Yeah, that’s right, drinking the Cowboys Kool-Aid. I’m sure that’s what many of you think I’m doing with the very optimistic prediction in my column last week. For those that didn’t read it, I predicted the Dallas Cowboys would have a record of 12-4 for the 2013 season and I laid it out with an analysis of each game. Of course predictions by me, or anyone else, are pure conjecture, that’s why they play the game. And there always seems to be games that should have been won, but weren’t, along with wins that weren’t expected. But, as opposed to those that think the Cowboys will go anywhere from 8-8 again to 7-9 or 9-7, I feel there are reasons to be much more optimistic than that. Maybe they don’t go 12-4, but 11-5 is certainly attainable for this team. In the following paragraphs I will detail some of the reasons for my optimism.
First let’s look at the offense. The Cowboys have been very good between the 20 yard lines the last several years, only to bog down once they get inside the 20. So, what will be different this year? The decision to have Bill Callahan call plays will add a certain level of freshness to the Cowboys offense. I believe head coach Jason Garrett’s play calling has become predictable and opposing teams won’t know what to expect from Callahan, although we’ve heard enough about his play calling in the past to expect more running plays.
And with Callahan calling the plays from the booth, there will be a much different perspective going into the next play, not to mention the effect of quarterback Tony Romo’s increased involvement in the offensive game plan. We can also expect the play to be sent to Romo quicker, perhaps eliminating some false start penalties, as well as preventing the opposing defense from jumping the snap count as the clock winds to zero. Garrett gets time to look at the big picture, so clock management will be better.
There is more angst going into the upcoming season about the offensive line than any other area of the team. Fans were disappointed that the Cowboys only selected one offensive lineman in the 2013 draft, and none in free agency, deciding to leave the rest of the positions to those already on the team. Then there was all the derision received by them for selecting Travis Frederick at the bottom of the first round. This represents a lot of displaced anxiety in my opinion. If you will recall last year’s game against the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the Cowboys had a record day running the ball with the only difference being that the Phil Costa, the starting center, played the whole game.
There is no doubt to most of us that Frederick is an upgrade over Costa so, if Frederick is the starter due to outperforming Costa in training camp, one would logically expect the whole line to be better. Other factors that can lead to better line play will be if Ronald Leary beats out Mackenzy Bernadeau or Nate Livings for one of the guard positions and if Jermey Parnell wins the job at right tackle over Doug Free. If the end result gives Romo a little more time and negates the pass rush from the middle, they will have accomplished a lot and it will be evident in the team’s record.
Joseph Randle will provide depth at running back without much of a drop off from DeMarco Murray, should he have to leave the game. Lance Dunbar offers a real change of pace as a receiver out of the backfield. And cutting the fullback in order to use tight ends in motion as lead blockers will keep the defense guessing. There should be no reason why Dez Bryant doesn’t pick up where he left off at the end of last season. Also, a healthy Miles Austin and improved play from Dwayne Harris, with another year of experience under his belt, and the addition of Terrance Williams from the draft, makes for a very dynamic group of wide receivers. Jason Witten is still close to the top of his game and James Hanna is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, tight ends in the league. This would be enough to present quite a one-two punch to opposing defenses, but on top of that, the additions of Gavin Escobar and Dante Rosario, makes this offense downright scary. This alone ought to allow for more touchdowns and less field goals once the team gets into the red zone.
Now let’s consider how the defense will affect the eventual record. The Cowboys defense will be much better than last year by virtue of starters that are healthy again. Add to that the change to a simpler and more aggressive scheme and you have the ingredients for a dominant defense that can create more turnovers this coming season than were created the last several years combined. I do believe this new scheme will result in even better play by DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, with them no longer going out in pass coverage and going after the ball in the offensive backfield 100% of the time.
This scheme will also allow for the best use of talent at linebacker, specifically Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, by preventing them from having to play off blocks from the offensive line. Pass coverage that was provided by Spencer will now be assigned to Lee, who has already shown a knack for making interceptions. This defense will also make the best use of the abilities of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at corner. Expect to see many more interceptions by them this season. And despite opinions to the contrary, I think their ability to play the bump and run technique will be utilized a lot. After all, they were told to watch tape of the Seattle Seahawks big, physical corners that employ the bump and run.
When you break it down, is there really any reason not to be optimistic about this coming season? Accuse me of drinking the Kool-Aid if you will, and make mine blue for me to drink from my Cowboys cold gel mug, but I really do believe great things are in store for the season that’s almost upon us.