Expectations for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys run the gamut. From a total collapse due to an unproven defense and several high-profile injury recoveries, to an optimistic battle for the division crown and another attempt to break through into the playoffs, the possible outcomes for the Cowboys can vary greatly. Jason Garrett may finally get a chance at the playoffs, but will it be because a balanced high-power offense controls games and sneaks out victories? Or will it be because Rod Marinelli marries a mediocre but big-play defense to a high-flying offense? Will Garrett's Cowboys finally succumb to a losing season? If so, will it be due to an injury that breaks the team's back and leaves them crippled on offense, or will none of the young players develop enough for the defense to make a name for itself?
It seems there is a legitimate question to ask about virtually every player on the roster, and the amount of varied outcomes for the potential of the 2014 Dallas Cowboys is staggering. But every fan will look upon each factor, player, and positional group differently. Thus, the entire team's future outlook is nearly exclusive to each soothsayer. For some, all this uncertainty presents a dooming challenge, but as Dawn beautifully proclaimed, challenge presents opportunity. Personally, I think this team has been constructed in a manner where those uncertainties will be answered by a young roster that continues to develop and improve. However, those questions remain and we each have a unique picture of our hopes and fears for the 2014 Cowboys. I decided to get the opinions of some of the other front-page writers to see how we each think the Cowboys players are trending and how they will compare to the performance of the positional groups in 2013.
|Positional Groups||Kegbearer||O. C. C.||Tom Ryle||Rabblerousr||Dawn Macelli||Joey Ickes|
Trending Up: The entire offense, D-Line, Defensive Backs, and Coaching
The idea is that Tony Romo will be better since the procedure has relieved him of his back pain and Brandon Weeden versus Kyle Orton is negligible. Meanwhile, there have been additions to the depth at every position and the young roster (including All-star and Pro-Bowlers like Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, and DeMarco Murray) will continue to develop due to RKG work ethic and the tutelage of a strong coaching staff. Add a very strong O-line and better play-calling from Scott Linehan, and it seems to me the entire offense is trending up.
The young and hungry rushmen rotations will surpass the 34 sacks from '13 as they stay fresh and healthy throughout the year and their talents are maximized by Leon Lett and Rod Marinelli, who will also allow Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, and Morris Claiborne to utilize and improve their best traits. J.J. Wilcox will earn his role beside an improving Barry Church. Jason Garrett has finally managed to put together "his staff" and their individual years of HC experience and ability to work well together under Garrett will improve the staff's proficiency.
No Change, Same as Last Year: Linebackers, Special Teams
The potential of Bruce Carter, Kyle Wilber, and DeVonte Holloman will develop, and with a little help from veteran contributions of Justin Durant and Rolando McClain, they will play as well (despite the loss of Sean Lee) as the carousel of backers in '13. Retaining Dan Bailey is big, and the strong ST performance from last year will be repeated, but not improved upon.
Trending Up: O-Line, D-Line, Defensive Backs, Coaching
Cowboys have three guards that were starters last year, two of which will be backups. When has the O-line ever had this type of depth? I expect this to be a top five unit this year. I also expect much better play from the safeties, which can't be that hard, because I don't expect a UDFA to start there this year. Similarly, it's hard to imagine a worse defensive line than one that rotated through 21 players last year. The key here will be playcalling: Can Scott Linehan protect a lead in the fourth quarter?
No Change, Same as Last Year: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Tight Ends, Wide Receivers, Special Teams
The Cowboys already had a pretty impressive offense last year, and I don't see why we should expect a stepchange - unless you're factoring in a positive knock-on effect from an improved O-line and improved playcalling, both of which are already accounted for in the "Trending Up" section. Similar thing for special teams: They were already really good last year, I don't think it's reasonable to expect them to improve significanly.
Trending down: Linebackers
I remain worried about MLB, and fully expect the Cowboys to make another acquisition at this spot - that's how thin I think the Cowboys are at the position.
Trending up: Coaching, O-Line, D-Line, Wide Receivers, Defensive Backs
The big one here is coaching. I think Linehan and Marinelli are going to do a much better job of using their players according to what they bring to the game. O-line is trending up, fairly obvious, with the addition of Zack Martin and the three-way battle at LG. For those who talk about how Dallas lost so much talent on the D-line, I counter with how shallow it was. You had four starters and then off-the-street emergency fill-ins. I think the overall play will be much better. Dez is improving and there is hopefully no longer a WR in the bunch that has glass hamstrings. In the secondary, Mo is healthy, and Wilcox, Jakar Hamilton and Jeff Heath all should be better this year.
No Change, Same as Last Year: Running Backs, Special Teams, Tight Ends
The RB group is basically the same, I think. ST were very good and should continue to be so. I have a different view on TE, in that I think that the talent hasn't really changed. Escobar should be a little better, but he was just misused, so the coaching is really more the thing here, and that will lead to good things.
Trending down: Quarterbacks, Linebackers
Quit cussing and throwing things and hear me out. Romo was very good at the start of '13 season, but was hurt, which I am not using as part of the calculation. QB position is degraded somewhat because of the backup situation. While I prefer Weeden over the sulking version of Orton, I see Weeden needing a while to be able to play as well as the '13 version of Orton. Linebackers are going to have to struggle to make up for the loss of Sean Lee, and I have to see Bruce Carter step it up before I feel good about him.
