If Wade Phillips the head coach wants to continue, he's best advised to have a heart-to-heart with his defensive coordinator, some guy named Wade Phillips, because the season will likely ride on DC Wade's skill at game planning and game calling.
The Cowboys schedule offers opportunity, and danger. Danger, because Dallas will face some of the league's best offenses. Ten games are up for teams with offenses ranked in the top eleven last year. Add 14th rated Tampa Bay, which added Kellen Winslow this winter, and the Cowboys will see eleven games against teams rated in the top half.
On the other hand, Dallas has nine games against teams with defenses in the bottom third. Many of these teams are one and the same: Dallas' season will likely rise or fall on six games with shootout potential, where the opponents have a top-10 rated offense and a low-rung defense. These games:
|Team||Off. Rank||Def. Rank||Sacks Rank|
These teams can all move the ball and score. Only one of these teams -- Green Bay -- had a losing record, and it was 13-3 the year before.
I think a healthy Cowboys offense will be able to rack up yards and points on these teams. A lot of people waffle on Jason Garrett. I don't. I think injuries crippled his team and made him look dumb. The '07 Cowboys offensive starters lost so few games to injury you could count them on your fingers: T.O. missed one start; Patrick Crayton missed three and Andre Gurode missed two. That's it. Last year, Owens, Crayton and the right side of the line -- Gurode, Davis and Colombo -- were the only offensive players who didn't suffer a serious injury or three.
A healthy line and healthy backs and receivers should revive the offense. That and some weak pass rushes. Notice how few of these shootout-potential teams have good rushes. Atlanta ranked high, but John Abraham had half of his team's 33 sacks. The story was the same in Carolina, where Julius Pepper's 14.5 made up much of the team's 37 total sacks.
Dallas plays only two teams that can really bring heat, the Eagles and Giants. That means these six key games should come down to Wade Phillips' skill at slowing their offenses down. Can he keep Drew Brees from going crazy, as he did in '06? Does he have a book on his old San Diego QB Phillip Rivers? Will he expose Matt Ryan as a fluke? Can he shut Aaron Rogers down the way he did in '08? Or will Rogers scramble and score on Wade's guys the way he did in '07?
Dallas had the NFL's best rush last year, and the brass gave him more rookie rushers and more safety options. If the kids can give Demarcus Ware more rush support, and pick off some of the errant throws the rush produces, the Cowboys go back to the post season.
Will they? That fate literally rests in DC Wade's hands, in the defensive play sheet he will carry every Sunday.
HC Wade shouldn't want it any other way.