2007 NFL Preview: Dallas Cowboys

Looking At 2006 in the Rear View Mirror

No one will ever mix up Drew Bledsoe with Michael Vick on the football field, but for most of his career, Bledsoe's arm and pin-point accuracy made up for his immobility. Last season, that wasn't the case.

After a lot of hype for an offense that had just acquired Terrell Owens, the Dallas Cowboys were too hot-and-cold under Bledsoe to be taken seriously.

In Week 7, head coach Bill Parcells made a bold move that would eventually save the Cowboys' season by giving Bledsoe the Looney Tunes hook in favor of the unproven Tony Romo.

When Romo entered in the second half, it looked like a lame decision initially, but the Cowboys went on to win five of their next six games and introduced some much-needed optimism.

The change at QB re-ignited the passing game as Romo started to connect with Owens, Terry Glenn, and Jason Witten much more often.

Owens had 22 receptions for 277 yards in the five games prior to the Giants game and had 41 catches and 540 in the six games after, once Romo took over.

More importantly, Romo's mobility and quicker release took a load off of the offensive line.

Though Romo struggled down the home stretch and, of course, bobbled a fairly key extra point hold, he has still shown enough to make people believe that he can be a franchise quarterback.

The Cowboys thrived with their ground attack as Julius Jones pieced together a full, healthy season. He topped the 1,000-yard mark for the first-time and was greatly helped by Marion Barber III, who spelled him and picked up the tough yards.

The tandem combined for 1,738 yards and 18 touchdowns and were an underrated 1-2 punch.

On defense, the Cowboys secondary and pass rush were the story of the season.

The Cowboys safeties were in many highlight packs, usually on the wrong end, chasing receivers from behind. The Cowboys allowed 25 passing touchdowns, which was the third highest total in the NFL.

Part of what factored into that problem was the lack of a pass rush. Once Greg Ellis was lost for the season — after making an excellent transition to outside linebacker — all of the blocking attention was focused on DeMarcus Ware. First-round pick Bobby Carpenter, who was expected to man the outside role from the jump, didn't prove to be much of a contributor.

Free safety was another issue as rookie Pat Watkins and veteran Roy Williams were victimized all season long.

Using Letters to Break Down Numbers: Pass Defense

Roy Williams had a subpar season, mostly because he didn't play with an adequate safety partner last year. Williams is much stronger closer to the line of scrimmage, but was forced to play further back to try and cover up for his counterpart.

Watkins is more of a linebacker and is slow to begin with, but the Cowboys had no other options.

While the Cowboys' rush defense allowed only five runs of 20 yards or longer, which was the third-lowest total in the NFL, they allowed 14 passing plays of 40 yards or longer, which was the third-highest total.

Permitting so many deep passing plays clearly factored in their yards-per-catch allowed, which was the second worst in the NFL (12.4).

The secondary finished with a total of 12 interceptions, which leaves much to be desired especially since the two starting corners, Anthony Henry and Terrence Newman, only combined for a total of three.

The Cowboys had a stout rushing attack and forced their opponents to be one-dimensional, and in some cases, predictable, but the even though the Cowboys were expecting the pass, they still couldn't stop it.

Where Are the Cowboys on the Contender Chart?

For starters, there is no real, copyrighted, Contender Chart, but for argument's sake, where do the Cowboys stand in comparison to the Super Bowl frontrunners?

They should have been in the second round of the playoffs and common sense tells us that they would have finished with a better record had Romo been the full-time starter from Week 1.

You can also factor in Owens' broken hand, which led to a number of dropped passes, as well as the injury to Ellis.

Before we make any assessments, let's take a look at how they have improved.

On defense, the Cowboys added first-round pick Anthony Spencer, who could be another DeMarcus Ware. If you combine that fact, along with the possible return of Greg Ellis and the hiring of defensive guru Wade Phillips, you can assume that the front seven will be a terror.

The remaining parts of the Cowboys' front seven really jelled last season and there is no question that they were stout against the run.

Nose tackle Jason Ferguson played better in his second season in Dallas, while the Cowboys had two quality ends emerge in Marcus Spears and Chris Canty, the latter being more of a surprise since Spears had been building towards that for a while.

With a quality line up front, pass rushing threats on the outside, and two tackling machines in Bradie James and Akin Ayodele on the inside, the front seven definitely looks stronger.

On the back end, the Cowboys added free safety Ken Hamlin, which is a definite upgrade over what was used last season, but keep your expectations tempered. Hamlin's former team, the Seattle Seahawks, opted to upgrade at his position as well, which means they didn't think too highly of him.

Even so, the addition of Hamlin takes a lot of things off of Williams' to-do list and should allow him to play closer to the front lines where he is most comfortable.

