Dallas Cowboys 2014-15 Team Preview
The Dallas Cowboys haven’t made the postseason in the last four years, and changing that will require a big turnaround in one of the worst defensive units in the league. It’s limited the team to three straight .500 seasons and coach Jason Garrett has his last chance at redemption before his contract expires after this season.
Despite all this, the Cowboys are refusing to enter rebuild mode and are hoping some youth and health is enough to right the ship.
Odds to win Superbowl: 40/1
Odds to win NFC: 50/1
Odds to win NFC East: +400
Betting Odds courtesy of Bovada
Former Rams coach and offensive coordinator in Detroit Scott Linehan has been hired to be the pass game coordinator and play caller. Tony Romo is coming off yet another back surgery and is now 34 years old. Still, he was signed for $108 million with $55 million guaranteed, so the Cowboys are counting on some more production from him. He had 31 TDs and 10 INTs last season in 15 games, and if fully healthy he is still a top QB (though many cite him as a “choke artist”). Kyle Orton and Brandon Weeden are both questionable backups, making Romo’s success even more imperative.
DeMarco Murray rushed for the third-most yards in the last eight games of the 2013-14 NFL season. He had 1,121 yards for the season and made the Pro Bowl, which is what the Cowboys were hoping for when he was selected in the third round of the 2011 draft. He’ll be even more featured this season, and rightfully so. Behind Murray, it’s a bit more dicey with Lance Dunbar and Joseph Murray both having their own inadequacies as No. 2 backs.
The Cowboys do have some great talent at WR for Romo. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten combined for over 2,000 yards between them and 21 TDs. The Cowboys will try to get Gavin Escobar some more opportunities this season to show what he can do, since he was taken in the 2nd round in 2013.
Terrance Williams will be a full time receiver with Miles Austin leaving the team. Williams had 44 receptions for 736 yards in his rookie season last year. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley will be used for inside receiving routes on third down. Rookie Devin Street adds big play potential and depth.
The OL is a weak spot for the Cowboys, though. Dallas selected Zack Martin of Notre Dame with the 16th overall selection to help remedy last year’s woes. Tyron Smith is a Pro Bowler and just 23 years old, so his continued ascent will help the OL tremendously. He allowed only 1.5 sacks last year with just one holding penalty. Zach Martin will start at right guard this season but eventually be moved to right tackle. He’s going to help immensely, but this unit is still average at best.
The Cowboys employ a 4-3 scheme defensively. Last year’s defense was simply too horrible to repeat the same scheme this season. Monte Kiffin is now an overseer and Rod Marinelli is the new defensive coordinator. Marinelli is known for creating turnovers and he’ll have the secondary doing a lot more man coverage this season.
The DL is a lot younger and healthier this season than last year’s aging unit. Free agent signee Melton had 15.5 sacks with the Chicago Bears last season and rookie Lawrence will replace the departed end Ware. The Cowboys plan to use a lot of DLs to keep guys fresh. The Cowboys are hoping Tyrone Crawford adds another element to the D, as he’s a very good pass rusher from the tackle position.
At LB it’s vital that Sean Lee be at full strength and health. He’s missed 18 games in the last four seasons and missed five at the end of last year. The defense fell apart without him in the lineup. He’s the leader of the D and the best playmaker, so the Cowboys are counting on him being right about his health improvements.
In the 4th round of the draft the team brought in Anthony Hitchens of Iowa to be Lee’s understudy and backup. He’ll be pressed into action, though, if Lee has his characteristically injury plagued type of year. Kyle Wilber is a strong side linebacker now, and a pretty decent one, but he’ll be pushed by DeVonte Holloman.
The secondary is where the Cowboys’ D shows its weakest links. Brandon Carr really proved he was worth that $50 million extension by allowing 966 yards himself last year. Morris Claiborne had injury issues and lost his starting position, and he was selected 6th overall in 2012. He’s had just two INTs in 25 career games, making it likely he never fulfills his vast potential.
Safety is even worse than CB. J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath were lit up last season. Rookies Terrance Mitchell and Ahmad Dixon might find themselves playing sooner than expected given how horrible this secondary was last year.
Dan Bailey is a great kicker, to say the least, having missed just four field goal attempts in the past two seasons. He made 28-of-30 last season and was 6-of-7 from beyond 50. Lon snapper J.P. Ladouceur has never had a bad snap in his NFL career, and that includes over 1,000 snaps. Chris Jones is a good punter on the rise. Harris is a top-notch punt and kick returner and he ranked 3rd in punt return average (12.8) and second in kick off returns (30.6).
The Cowboys defense is just too horrible to allow success as a team. Even if it improves, it would take an unfathomable leap from last year to propel this team into the postseason. Additionally, Romo’s decline is well worth watching, as the Cowboys simply refuse to look towards the future and beyond his career (evidenced by the team passing on Johnny Manziel in the draft).
Jerry Jones may be stubborn in rebuilding this team, but it has to happen. The best the team can really hope for is a one (maybe two?) game improvement on last season, and the long-shot odds given by Bovada are more accurate than Cowboy fan would ever agree to admit.