerback position should be as good as it ever has been for the Cowboys. Morris Claiborne proved to be as good as advertised when he was picked #6 overall in the 2012 draft. He racked up 55 tackles, had 8 PD’ed and 1 INT. He improved as the season went on and didn’t allow a TD after the 10th week of the season. Brandon Carr signed a huge contract worth 10 million per season and played well, but not well enough to justify that salary. His 11 PD’ed were a team high, but had just 53 tackles and 3 INT’s, 1 of which he returned for a TD. Rookie BW Webb will provide some valuable depth.
Will Allen is entering his 10th season and will be the new strong safety after spending the last 3 years in Pittsburgh. He started 9 games last year at SS (34 tackles and 3 PD’ed) when Troy Polamalu was sidelined for 7 games. He’ll be expected to replace Gerald Sensbaugh who didn’t pan out and decided to retire. JJ Wilcox is waiting in the wings so Allen needs to show he can perform or he will lose the position to a younger player. Barry Church is the free safety, but he only played in 3 games last year due to a torn ACL. The safeties are the weakest part of the defense and could be the achilles heel.
Dan Bailey only missed 2 FG’s out of 31 all season, an amazing 93.5%. That’s called money in the bank. He converted all 37 PAT’s.
Chris Jones will be the new punter after incumbent Matt NcBriar was released. He’s relatively untested and he’ll need to step up to secure a long term job.
Backup receiver Harris will be the primary kick returner and punt returner. He averaged 19.1 yards per kick off return and 16.1yards per return on punts, 2nd in the League, including a 78 return for a TD.
The Cowboys seem to be jinxed at time over the last few years. A missed FG, a timely interception, the offensive line being banged up at the wrong time. Whatever could go wrong….has gone wrong.
This is the year they need to step up and overcome adversity or their coach will be fired. They added a solid guard in Waters and drafted a center who should help calm down the chaos along the OL the last few years. Bryant has matured into a very good WR and Romo (despite the criticism he gets) is a stud.
Hiring Kiffin should help the defense and this is the year Dallas brings it all together. The Giants lost a lot of players in free agency, the Redskins are going to come back down to earth a little and the Eagles are rebuilding. I think the Cowboys will battle it out with the Redskins and ultimately, win the NFC East.
EJ: The Cowboys aren’t getting a lot of publicity heading into this season. A couple of mediocre seasons will do that, but I think these Cowboys could actually make the playoffs. Their offense is pretty good. Romo puts up big yards, and Dez Bryant looks prepared to take the next step to stardom. As much as I like the offense, I like the addition of Monte Kiffin as their defensive coordinator. His Tampa 2 style of bend, but don’t break, should be a big help to that unit. So, what is America’s Team record when the season is done? I’ll say 10-6, 2nd in the NFC East, and a playoff team. I’ll give the Cowboys that.
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