The two biggest weaknesses on defense were the pass rush and the free safety spot and the Cowboys upgraded both.

On offense, the only significant changes the Cowboys made were on the offensive line.

Leonard Davis, a high-end bust in Arizona, was signed for near David Beckham money as the Cowboys believe that his lack of growth stemmed from coaching.

He is taking over Marco Rivera's spot at right guard, who was released due to back issues.

The Cowboys have two Pro Bowlers with Flozell Adams at left tackle and Andre Gurode at center and a solid right tackle in Marc Colombo. If Davis is who the Cowboys believe he is, the Cowboys will have improved on their front lines.

But aside from the offensive line, we pretty much know what to expect from the rest of the offensive parts.

You can expect Owens to have a better season, now that his hand is healed, while Glenn has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns.

At tight end, the Cowboys have a Pro Bowl caliber tight end with Witten and at this point, we know what the Cowboys are going to get out of Barber and Jones.

Aside from a few minor parts who could step up to give this offense other options, such as Patrick Crayton or second tight end, Anthony Fasano, the real difference-maker in this offense is Romo.

Like many teams in the NFL, they only go as far as their quarterback.

Outside of the coaching staff, there isn't much turnover on this team so there aren't too many questions marks.

The main burning question has to be: can Romo handle the pressure?

We've seen many quarterbacks step into a deflated situation, play lights-out when the pressure was off, and crumble the following year when they were faced with greater expectations.

Is that what happened to Romo in the second half of last season, when he realized that Troy Aikman-like expectations were on his shoulders?

The main story in Dallas is no longer Owens, or a potential Owens/Parcells confrontation, or Parcells' possible retirement. All eyes are on Romo since it is up to him how big of a dent the Cowboys will make on the 2007 season.

The Players' Coach

With guys like Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith thriving, players' coaches are the fad right now. But keep in mind that the NFL is a league of trends.

Players' coaches have a tendency to lose their teams if the playoff appearances are not steady. Issues such as discipline, penalties, and focus can also wane since players' coaches are not as demanding.

Sure, the players love it, but that is not necessarily a good thing. Kids like when their parents or teachers are lenient because it means there is more they can get away with.

Once these players' coaches start failing more frequently, expect the dictators to make their way back.

Biggest Weakness: Depth — The Cowboys don't have much depth in a few areas (wide receiver, inside linebacker, cornerback) and if the front lines get nicked up, the Cowboys will experience a big drop-off with the backups.

Offensive X-Factor: Tony Romo — Romo has to be consistently good, something that many starting quarterbacks struggle to do. If the Cowboys are wondering what they will get out of him each week, they won't be contending this year.

Defensive X-Factor: Anthony Spencer — The Cowboys are hoping that Spencer is the Shaun Phillips to their Shawne Merriman (DeMarcus Ware). If that's the case, their pass rush under Wade Phillips will be excellent.

Fantasy Market: Buy Low

There are a few options on this team whose values are low and offer a good price tag for what they could return.

On offense, Jason Witten is not making the top 10 tight ends in the fantasy rankings, but he should be up there. The emergence of Marion Barber really cut into his touchdown total last season. He still has all the tools and a new offensive coordinator should ensure that he isn't a forgotten man. He is money in the bank for 750 yards — it's just a question of how many touchdowns can he pull.

Secondly, take a look at Patrick Crayton, who should be undrafted in most leagues. Terry Glenn is off back-to-back healthy seasons and has never had three consecutive full seasons. He is still an effective player, but he did just have arthroscopic knee surgery to ease some pain in the area. Crayton's value will shoot up should Glenn miss time.

On defense, the Cowboys team defense should be fairly good. They aren't the Ravens or the Bears, and you would probably have to sit them when they play the Eagles, but this defense can shut offenses down. Teams who rely on rushing and don't threaten with a passing game play right into this defense's strengths.

"Vegas" Dave Golokhov hosts "THE Fantasy Show" on Hardcore Sports Radio, channel 186 on Sirius Satellite Radio, beginning September. Send media requests, thoughts, love letters, or hate mail to [email protected].

Comments and Conversation

August 4, 2007


It’s a shame Parcells hit the panic button when he did. Bledsoe had lost two games….both on the road to solid squads (jax. and Philly.) I will never stop wondering how far the Boys would have gone last year with Bledsoe at the helm instead of Romo. By year’s end, evey team in the league had figured out Romo and he couldn’t even do anything against a depleted Seattle secondary in the playoffs.

August 6, 2007


In a week NFC field, I see no reason why this team cannot reach the Super Bowl. Prior to Ellis’s injury this defense was one of the best in the business last year. And with added experience Tony Romo should be more then ready to lead a potent offense.

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