The Cowboys invested heavily in Romo, and not much else, in the hopes that he can lead the team and their NFL-worst defense to a playoff trip in 2014.
Next in the fanatix NFL power ranking is the No. 25 Dallas Cowboys. Three straight 8-8 seasons have Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett firmly on the hot seat. A league-worst defense that may only have gotten worse may spell the end of his tenure in Dallas.
Recap of 2013
While the Cowboys’ offense kept the team in many games in 2013 (2-5 in games decided by 3 points or less), the defense was one of the worst in NFL history and certainly the worst in team history, allowing 30 or more points in 7 games, and 40 or more points in 3 of them. The team was 8-7 heading into the final game of the season against the Eagles to determine the NFC East division champion, but with Tony Romo injured from the previous week’s victory, the team lost the division championship game and finished 8-8 for their 3rd straight year.
After putting up the worst defense in team history, the Cowboys replaced DC Monte Kiffin with former Bears DC Rod Marinelli. In addition, owner Jerry Jones assigned all offensive playcalling duties to OC Bill Callahan.
Recap of 2014 Offseason
To say that the Cowboys lost a lot in the offseason would be an understatement. With no cap space, the Cowboys could not afford to keep some of their defensive stars – the few they had – and had to cut them, leaving the team almost barren of talent on that side of the ball.
Pass rush specialist DeMarcus Ware was cut and signed with the Broncos, and leading sacker Jason Hatcher signed with Washington. Long-time starter Miles Austin also left and former Pro Bowl G Brian Waters left in free agency.
The team added QB Brandon Weeden to be Tony Romo’s backup and signed a few defensive linemen in Henry Melton and Jeremy Mincey.
The draft itself was average – G Zach Martin was a good pickup in the first round but not quite as flashy as the team needed. DE Demarcus Lawrence was also good pick and he could start this year.
Unfortunately, the team lost ILB Sean Lee for the year to an injury and now have little to no playmaking talent available in the middle of the field.
Position of Strength: Quarterback
Tony Romo may not have the gaudy double-digit win totals of many young QBs in the league, but in the past 10 years he has been one of the most consistent, high-level QBs in the league. He has been in the top 10 for passer rating, TDs thrown and completions per game in seven of the last eight seasons. As an eight-year starter he has only one losing season (a 1-5 record in 2010) and a career completion percentage of 64.6 (6th highest in NFL history).
The Cowboys will go as far as Tony Romo can physically take them – and considering his exceptional playing ability, that can be anywhere from 4 wins to 12 wins.
Position of Weakness: Linebacker
The losses of Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware have turned a once-intimidating LB corps into a joke. The team does not have any proven talent remaining in the LB corps – and this only adds on to a unit that has lost or continues to lose its best players on the defensive line and secondary. While the line and secondary at least have some semblance of talent, the starters – which as of now may be Bruce Carter, Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber (all with fewer than three years experience) – may be the weakest unit on what may be a terrible defense.
Best Case Scenario
The Cowboys play 8 games against teams with a losing record in 2013. Two games in the first half of the season against an opponent that was a top 10 offense (Washington and New Orleans), the Cowboys have a decent shot of overcoming their defensive faults and heading into December with a winning record. And with only three total games against opponents with a higher scoring offense than the Cowboys, they could very well clinch a playoff spot in the final week if they play their cards right and avoid significant injuries on offense.
Worst Case Scenario
In the worst case scenario the team could be completely anemic on defense and perform as bad if not worse than the team that allowed 415 yards and 27.0 points per game in 2013. With the entire NFC West, the Saints, Bears and two games against the Eagles on the schedule, the Cowboys defense will struggle early and often. In December the Cowboys play four games out of five against teams with a top 10 offense – the 5th is Andrew Luck and the Colts. The possibility of the Cowboys having a 4th straight year competing for the NFC East title in the last game of the season against the Redskins seems very remote.
Prediction: 4th place in NFC East, no playoffs