With the Dallas Cowboys 2010 roster essentially set for week one, I’d like to take the time to reflect to see whether the new and improved 2010 Cowboys are either new or improved.
First we take a look at quarterback. The players are the same with Tony Romo headlining. Romo had an outstanding season in 2009. He threw 26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and was sacked 34 times. The presumption is that Romo elected to hold the ball and accept an 8 yard sack rather than to throw the ball up for grabs which could lead to an interception. Strangely enough, simply throwing the ball out of bounds/away was never really discussed. Romo turns 30 in 2010. He is certainly capable of duplicating and improving upon the statistics of 2009; however, for the sake of argument, I will be a bit pessimistic. With an aging offensive line, a less than stellar running game (based upon the Cowboys performance in the pre-season), as well as the initial health of the offensive line for the first few games (Colombo and Kosier), the presumption is that Romo will have a worse year in 2010 than 2009. As a counterpoint, Romo has stated that he likes to focus on one area each year and improve upon the same during the off season. Prior to 2009, he worked on fumbling less and holding onto the ball with two hands while scrambling. His fumbles decreased from 13 in 2008 to 6 in 2009. He has refrained from tipping his hand as to what he has worked on this off-season, but I believe it is the back shoulder throw. He demonstrated the same in a few pre-season games. The back shoulder throw (as EVERY TV analyst will tell you) is not defensible. So on paper, I’m going to say this is a push. Romo will do well, but not better or worse.
Now we turn our attention to the offensive line (the main reason Romo will not do better than 2009). Doug Free has played as well as could be expected during the pre-season. He practices against two of the best pass rushers in the league and has been giving a passing grade by the coaching staff. At left tackle, Free in 2010 is better than Flozell Adams in 2009 and ABSOLUTELY better than Adams in 2010. However, continuity on the entire offensive line is important. Silent communication and having a feel for the player(s) next to you is often overlooked and undervalued. Free will eventually play next to Kyle Kosier; however, as Kosier rehabbs from his knee injury, they will miss too much time to develop the silent chemistry. That should not be a problem between Kosier and Andre Gurode as they have played next to each other for the past 4 years. Colombo will return to the field for the first game of 2010. The 2010 version of the Cowboys offensive line will be one year older coming into the season dinged up. Despite Free being an upgrade at left tackle, I simply do not believe the offensive line’s performance will be improved over 2009. So on paper, the nod goes to 2009.
The wide receiving corp changed by only one player. Patrick Crayton out, Dez Bryant in. Advantage 2010. There’s more to it than that. Originally in 2009, Miles Austin was the 3rd WR and Roy Williams was the #1. Obviously as the season shook out, Austin became the de facto #1 WR and Williams the #2. In 2010, you may again see the 3rd WR push Williams further down the depth chart. It is unlikely that Bryant will be an immediate factor as the transition to NFL regular season game speed requires a period of acclimation. With Sam Hurd and Kevin Ogletree manning the bottom of the WR’ing corp, it is undeniable that the athleticism of the WR’s has improved, though it remains to be seen whether the reliability and comfortability with Romo remains unchanged. Ergo, advantage 2010.
The injury to John Phillips has really shaken up how the Cowboys planned on using their tight ends. It was expected that the Cowboys would utilize a variety of three tight end sets with Phillips playing as an H-back on running downs. With Phillips on injured reserve, the Cowboys were unable to find a suitable replacement and have elected to keep only two tight ends on the roster (Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett). Witten’s production may improve if Romo has limited protection. As for Bennett, he did suffer a sophomore slump. Recently I heard a quote that if you can get a 2nd year player to play at the level they did in their first year, you have done a good job (it may have been Joe Gibbs who said it). Without a doubt, Bennett did not play at the level he did in his first year; however, he has seemed more focused during the pre-season and practices. If Bennett improves upon his rookie campaign, the nod goes to the 2010 season. However, if the Cowboys sustain one injury to either Bennett or Witten, they will inevitable sign Martin Rucker or Scott Chandler off the practice squad, and the nod goes to 2009.
Running backs are a push, though Marion Barber sustained a deep thigh bruise early in the 2009 season which affected his play. If he is able to return to form, the advantage is 2010.
Why is special teams always relegated to the end of any article. Special teams can determine the outcome of a game and consequently determine whether a team will go to the playoffs (think 2008 with Bruce Read). Matt McBriar has been incredible and barring injury, will continue to astound. 2009 was not as steady for placekicking. Nick Folk was coming off hip surgery and developed a case of the yips. The once confident kicker struggled to split the uprights on a consistent basis, regardless of distance. Enter Shawn Suisham. 4 for 5 in the first three games, however, he was only 1 for 3 against the Minnesota Vikings in Dallas’s final game. For 2010, David Buehler will handle kickoffs and field goals. Despite having one errant kick against the Bengals, he has been highly effective (10 out of 11). In fact, confidence in the kicking game is at an all time high since the start of the 2008 season. Advantage 2010.
On the defensive side of the ball, there are few changes. Bobby Carpenter out, one of the Williams boys in. Ken Hamlin out, Ball in. The Cowboys defense was predominantly young to begin with, so one additional year in the system will allow the players to be more confident in their assignments. If there is a valid point of concern, it is veteran depth. The Cowboys have elected to replace Junior Siavii with Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore, both rookies. If Ware or Spencer are injured, Victor Butler (2nd year player) will replace them. If James or Brooking are hurt, they will be replaced by Sean Lee (rookie) or one of the Williams (2nd year for Jason W.). The biggest question is if there is an injury at cornerback as there are only three corners presently on the roster (Newman, Jenkins, and Scandrick). Certainly Ball could return to that role, but then who is next in line to play free safety? Advantage 2010.
So on paper, the 2010 Cowboys win 4-1-2 over the 2009 Cowboys. Throw in a Madden simulation and the 2010 Cowboys win 24 to 21 in overtime (after Folk misses a 24 yard kick for the win and Buehler hits a 64 yarder which splits the uprights). Unfortunately, where they are vulnerable affects the entirety of the offense, but we’re going to overlook that for right now. The Cowboys should be better in 2010, and this should be reflected in their record.
Tags: Alan Ball Andre Gurode Anthony Spencer Bengals Bobby Carpenter Bradie James Bruce Read Dallas Cowboys David Buehler DeMarcus Ware Dez Bryant Doug Free Flozell Adams Jason Williams Jason Witten Joe Gibbs John Phillips Josh Brent Junior Siavii Keith Brooking Ken Hamlin Kevin Ogletree Kyle Kosier Leon Williams Marion Barber Martellus Bennett Martin Rucker Mike Jenkins Miles Austin Minnesota Vikings Nick Folk Orlando Scandrick Patrick Crayton Roy Williams Sam Hurd Scott Chandler Sean Lee Sean Lissemore Shawn Suisham Terrence Newman Tony Romo Victor Butler