The Dallas Cowboys will not go 8-8 for the third consecutive year. At least that's what DeMarcus Ware told Pro Football Talk on Friday.
"We will not be .500," Ware said. "We will not be .500 like the last two years we’ve been, I can tell you that."
In many ways, an 8-8 record is one of the worst records to have in the NFL because it leaves you in a sort of no-man's-land. You're not bad enough for a top ten draft pick, but you're also not good enough to have made the playoffs. So what will it take for DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys to finish above .500?
"The defense needs to stay healthy" is probably the first argument you'll hear about what it'll take for the Cowboys to finish above .500 in 2013. At first glance, that makes sense - a healthy defense is always a plus - and a largely healthy Cowboys defense allowed only 181 points in the first eight games in 2012, while the injury-riddled defense in the second half allowed 219 points.
At the same time, the Cowboys actually managed a better W/L record in the second half of the season, finishing with a 5-3 record despite the mounting injury toll after a 3-5 start to the season with a healthy defense.
"The offense needs to play better" is also an argument you've probably heard before, and it has some merit. After all, the Cowboys scored only 150 points in the first eight games, and improved that to 226 points over the last eight games. So while a healthier defense and perhaps a simplified defensive scheme should help the Cowboys in 2013, the key to a successful 2013 season will probably be the offense. And the biggest issue the offense faces is consistency. Here's the Cowboys' scoring split by quarter for the 2012 season:
|Cowboys Scoring by Quarter, 2012
|Quarters||Points For||Points Against||Win Projection|
|4th & OT
The win projection is calculated using the Pythagorean Formula and suggests that had the Cowboys played the entire season like they did in the first quarter of games, they'd be a three-win team. Had they played the whole season like they did in the fourth quarter of games, they'd have likely ended up with 11 wins and a sure playoff spot. Last year, the Cowboys had one of the most dangerous offenses in the fourth quarter, but whatever they were doing in the first half of games wasn't working at all.
When the Cowboys started falling behind on the scoreboard, they repeatedly went to a simplified 4 minute or hurry-up offense and started scoring points. We know the Cowboys offense can be an explosive, high-scoring unit, but they need to find a way to do it consistently. The Cowboys' key offseason task will be to find that consistency, be it via new personnel, scheme, playcalling or something else.
DeMarcus Ware talked about much more than just the 2013 W/L record in the PFT interview. He reflected on what Kiffin's defense will mean for him, talked about Rob Ryan and elegantly circumvented a question asking him to separately grade Jerry Jones as an owner and a GM. He also declared Tony Romo as a top five QB in the league, a quote which is going to generate a lot less headlines than when he said "It's time to put up or shut up" a day earlier. Watch the full video of the PFT interview here: