Projected Record: 4-12
NFC East Rank: 4th
The Cowboys have been average. It’s the only word that could possibly do justice for a team that has compiled a .500 record each of the last three seasons. And unfortunately for the ‘boys, finger pointing is a famous game in Dallas. Jerry Jones emphasizes winning prior to every season, but the team fails to answer the call every year. Tony Romo often takes the brunt of the burden of winning; yet, this appears is unwarranted. Last season, he posted an impressive 31 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. So, he can’t be the only problem on a 53-man roster. Sure, he fails to deliver in crunch time, but it’s the team’s job to make sure he isn’t put in a compromising position. Still, he finds himself in that position…year after year. Dallas’ future remains uncertain but one thing is certain: their fans’ will maintain unrealistic expectations.
With Romo recovering from back surgery, it’s highly improbable he’ll post another tremendous season. Other aspects of the offense will certainly aid his production. His offensive line was beefed up in this year’s draft with the selection of Notre Dame’s Zach Martin. He has incredible potential, but will have to deal with the growing pains of a rookie. The future is bright for Martin, who will start at the Guard position in at least his second year, if not rookie. Another 4,000-yard season is contingent upon his time in the pocket and the effectiveness of his line.
Beginning this season, newly acquired Scott Linehan will call all plays on offense. This is the third time in three seasons that the passing coordinator’s job has been transferred with Offensive Coordinator Bill Callahan holding those duties last year and Head Coach Jason Garrett the year before. This inconsistency is unmistakably a disadvantage for the growth of Romo and the offense. Hopefully, starting Wide Receivers Dez Bryant and Terrence Williams can make the smooth transition between coordinators. There will be inevitable complications in the first few weeks of the season, but the offense has to work them out quickly. Bryant has turned into a superstar with more than 1,200 receiving yards each of the last two seasons. The Romo-Bryant tandem needs to work better than ever for Dallas to compete in the NFC. Terrence Williams, the new starting wideout, needs to improve on his 2013 numbers (44 catches for 736 yards). If he can eclipse the 70 receptions and 1,000 yard marks, Williams will bring another dimension to the Cowboys’ unit.
The Cowboys can expect production out of their Tight End year in and year out. Jason Witten, a future Hall of Famer, has been the only constant on this offense for the last 10 seasons. In that span, he has failed to miss one game. Witten won’t be remembered for his endurance though. His production over the last decade has to be considered more than incredible. Over the last seven seasons, he has averaged 90 receptions and 994 receiving yards. Although, he may have slowed down last year (73 receptions for 851 yards), Witten will not be declining substantially anytime soon. If he can accrue even 80 catches for 900 yards, Romo will be one of the most potent quarterbacks in the league. The passing game is completely equipped with talent, but without an effective Romo, the offense ceases to produce.
Last season, the running game was showing signs of Emmitt Smith and the 1990s Cowboys. And that can be directly attributed to a revitalized DeMarco Murray. The Sooners standout rushed for his first 1,000-yard season while maintaining an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. Murray is just entering his prime at age 26, so it would not be surprising to see him rush for 1,000 yards a few more times in his career if he can remain healthy. The aforementioned addition of Zach Martin can only help his game, so there is no excuse for a lack of effectiveness. By all accounts, the offense appears to be heading in the right direction.
Nevertheless, the defense is an entirely different story. They conceded the third most total yards (6,645) in NFL history a season ago. The departure of star linebacker, DeMarcus Ware, doesn’t help either. Forced to cut him because of salary cap issues, Jerry Jones hopes Anthony Spencer can fill some mighty big shoes at outside linebacker. Otherwise, Dallas is in danger of NFL infamy. It would not be unforeseen if they trumped the 7,042 mark set by the Saints in 2012.
The team’s sack leader, Jason Hatcher, has also departed this offseason for the division rival Redskins. Hatcher was a focal point in the defensive scheme last year. Without their leading pass rusher, the Cowboys defense will fail in applying too much pressure on opposing quarterbacks the upcoming season. Luckily, Dallas acquired Henry Melton this offseason. If Melton returns to his 2012 Pro-Bowl caliber, the Cowboys won’t miss Hatcher all that much. Alas, Melton does not turn in that Pro-Bowl type performance every year, so we’ll have to see how he fits within the context of the defense.
Unfortunately, things don’t get better for the defense. Sean Lee, the team’s leader in interceptions, was declared out for the season with a torn ACL. This is a devastating blow to a linebacker corps that already lost Ware from salary cap restrictions. Either Justin Durant or rookie Anthony Hitchens will act as Lee’s replacement, but neither will come close to Lee’s production. This defense had a bad offseason to say the least. And that 7,042-yard record doesn’t look that far off the radar anymore.
America’s Team is in a peculiar situation. The offense seems to be gaining momentum with young talent and veteran leadership. On the other hand, the defense has hit the league’s cellar. Rod Marinelli’s defense needs talent at some major positions and it appears he isn’t getting help anytime soon. Jerry Jones might not want to completely overhaul the defense because rebuilding takes a while, but it’s a situation that will be difficult to remedy in one year. Cowboys’ fans can’t expect all that much from this team’s roster, but it’ll be fun to watch Romo work with his offense. Dallas will have a difficult time scrapping together even five wins, so it appears their run at 8-8 records is finally over.
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