With the coming of each new NFL Season, I start thinking about all of the possibilities. Who might be the breakout star this year (note: I never would have picked DeMarco Murray last year) or what kinds of upgrades we might see on the field from the changes in coaching and personnel made during the offseason. I can't help but find myself brimming with hope. And why not? I'm a Dallas Cowboys fan. The most storied, polarizing and talked about franchise in this uniquely American sport.
And then, there's the other stuff.
Woe. Dread. Uncertainty. Doubt.
After the jump, find out the things that ‘Keep Me Awake At Night'.
In a sea of posts about why Dallas will go 19-0 and why the Cowboys are bound to be better this year than in the past 15 years, it's time somebody talked about the pink polka-dotted elephant in the room that no one wants to admit is there. We're all worried about SOMETHING as it relates to this upcoming Cowboys campaign. I thought I would just lay out some of the things that concern me the most. Who knows, maybe just talking about it with my BTB cohorts can help me sleep better at night.
First, there's that little thing about the interior O-line. If Dallas lines up a trio of Mackenzy Bernadeau, Phil Costa and Nate Livings at Guard, Center and Guard, how can one not think that Kyle Orton might be playing an extended number of snaps as the starting QB for Dallas this year? Let's face it, Bernadeau was considered a turnstile in his limited snaps in Carolina. Livings made his living as a run blocker but caught a lot of flak in 2010 for his poor pass protection. He seemed to improve in 2011, but how much better are they than Holland and Kosier? And then there is Costa. KD Drummond went into this in a bit of detail in a recent Youtube installment. But beware, it was downright scary. If this isn't one of the top two worries for any Cowboys fan, what are? Home remedy: old videos of the 90's O-line and three hefty glasses of Oban single malt scotch.
Next, it was just recently that Zmen wrote about the Cowboys' safety options on the roster. My only comment revolved around how that post clearly raised the level of concern I had about the position. Now, a player like Ed Reed doesn't come along every day and no one is suggesting that we should have drafted Mark Barron (not a big fan) in the first round this year. However, it is also true that no one is going to mistake our starting tandem of safeties for Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters. This is a group of journeymen who seem to be stopgaps until Dallas can address more urgent and important needs before upgrading this spot. Will they get to it before this team's window closes and they have to rebuild? Home remedy: Two Lunesta tablets chased by two Fat Tires (the beer...if you've never had one, you're missing out).
What about the D-line? Another year of Coleman, Rat and Hatcher, eh? Some might get some comfort from the notion that Ratliff will get a low because there's some depth there behind him, but not me. The argument for keeping him at NT was his ability to penetrate. Ratliff had 2 sacks last year. How many times last year did he blow past the Giants and Eagles' centers for a splash play? Coleman and Hatcher gave us 6.5 sacks. Between them. Now, some people argue that DE's aren't supposed to get sacks in the Ryan system. That's just not true. It may not be their primary responsibility, but getting to the QB is, in fact, the desired outcome on passing downs. By comparison, the Jets DE's (which is the OTHER Ryan 3-4 in the NFL) netted 10.5 sacks last year and that's without the benefit of a great pass rusher who drew double teams all year long. SF's guys (Ray McDonald and Justin Smith) who helped make their defense elite, got 13 sacks between them. Sacks are not the be-all and end-all for measuring these DE groups, but if you look at Cowboys' group, they got pushed around a lot last season and this year, well, they're a year older. And I am not one who likes to pin the hopes for improvement on a middle-round guy (Crawford) who's greener than the grass on the 17th green at Augusta. I'm worried. Should I be? Home remedy: late night talk shows, one Ambien and three shots of Jose Cuervo Riserva de La Familia.
Did I mention our woes at Punter? Mat McBriar has been a stalwart performer on this team for some time. But he's had a couple of not-so-insignificant injuries now and his durability is in doubt. I was hoping Dallas would draft one of the top 2 punters this year, but Anger from Cal went as early as I've seen a punter go in the draft in some time and Dallas had other ideas in later rounds. If McBriar comes back 100% healthy, then it's probably a non-starter. But what if he doesn't? Home remedy: one Unisom and two glasses of Beaux Frères Pinot Noir.
As if that isn't enough, I worry about Romo too. Let's face facts. We all know about the Romocoaster. The good Romo and bad Romo. But the fact is that he can be, well, inconsistent at times. Recently, I was reading an issue of Maxim magazine. There was a piece called ‘The Couch-Ma Sutra' where I found funny illustrations of a guy sitting in different positions on his couch. However, among them was one illustration called "The Punching of Own Balls" and the caption read "Try this move in the 4th quarter if you've put money on Romo. The Pain is exquisite". Jeez. Has he really become the brunt of those kinds of jokes to the general public? The good news is that I saw a lot less bad Romo down the stretch last year than in any year prior, but oh those Jets and Lions games. Some QB's seemingly play their best under duress. I've seen enough to know that Big Ben plays his best under a heavy rush. I think Aaron Rodgers loves to see blitzes. Even, dare I say it, Eli Manning has begun to develop that certain 6th sense that allows him to deliver the ball to a receiver at the very moment when he is uncovering and just before the pass rusher can impact the play. Romo can extend a play like no other but sometimes that has worked to his detriment. He's not the biggest or toughest guy playing QB. He takes his hits hard. Unlike those other QBs, I always worry that Romo is one good hit away from seeing Kyle Orton get extended playing time. Home remedy: a triple Makers Mark and then slam head into Cowboys helmet (with some pretty good autographs if I say so myself) 7-8 times.
Lastly, I'll just admit that that the NFC East has improved dramatically this offseason. The Redskins landed what looks to be a pretty good QB in RGIII and, coupled with Shanahan, that should scare people. I don't like the fact that the Giants had a relatively quiet offseason AND got better in the run game with the acquisition of David Wilson to run behind Henry Hynoski (damn them!). As for the Eagles, well, I think this is their shot. On paper, they look like the best team in the NFC (but we'll see how much the Jason Peters injury hurts them). They were playing lights out down the stretch on defense and just about hit a home run with their draft choices. Home remedy: double dose of Nyquil with a 20-year tawny port chaser.
I'm sure I missed some that scare you. What might they be? Coaching? The GM? Well, you know what they say, it's better when you talk about it and the BTB couch is vacant if you need to lay down and tell us what's bothering you. Then again, maybe this is enough to make any Cowboys fan an insomniac. Luckily, there are some things that help me sleep soundly at night.
I'll cover those in Part deux of Bedtime Stories.