A Case for the Cowboys

I know, the Cowboys are a bit of a trainwreck.  They have an overpaid QB, their offensive line was atrocious last season, and Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are very close to qualifying for disability. 

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Still, despite the woes of the team and the very limited success they’ve had under the Romo era, I still think the Dallas Cowboys are the favorites to win the NFC East this year.

I know, I’m insane.  But let’s start with a couple of different facts:

  • The Cowboys suffered injuries at at least five key starting positions last year (OLB, ILB, DT, WR, RB).
  • The Cowboys hired Monte Kiffin to improve the defense.
  • The Cowboys came pretty darn close to winning the division last year, despite their issues.

So what’s the problem with Dallas?  You can chock it up to the following things:

  • Offensive line and protection problems
  • Injuries
  • Bad secondary play (particularly at the safety positions)
  • Inconsistent QB and RB play
  • Poor coaching

Dallas upgrades their line with rookie Travis Frederick (a reach in the first round, but still a good prospect who should be an upgrade at Center).  They also have another year under the belt of Tyrone Smith, a budding LT prospect.  The depth has been upgraded by moving Phil Costa into a reserve role.  Finally, the guards should be better this year, as Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings begin their second year with the team.  In fact, the team will have some stability on the line for the first time in years.

All those guys that got hurt last year come back from injury this year.  This includes ILB Sean Lee, who should be a diamond in Monte Kiffin’s defense, using his speed and ability to close in on ball carriers and make splash plays in the passing game.

The safeties are still going to be bad this year, but the addition of Will Allen might help a little.  However, Kiffin’s defense doesn’t need the safeties to cover so much as hit.  Barry Church, Danny McCray, and rookie J.J. Wilcox can do that.  The corners are going to be stout in their second year with the team, and Orlando Scandrick remains one of the league’s top reserve corners.

Romo will always be a gunslinger and he’s overpaid, but he remains a top notch QB despite his inconsistencies.  Last season, he threw for nearly 5,000 yards, had 28 touchdowns to 19 picks, and completed nearly 66% of his passes.  Obviously, you don’t want to see that many picks, but he was under heavy pressure all year, and that should improve this season with the offensive line upgrades. Additionally, rookie Joseph Randle is a good pass blocker and will probably turn out to be a better runner than Felix Jones was as a backup to DeMarco Murray, who by the way, will start the season healthy. When Murray is in the lineup, the Cowboys play better.

The addition of Kiffin will improve the coaching situation, though one of the big flies in the ointment will continue to be whether or not Jason Garrett can provide the leadership this team needs.  Bill Callahan calling plays is not going to do it, if that’s what Garrett is thinking, but rest assured, if the Cowboys don’t win the division this year, and probably win a playoff game, Garrett is likely gone.

So why will they win?

Dallas remains a top notch team on paper, and the rest of the teams in the division all have their own issues.

The Redskins have some glaring holes on defense and offense and have a young, top level quarterback coming off a serious injury who every team has a year of tape on.  They peaked too soon, and this year won’t be the year they take another step.  Maybe 2014, but right now, they go back to 8-8.

The Giants are wildly unpredictable.  They could win the Super Bowl or miss the playoffs in any given season, and they have some serious holes on defense.  They need help at linebacker and at safety, and they additionally need one of their young corners to step up and make a big impact.  The Giants are inconsistent at best and Eli will need to take care of the football for the Giants to contend.

The Eagles are candidates for anywhere from 4-12 to 12-4 with new coach Chip Kelly.  They look pretty good on paper with young talent everywhere and elite backs and receivers.  However, they have serious secondary issues, problems on the OL (even with rookie Lane Johnson in the mix), and the addition Kelly is one of the riskier moves we’ve seen in recent years at the coaching position.  Kelly will bring excitement and an up-tempo pace to the offense, but outside of that, we still don’t know what will happen this year in Philly.  Oh, and the QB position for the Eagles is another toss up.

So my argument essentially boils down to Dallas having upgraded since last year, a year where they almost won the division, combined with issues throughout the rest of the NFC East.

The Cowboys will remain competitive as long as they have a QB, and even with all his faults, Tony Romo is the type of player that keeps the Cowboys in every game.

We’ll see if this is the year the entire team produces and gets deep into the playoffs before it all gets blown up.