The Dallas Cowboys may have enjoyed a surprise 13-5 overall run last season, but that doesn’t mean a successful 2015 run is a given.
If anything, teams are circling the Cowboys on their schedule, especially the NFC East. As much as some will cry about running back DeMarco Murray‘s departure as a weakness, I’d argue the opposite.
So let’s scratch the big transaction that never happened off the list.
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Running Back Help?
Murray’s absence isn’t a weakness — it’s a gift.
The 27-year-old Philadelphia Eagle touched the ball nearly 500 times when you add up his regular and playoff season touches.
Running back Joseph Randle, who appears to be first in line for the starting job, is 23-years-old. For his N.F.L. career, he has held the ball 119 times as both a rusher and a receiver.
Oh, let’s not forget that Randle’s stipend is ideal compared to Murray. Randle’s cap hit in 2015 is $632,220 to Murray’s $5 million.
Randle has looked sharp this training camp. He appears strong. He appears motivated.
Maybe it was a good thing he made a comment about Murray leaving meat on the bone. Randle can back up that comment with a strong 2015 campaign by picking up the yards Murray left on the turf.
So if we’re not talking about the running backs group, what position weakness will prevent the Boys from a sixth title this season?
How About the Defensive Line?
Well, the Cowboys bolstered their front pressure with talent this offseason. Defensive end Greg Hardy will miss the first four games of the regular season, but that’s a big drop from missing 10 games.
So up front the rotating defense is highlighted with Greg Hardy, rookie Randy Gregory, Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence.
On paper, this talent is a major upgrade, especially for a defense that finished 19th last year. Mix in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s name in, and the Cowboys might have a chance to get the type of pressure they’ve wanted for years.
Why Are Pictures of the Cornerbacks On a Milk Carton?
The Cowboys may have finished second in the league with 31 takeaways (18 of them interceptions), but the secondary, outside of first-round pick Byron Jones, still needs help.
Defensive back Orlando Scandrick stepped in well in 2014. He was the biggest chemistry factor in the secondary, meaning when he was on the field, the Dallas secondary was different, and in a good way.
So far the 2015 is off to a bad start for the cornerbacks group.
Cornerback Brandon Carr had surgery to repair a broken right hand. Morris Claiborne is back, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you see him. Claiborne is looking to be a leader to the younger corners, which is an odd role for someone who hasn’t completed his primary job well. And Scandrick is a year older (28).
Dallas spent 5 of their 8 draft picks on defense this year.
Number 31 will have his work cut out for him, especially now with Carr on the sidelines. Though Jones has worked out at the cornerback and safety positions, it’s hard to see him pulled out of the corner spot considering the demand the position goes for in a 16-game season.
In last year’s playoff match against the Green Bay Packers, the Cowboys watched a hobbled Aaron Rodgers dissect the passing lanes with one good leg and his eyes closed. I kid.
Well, sort of.
Rodgers went 24 for 35 (68.6 completion percentage), passed for 316 passing yards and three touchdowns. He had no interceptions. His quarterback rating for the day was 125.4.
A week prior, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford tossed 323 yards, completing 28 out of 42 passes (66.67 completion percentage).
Of course, Rodgers is a dangerous Rodgers whenever he’s on the field. He’ll arguably go down as one of the best at the position — if not the best — when his career is over.
But the Cowboys won’t last long in future playoff games if they can’t scheme against an injured star. The defensive front handled Rodgers with 2 sacks that day, but the quarterback was pressure free for most of the day.
Could some extra pressure up front have helped? Sure.
Did Murray’s fumble in the third period hurt Dallas from advancing, especially when they were up 14-10? Sure.
Did the Dez Bryant catch reversal doom the Boys? Sure.
But given all these scenarios, the Cowboys were able to bail out of these circumstances up until it was an injured Rodgers’ turn to dissect the secondary late in the fourth quarter. The coverage moved in slow motion, always a step behind the wide receivers.
If the secondary can’t speed up in 2015, the Cowboys won’t have any shot at a sixth title.