The Big Homie’s Sports Corner – 2012 Dallas Cowboys Season Preview

Dallas Cowboys Season Outlook

Coaching

Jason Garrett has a lot to improve upon going into his 2nd full season as the Cowboys Head Coach.   Jerry Jones has given more creative control to Garrett than he has with any coach other than Jimmy Johnson, and we know how that turned out.  Garrett has a talented team and has bolstered his coaching staff with the arrival of Offensive Line/Offensive Coordinator- Bill Callahan and Secondary Coach Jerome Henderson.  It’s now time for the team’s on the field production to match its coaching and overall talent.  Anything less than a deep playoff run is unacceptable.

Quarterback

Tony Romo had his best year as a quarterback last year despite the debacle against the Jets and Lions.  Romo threw for 31 touchdowns, 4184 yards, and a passer rating of 102.5. Romo showed grit and toughness in 2011.  See the San   Franciscogame.  Kyle Orton, one of the best back-up QB’s in the NFL, was signed as a capable back- up to Romo.  Kyle Orton could be starting for a significant amount of NFL teams.  He gives the Cowboys a tremendous insurance policy in case Romo gets hurt.  Stephan Mcgee who is fighting for his roster spot with Rudy Carpenter is currently the 3rd string QB.

Running Back

The Cowboys potentially struck gold with the selection of Demarco Murray in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Murray has a good combination of power, speed, vision, and versatility.  Murray now must take his game to the next level as defenses will now key on the 2nd yr running back. Murray must show that he can stay healthy, something that has plagued him since his days atOklahoma.  Backing upMurray will be Felix Jones who has been a disappointment when considering the Cowboys could have drafted Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, and Jamal Charles in the 2008 Draft.  The speed, durability, and burst Jones showed atArkansas has not always shown up in the NFL.  Phillip Tanner rounds out the Cowboys trio at RB.

Receivers

If Dez Bryant and Miles Austin stay healthy for an entire year, they will make a strong case for one of the best receiving duos in the NFL.  Blessed with top shelf receiving talent, 3rd year wide receiver Dez Bryant must now put it all together to become one of the league’s best and eliminate the off-the-field issues which have plagued him.  Miles Austin, one of the best route runners in football must show he can stay healthy for 16 games.  Miles is valuable to the Cowboys because of his hands, ability to move the chains, and ability to play in the slot as well as outside.  In order to replace the highly productive Laurent Robinson who left for Jacksonville, the Cowboys will rely on Kevin Ogletree, Dewayne Harris, or Andre Holmes to be the 3rd WR.  One of them must emerge.

The Cowboys still come into the year with Romo’s main target, Jason Witten.  Steady and reliable are the ways to describe one of the all around best TE’s in the NFL when you factor in the ability to not only catch the football but to block as well. Backing upWitten, will be John Phillips and James Hanna.  The Cowboys allowed the underachieving Martellus Bennett to leave via free agency.

Offensive Line

As a unit, this group struggled in 2011.  The lone bright Spot was Left Tackle Tyron Smith.  Smith, blessed with unreal athleticism for the position will switch positions and play LT for the Cowboys after playing Right Tackle last year.  RT Doug Free, coming off a subpar 2011 in which he played LT, will now play Right Tackle.  Free regressed last year after being awarded a new contract extension.  The Cowboys are hoping for a bounce back year for Free.  The Cowboys signed Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings in free agency to be an upgrade at the guard positions.  The Cowboys are hoping the increased size and strength of those two will help out undersized starting center Phil Costa.  Jeremy Parnell, Derrick Dockery, David Arkin, and Ron Leary will provide depth.

Defensive Line

Nose tackle Jay Ratliff anchors this unit.  Ratliff, who has a non- stop motor has made 4 consecutive Pro-Bowls.  The Cowboys hope 3rd year pro Josh Brent will provide adequate depth at Nose Tackle.  Brent will have to play a key role in order to keep Ratliff healthy for the second half of the season.  Rounding out the rest of the Cowboys defensive line is Jason Hatcher, who is coming off his best season as a pro in 2011 and Kenyon Coleman.  Marcus Spears, Sean Lissemore, and Tyrone Crawford will all provide depth along the defensive line.  The Cowboys are hoping Crawford or Lissemore can provide a push up the middle when given pass rush opportunities.

