Great expectations always follow the Cowboys around and 2011 was no different.
A four-game winning streak in November had Dallas sitting at 7-4 with realistic visions of winning the division and hosting a playoff game. It wasn't meant to be in Big D, as the Cowboys went 1-4 down the stretch, ultimately losing to the Giants in Week 17, which kept them out of the post-season for the second straight year.
Important Additions: LG Nate Livings, RG Mackenzy Bernadeau, ILB Dan Connor, CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, FB Lawrence Vickers, CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
Important Losses: TE Martellus Bennett, LG Montrae Holland, ILB Bradie James, CB Terence Newman, SS Abram Elam, P Mat McBriar, QB Jon Kitna, RB Sammy Morris, OG Kyle Kosier, FB Tony Fiammetta, WR Laurent Robinson, ILB Keith Brooking, CB Alan Ball, CB Frank Walker
Reasons To Believe
1. Offensive Fire Power - The Cowboys' offence boasts one of the most talented set of skill players in the entire NFL. Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray are each capable of taking over a game and leading the team to victory. Romo appeared all 16 games last season, throwing for 4,184 yards and 31 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. Bryant has shown flashes of his elite ability and this could be the year he takes the next step. Austin and Witten both have great chemistry with Romo and Murray could finally allow them to establish a balanced attack.
|Will Tony Romo ever make the leap to elite QB status and deliver the Cowboys to promised land? Cowboys fans hope so.
2. Improved Secondary - The Cowboys ranked 23rd in pass defence and if you watched any of their games, that ranking seems generous. Jerry Jones was proactive in the off-season, acquiring free agent Brandon Carr from the Chiefs, while moving up in the draft to select Morris Claiborne. Carr has been exeptional in training camp and looks to be a major upgrade on former starter Terence Newman, who is no longer with the team. In a division with several dangerous passing attacks, the Cowboys may be ready to mount a defence.
3. Don't Doubt DeMarcus - With six straight seasons of double digit sacks, DeMarcus Ware is firmly entrenched as one of the best pass rushers in the league. Ware came close to cracking 20 sacks in a season for the second time in his career, posting 19.5 in 2011. With Ware on the field, offences are required to take notice and that means a little less pressure on everyone else in Rob Ryan's crew.
Reasons To Doubt
1. Offensive Health - The Cowboys' receiving corps has been decimated by injuries this preseason with Bryant nursing a knee injury, Austin out with a faulty hamstring and Witten suffering from a lacerated spleen. Despite playing a full season in 2011, Romo hasn't been the model of health and DeMarco Murray is coming back from an ankle injury that cost him time last season. The roster is full of skill and scoring ability, but they will need to stay on the field for the team to find success.
2. Offensive Line Woes - The Cowboys' blockers have had trouble opening lanes in the run game and maintaining a pocket for Romo. Tyron Smith and Doug Free are decent on the outside, but it's the interior of the Dallas line that struggles. The team will start two new guards, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau at the guard positions, while Phil Costa returns at centre. Costa's preseason back injury caused some concerns, however it appears he will be alright to start the season. Keeping Romo healthy behind this line will be difficult.
3. Third Receiving Option - Aside from the injuries to their receivers, the Cowboys have lost Laurent Robinson in free agency. Robinson posted a surprising 11 touchdowns last season, with 54 receptions for 858 yards. With Robinson departed, the Cowboys will look to Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris and fifth rounder Danny Coale to fill the void. Robinson's increased production was in part due to the time he spent in the starting lineup. If one of those three players don't step up and Bryant or Austin miss time due to injury, it could spell trouble for Romo and the offence.
What To Expect
The Cowboys are having a nightmare preseason with all their injuries. With their skill players hurt and the poor play of their offensive line, Dallas' star may be dimming in 2012. Regardless of their improvements on the defensive side of the ball, if their skill players miss significant time to start the year, it could put them too far back to recover from in the standings. Healthy, they are playoff contenders, but there seems to be something absent in Dallas and that could mean another year without a playoff appearance.