Head Coach: Jason Garrett
2014 record: 13-5 overall, 4-2 NFC East
2014 Postseason results: Beat Detroit Lions 24-20 in NFC Wild Card, Lost to Green Bay Packers 26-21 in the NFC Divisional playoffs
Odds to win Super Bowl 50: 37/2
Odds to win NFC Championship: +875
Odds to win NFC East Division: +120
Regular season wins: over 9.5 -125 / under 9.5 -105
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DEZ CAUGHT IT! That has been the refrain of Dallas Cowboy fans across the country after the Cowboys narrowly lost to the Green Bay Packers 26-21 in the NFC Divisional playoffs at Lambeau Field. Dallas receiver Dez Bryant appeared to catch the go ahead touchdown with less than 2 minutes left in the game on fourth and 2. However, officials said he didn’t make a football move before the ball touched the turf and ruled it incomplete. The Packers held on for the win to advance to the NFC Championship game.
At the beginning of last season few outside of hardcore Cowboys fans thought this team would even make the playoffs. The defense was projected to be historically bad, and the Cowboys were coming off three straight 8-8 seasons. In each of those seasons, they entered the last game of the season with a chance to win the division and lost to a different division rival to send said rival into the playoffs.
The defense overachieved and the Cowboys won the NFC East with a 12-4 record under long time coach Jason Garrett. The playoffs seemed like a long shot after they were thumped at home on Thanksgiving by the Philadelphia Eagles 33-10. However, Dallas would win four straight games to end the season, while the Eagles fell apart. One of the wins in that stretch was a 38-27 win in Philadelphia. The Cowboys were tied with the Seattle Seahawks and Packers for best record in the conference, but Dallas lost the tiebreaker to both teams. The Cowboys would beat the Detroit Lions 24-20 in the wild card game. Dallas trailed 17-7 at halftime in that game.
This year the expectations are high for the Cowboys. Dallas is favored to win the NFC East again and is the third choice in the NFC behind the Seahawks and Packers. Let’s take a deeper look at the Cowboys on offense, defense, special teams, as well as the schedule and outlook.
Last year, Dallas averaged 384 yards per game including 237 passing and 147 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys were #7 in total offense. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan put more of an emphasis on the running game behind what is widely considered to be the best offensive line in the league. The Cowboys were #2 in rushing behind only the Seahawks. Dallas was #5 in scoring at 29 points per game.
Quarterback Tony Romo entered last season coming off back surgery in the off-season. He ended up completing 69.9% of his passes for 3,705 yards with 34 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Romo reinjured his back in an overtime loss to the Redskins on a Monday night. He returned to the game in the fourth. He would miss the next game against the Arizona Cardinals though. Romo’s injury showed a glaring weakness for the Cowboys.
The back-up quarterback is Brandon Weeden. He was mediocre at best in the second half against the Redskins and in his start against the Cardinals. Weeden threw for 303 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in those games. Surprisingly, Dallas did not add a back-up and Weeden will keep the job. The only other quarterbacks on the roster are second year Dustin Vaughan and rookie Jameill Showers, an undrafted free agent from UTEP.
Running back DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing despite playing the last month of the season with broken bones in his off hand. He would not miss a game. He rushed for 1,845 yards on 392 carries with 13 touchdowns, and also had 57 catches for 416 yards. Murray signed as a free agent with the rival Eagles in the off-season.
Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and free agent signee Darren McFadden will likely split the carries as the Cowboys will go with a committee approach to replace the production of Murray. McFadden played in all 16 games last season for the first time in his career for a terrible Oakland Raiders team. He rushed for 534 yards with 2 touchdowns and also made 36 catches for 212 yards. McFadden has struggled to stay healthy consistently during his career so far. He has battled a hamstring injury during training camp but is expected to be ready for the regular season.
Randle had 51 carries for 343 yards with 3 touchdowns last year for the Cowboys. He was arrested during the season last year for shoplifting. He was fined by the team but not suspended. Dunbar rushed for 99 yards last year on 29 carries, and also made 18 catches for 217 yards. Randle and Dunbar have also been battling minor injuries during training camp but should be ready for the regular season. Gus Johnson and Lache Seastrunk could also get some carries. Ray Agnew and Tyler Clutts will be the fullbacks but won’t get many carries if any.
