In 2011, Rob had a few short weeks to install (by all accounts) a very complicated defense. After some initial success (albeit with several leads blown late), the Eagles tore apart the defense and so did the Giants. The season ended with the indelible image(s) of Newman being hurdled not once but twice (by scrub Giants players) in converting key third downs.
The problems were evident to everybody. The CBs were fighting to staying healthy (Newman was a shell of his former self), the safeties weren't making plays, while all the DBs were quarreling among themselves. Campo was reportedly not on the same page as Ryan as to how the DBs should be playing Ryan's scheme. Neither James nor Brooking could cover my grandma (deceased) out of the backfield. Finally, although the D-line could get pressure, they couldn't get pressure quick enough before some receiver punched through our porous back line of defense.
It's now 2012 and Rob has now had a full year with the guys. He has his "guy" (i.e., Jerome Henderson) as the DB coach. The Cowboys invested big $$ to keep Spencer opposite Ware. They invested big $$$ for arguably the best corner in free agency, and they invested a 1st and 2nd round pick for arguably the best corner in the draft (some might argue that Janoris Jenkins was the best CB). The Cowboys have replaced the combination of James/Brooking with Connor/Carter. Barry Church has ascended to the safety spot opposite of Sensabaugh, who looks healthy. Although the defensive squad has some injuries to contend with, nobody has an injury they cannot recover from in a fairly short period of time.
The defense has playmakers (Ware, Lee, Carr), up-and-comers (Claiborne, Carter), and a bunch of experienced players. This year's defense cannot be just "good." Given all the resources the Cowboys spent on the defense, this defense has to be great. Some of the more inexperienced players (Claiborne, Carter, Church) are going to give some plays as they become more seasoned but hopefully they'll make plays to offset what they give up. Also, Rob has the flexibility to play the defensive scheme he wants to play. He's got athletic LBs that can attack the QB from any gap. He's got CBs that aren't afraid to get into a WR's mug. He's got 4 young CBs who could start somewhere in the league.
We've seen the offense that Garrett has put on the field. Despite all the changes, I don't think the offense got appreciably better (or worse) over 2011. We still have WRs nursing injuries. We have questions as to who can step up besides Austin and Bryant. The offensive line is a big question mark (as it was last year). We have a solid stable of RBs and Romo will always give the team a chance to win, but we had that last year. Given the injuries and the unsettled offensive line, we'll probably get a repeat of last year -- games where the offense looks unstoppable and other games where we just cannot score TDs for whatever reason.
If the Cowboys get to the promised land, it will be on the backs of the defense and Ryan. OK, OK … and a little dose of Romo magic.
Wednesday is a big test for the Cowboys. The Giants offense is vulnerable. They have no (good) TEs to speak of, their offensive line is shoddy, they lost a key contributor from their WR corp. Hicks has barely practiced. However, they still have Manning to Cruz. Given all the time to prepare, this is a game that Cowboy's defense needs make a statement to the league that they are going to make life hell for opposing offenses this year. If they do, we could be calling 2012 the year that Ryan took us to the Super Bowl.