Linebackers

The headliner of the group and best OLB in the NFL is Demarcus Ware. He is without question the league’s best pass rusher.  Ware finished 2nd in the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2011.  The Cowboys franchised Anthony Spencer.  The hope is that Spencer will finally provide a consistent pass rush opposite Ware.  Spencer has never had more than 6 sacks in a season since being drafted in the 1st round of the 2007 draft.  Should Spencer fail to provide a pass rush, those responsibilities will fall upon Victor Butler, Alex Albright, and 4th round draft pick Kyle Wilbur.  Look for one of these players to replace Spencer in 2013 if Spencer doesn’t improve upon his sack totals.

Sean Lee should have made the Pro-Bowl in 2011.  Healthy for his first full year as the stating Middle Linebacker, Lee led the team in tackles and proved to be an emotional leader for the defense.  Lee hopes to improve upon those numbers with 2nd year pro Bruce Carter as his compliment.  Carter has tremendous overall athleticism. He spent most of last year getting acclimated to the NFL and overcoming an injury he suffered while atNorth Carolina.  Dan Conner was signed in the off-season to provide competition to Carter for the MLB position next to Lee.  Whether he starts or not Conner will provide insurance in case of injury to Lee or Carter.

Secondary

The Cowboys sought to upgrade what was a weak position in 2011.  They did so by signing the best free agent Cornerback available in Brandon Carr.  The hope is that Carr’s physical style of play will pay dividends.  The Cowboys traded up six spots in the draft for Morris Claiborne.  Claiborne, a rookie, is being counted on to be a playmaker opposite of Carr.  Orlando Scandrick will man the slot position for the Cowboys.  Scandrick hopes to improve upon a down year in 2011.  The wildcard of the group is Mike Jenkins.  Jenkins has had an up and down career for the Cowboys.  He was a Pro Bowler in 2009, had a terrible year in 2010, and had a good year in 2011.  Jenkins has been slow to recover from a shoulder injury which could lead to him missing time this season.  When healthy, he is arguably one of the best CB’s on the team.

Safety remains a question mark for the team.  Gerald Sensabaugh will man one safety position while 3rd year Pro Barry Church will make his debut as the starting Strong Safety.  The Cowboys drafted Matt Johnson to provide depth with the departure of AbeElam.

Special Teams

Dan Bailer beat out David Buehler in training camp last year and hasn’t looked back.  Bailey made 32 of 37 FG attempts last year.  Chris Jones will replace Matt McBriar as the team’s punter.  Look for either Dewayne Harris, Dez Bryant, or Felix Jones to return kicks for the Cowboys.

Prediction

It’s been 17 years since the Cowboys last played in a Superbowl.  With the amount of money Jerry Jones puts into the team, there’s no reason for this to happen.  The Cowboys come into the season with question marks abound.  WillMurraystay healthy? Can Dez put it all together? Will Romo join the elite QB status of Rodgers, Brees, and Brady?  All of these questions will be answered in due time. The key to the season rests upon two factors:  How will the OL and Defensive Secondary hold up?

The Cowboys play 6 of their first 9 games on the road.  This will define the season for the Cowboys as they play atAtlanta, the Giants,Seattle,Baltimore,Carolina, and Philly.  For the season to be successful, the Cowboys must finish 5-4 or 6-3 after their first 9 games heading into the back stretch of the season.

Can they do it?  Sure.  Will they do it? No.  The Cowboys, while talented, have uncertainty and injury issues along the OL.  This unit has to play together to gel as a single cohesive unit.  The secondary which was looked at as a strong unit “On Paper” has issues with the Jenkins injury, and a solid number two pass rusher has yet to be discovered.

With all the being said, the Big Homie’s prediction of the Cowboys is 8-8 without a playoff berth.