Bryant signed a four year contract extension after the Cowboys put the franchise tag on him. He had 88 catches for 1,320 yards with 16 touchdowns. He is one of the best receivers in the league. Tight end Jason Witten had 64 catches for 703 yards and 5 touchdowns. Terrance Williams had 37 catches for 621 yards and 8 touchdowns. Cole Beasley had 37 catches for 420 yards and 4 touchdowns. Back-up tight end Gavin Escobar had only 9 catches but 4 of them went for touchdowns. Devin Street will also get a lot of targets.
Center Travis Frederick, left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zach martin all made the Pro Bowl last year. Right tackle Doug Free and left guard Ron Leary are also back. Mackenzy Bernadeau is a quality back-up and can play at the center or either of the two guard spots. The Cowboys signed La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent. He was projected to be a first round pick before he was linked to a double homicide just days before the NFL draft. He was cleared in the investigation.
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Last year,while the defense wasn’t great it also wasn’t as terrible as experts predicted it would be. The Cowboys gave up 355 yards per game including 252 passing and 103 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys were #26 in pass defense, but #8 against the rush. Dallas allowed 22 points a game. Coordinator Rod Marinelli is widely considered one of the best defensive minds in football, and certainly gets the most out of his players.
Dallas had only 28 sacks last season after the departure of DeMarcus Ware to the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys worked to solve their pass rushing issues by signing defensive end Greg Hardy from the Carolina Panthers. He had double digit sacks in 2012 and 2013. However, he only played in one game last year after being convicted on domestic violence charges. He was sentenced to 18 months probation but no jail time. Hardy was supposed to be suspended for 10 games this season but an appeal lowered the suspension to four games.
Dallas also drafted defensive end Randy Gregory in the second round out of Nebraska. He was also projected to be a first round pick but tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine. DeMarcus Lawrence will start at left end after missing 9 games last year due to a broken foot. Jeremy Mincey, Kenneth Boatright and Ben Gardner will also see time at end. Nick Hayden and Tyrone Crawford will start at the tackles. Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford will also see time at the tackles.
The linebackers will get a boost by the return of team leader Sean Lee who suffered a torn ACL during OTA’s before last season. Lee moves from the middle to the weak side this season. Rolando McClain will man the middle after being resigned in the off-season. He had 81 tackles last year including 10 for loss, along with 2 interceptions. Anthony Hitchens will start at the strong side. He had 75 tackles last year. Bruce Carter is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after making 68 tackles and 5 interceptions last year.
Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick were supposed to be the starting corners. However, Carr suffered a broken hand during training camp. He is expected to be out 6-8 weeks. Morris Claiborne returns from a serious knee injury that ended his season after 4 games last year. The Cowboys also drafted cornerback Byron Jones in the first round out of Connecticut. J.J Wilcox and Barry Church will start at the safeties. Jeff Heath, C.J. Spillman and Jakar Hamilton will see time at safety also.
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Dan Bailey is one of the best kickers in the league. He made 25 of 29 field goals last year, with three of the four misses coming from beyond 40 yards. Punter Chris Jones had a net average of 39.8 yards last year with 21 punts inside the 20 yard line. He will compete to keep his job with Tom Hornsey. Dwayne Harris returned both kicks and punts last season, but Harris has signed with the New York Giants. Dunbar and Randle are penciled in as the kick returners, and Beasley will likely return punts.
The Cowboys open the season at home against the Giants before traveling to the Eagles. Next comes a home game against the Atlanta Falcons and a road trip to the New Orleans Saints. The Cowboys then get the New England Patriots at home but Tom Brady will likely be serving the last game of his four game suspension against Dallas. The Cowboys have a bye in week six. Then comes a road game at the Giants, before home games against the Seahawks and Eagles. The Cowboys travel to the Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins before hosting the Carolina Panthers on Thanksgiving. Then comes road games at the Redskins and Packers, before a home game against the New York Jets. Dallas closes the season at the Buffalo Bills and at home against the Redskins.
The defense should be much better once Hardy returns from his suspension. The offense will still put more emphasis on the rush to take the pressure off Romo. I think the cowboys still win the NFC East and win 11 games in the regular season. A deep playoff run is very possible but I still don’t think they are as good as the Seahawks and Packers.
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