The time has finally come for “America’s Team”, the Dallas Cowboys. It’s officially football season, y’all.
The NFL’s most glorified franchise opens their season Sunday night against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. Like any other year, Cowboys fans enter the season with the hope that quarterback Tony Romo can get the team over the Week 17 hump from the past two seasons. Romo has put the team in position to make the playoffs but ultimately has failed when it’s win or go home. That is the bottom line when it comes to Romo and the Cowboys. As the quarterback of the franchise, he’s going to continue to get most of the credit for wins and most of the blame for losses.
No more trying to justify why owner Jerry Jones signed him to $55 million guaranteed. It simply comes down to Jones’ belief that Romo will eventually lead the team back to the playoffs and eventually to a Super Bowl. Quarterbacks get paid for what they are going to do, not for what they have done.
Besides Romo’s new contract which was the biggest headline, there were changes that were made that flew under the radar. Head coach Jason Garrett is no longer calling the plays, which will allow him to focus on managing the football aspect of the team on gameday and not get caught up in play calling. That duty now belongs to Bill Callahan, the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Monte Kiffin was hired as the new defensive coordinator and he brings the 4-3 scheme with him. He aims to reshape the Cowboys defense from mediocrity under Rob Ryan’s scheme into the dominant Tampa 2 style defense from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl XXXVII team. Rob Marinelli, one of the best defensive line coaches in the game, joins Kiffin on the coaching staff and is expected to have a huge impact on that side of the ball.
Are these changes enough? Can the franchise put it all together and make the playoffs for the first time since 2009?
Below is a breakdown of the Cowboys depth chart, starting on the offensive side of the ball.
Quarterbacks- Tony Romo, Kyle Orton
Romo has to feel better about the offseason strategy to make the offense more “Romo-friendly”. With improved offensive line play and added players in the passing game, he should have a career year. He’s got weapons at every position, not to mention more input in the game plan for each week. Orton provides the team with a solid insurance policy in case Romo was hurt for a few games.
This is it for Romo. The offense is being tailor-made for him to be successful. There is a similar comparison to Aaron Rodgers, where Rodgers was not considered elite until he won a ring. He always had elite stats that put him in the same categories as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees. If there was ever a way for Romo to make it up to Cowboys Nation after his lack of playoff wins or success, how about winning the Super Bowl?
No, Romo is not Brady, Manning or Brees-we all understand that. But as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, when you have that star on your helmet, there isn’t a more polarizing position in the NFL (except Tim Tebow of course). He’s been scrutinized for everything he does off the field just as much on the field. That’s the price he has to pay, and for as much as he has failed in big moments, Romo could put the franchise on his back and lead them to make a deep Super Bowl run with the talent on this squad.
Running Backs- DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Phillip Tanner, Joseph Randle
Each of these backs has a unique style of play they bring to the running game. The Cowboys know they have a solid starter if Murray can stay healthy. If healthy, Murray can be a 1,000 yard rusher. Dunbar emerged in the preseason as the favorite to back up Murray with his cat-like quickness and seems to be one of the fastest players on the roster.
Tanner has some toughness to him, and the Cowboys like his goal line ability. Lastly, Randle was drafted in the fourth round to provide an insurance policy behind Murray, but with the emergence of Dunbar and Tanner in training camp, Randle may be last on the depth chart. Randle has played well in the preseason, but Dunbar and Tanner have played even better.
Wide Receivers- Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Terrance Williams, Dwyane Harris, Cole Beasley
This will be one of the Cowboys most exciting, explosive receiving cores in years. Bryant put the total package together over the final eight games of last season and is ready to dominate on the level of Calvin Johnson. “Dezatron” is the nickname he has started to garner this offseason. Bryant stated his goal is to break the 2,000 yards receiving mark.
Austin switched up his offseason workout routine to include more hamstring stretching and flexibility, as for the past few seasons he’s been unable to stay healthy. He’s a great no. 2 in this offense, but if the Cowboys third round draft pick Williams is able to develop quickly, this may be Austin’s last year in Big D. The thought process behind drafting Williams was to groom him as Austin’s successor. Williams started camp slow but has picked it up heading into Week 1.
Harris provides the flash as a return man and he’s also more than capable as the slot receiver, which was witnessed last season against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins. If there is an injury, Harris can slide right in as a replacement. Beasley was kept on the roster because of his ability to catch the football consistently and is a reliable target for Romo in third and long situations.
Tight End- Jason Witten, James Hanna, Gavin Escobar, Andre Smith
Jones, Garrett, and Co. decided to keep four tight ends due to the fact that there is no fullback on the roster and with the plan to use multiple tight end sets quite often this season. Witten is the perennial All-Pro who is Romo’s security blanket and best friend on the team.
The team drafted Escobar, who stands 6’6”, in the second round to give Romo another red zone threat. The Cowboys hope he is a late bloomer because he is off to a slow start to the season with Hanna as Witten’s backup. If he is to get on the field in his rookie season, he’s got to improve in pass protection and get caught up with the speed of the game. Pass protection is where Smith comes into play, as he is more of a traditional blocking tight end, weighing 267 pounds.
Offensive Line- LT Tyron Smith, LG Ronald Leary, C Travis Frederick, RG Brian Waters, RT Doug Free
This was the Cowboys biggest concern heading into the offseason, which is why they drafted Frederick in the first round, considered a reach by many. Smith hopes to continue his progression in his second full season protecting Romo’s blindside. Waters, a Pro Bowler who last played in 2011, was recently signed to a one year deal to be the starter, a move that is going to improve the interior play greatly. Leary outplayed Nate Livings in training camp, and with Livings now on IR, it’s Leary’s job to lose. Free on the other hand, has to battle with Jermey Parnell for the starting spot, who split reps with him to finish last season.
The Cowboys have not had a solid offensive line in years that could dominate at the point of attack. Check Romo’s numbers in the 2007 season when they finished with the top seed in the NFC. Since then, the offensive line has been mediocre at best and Romo has had his share of problems stemming from that.
With the signing of Waters and the drafting of Frederick, the Cowboys have improved this unit. Now, with Callahan as the official play caller, the rest of the unit should improve and Romo should have the most protection in the Jason Garrett era as head coach.
Check back in a few days as I preview the defense before Sunday night’s showdown with the Giants.