Trending up: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, O-line, Defensive Backs, Coaching
Let's start with Romo, whose 2013 N/YPA was the lowest of his career, but will boost back up primarily due to two (of many) factors, improved health and a better interior O-line. I believe a healthy Lance Dunbar is capable of changing the running back landscape, especially with RB-friendly Linehan as the new playcaller. Speaking of coordinators, I believe Marinelli will scheme to his players' strengths more effectively; as a result, I expect better secondary play, with Carr, Claiborne and Scandrick playing more man-to man. Lastly, I think the team will be improved at defensive tackle, where they have quietly collected a cadre of guys whose skill sets present an excellent scheme fit.
No Change, Same as Last Year: Tight Ends, D-Line, Special Teams
Sad to behold, but Jason Witten is a declining player, who now provides reliability more than explosion. However, I expect Escobar to improve at least as much as Witten declines, and probably more, but basically a wash at TE. While I think the team will be improved at DT where they have quietly collected a cadre of guys whose skill sets present an excellent scheme fit, I'm not so sure about DE, where they have added numbers but have lost an experienced, productive (albeit declining) Hall of Famer at the defense's most important position. Last year, under new ST coach Rich Bisaccia, they were quite good, and I expect that to continue.
Trending Down: Wide Receiver, Linebackers
I debated whether WR is "Trending Down" or "No Change," and opted for the more controversial choice. Sure, Miles Austin kept getting injured, but had a rare mixture of size, power, speed and ability to catch the ball in traffic. I think Terrance Williams will be a very solid #2, and may approach the threat provided by Austin. Where the drop-off will occur, in my opinion, is in the move to fill the spot Williams vacates. There are several candidates, but none that, at this juncture, looks able to match his '13 campaign. At LB, Lee's playmaking will be sorely missed, but not as much as his mind. And, I've seen little to suggest that the outside 'backers will be better than they were last year. This will be the team's weakest position. My fear for the 2014 season is that all the potential gains the Cowboys have made to other defensive position groups will be mitigated by the loss of Lee in the defensive huddle.
Trending Up: O-Line, Defensive Backs, Tight Ends, D-Line, Coaching
There is little doubt the Cowboys o-line has quietly moved from being a source of ulcers to being one of the better units in the NFL. Thanks to a concerted effort from the front office, the coaching staff, and the players themselves the OL is well on it's way. There have been positive signs coming out of OTAs that Mo and Wilcox are progressing well (and Matt Johnson hasn't suffered a season ending injury yet) and back up B.W. Webb is being pushed for his slot by the rookies. Escobar is ready to start making significant contributions in his second season, and with new play caller Scott Linehan running the offense, he should be a factor in 2014. Credit for most, if not all, of the progress should be given to coaches like Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack with the linemen and Mike Pope with the tight ends.
No Change: Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Quarterback, Special Teams
RB remains essentially the same, although if some of the wrinkles that many of us expect to see added by Linehan can pay off the backfield will also exhibit an upward trend. The swap of Miles Austin for Devin Street is pretty much a wash considering how little Austin was able to get involved. Long-term this is an upward trend, but in '14 I think we will see status quo. I will reserve the right to change my opinion once I see Romo, but for now this too is a wash. Split 'em and LP...no problems here; now let's see about a punter.
Trending Down: Linebackers
The OLB's remain the same although there is word that Carter may be making strides toward improving his game. Another wildcard will be Kyle Wilber. Has he found his place on the defense, or is he destined to move on? However, no Sean Lee at all. Nothing more needs to be said.
Trending Up: Quarterback, O-Line, D-Line, Running Backs, Outside Linebackers, Coaching
I believe, (as I believe the team does as well), that Tony Romo's back issue has been around for multiple years, and the surgery from December should be less of a concern than it is a relief, that removes the consistent pain he was under, and because of that he will be more effective in certain areas in 2014. The OL improved throughout the year last year, and added a young player who has all the potential to be a perennial pro-bowl level guard. The D-line leaned far too much on its top four last year, and will be a much more even rotation in 2014. If the team gets another 1100 yard year out of DeMarco Murray, while adding the level of impact from Lance Dunbar that everyone expects, they will be ecstatic with the RB group. Linehan and Marinelli calling the plays on either side of the ball give hope for improved situational awareness across the board, improving the effectiveness of the coaching staff.
No Change, Same as Last Year: Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, Special Teams, Defensive Backs
Dez Bryant is who he is, and that is an absolute stud, Terrance Williams is a great compliment as a number two, and Cole Beasley's a defensive coordinators nightmare. Gavin Escobar should improve, but at some point the senator (Jason Witten) has to slow down (maybe?). Dan Bailey and LP Ladouceur are money, and the competition at punter will make sure that position stays atleast solid. At DB, we still don't know what to expect from the safety next to Barry Church, while the success of the corners will still be largely dependent on the success of the pas rush.
Trending Down: Middle Linebacker
The step from Sean Lee to almost anyone in the NFL is down. The guys they have will likely be adequate, but Sean Lee can be borderline elite.
What Does the Future Hold?
While it seems we six all believe the o-line and coaching for the Cowboys are trending up, there is obviously a huge array of these potential outlooks. And even then, our projections for the team's success in 2014 and possible W/L record can vary despite an agreement on the outlook of particular trends. While I think the team is trending up in almost every positional group, that does not mean I expect their success this season to be any more than some other front-page writers. And even if you completely agree with one writer's trends, they may feel it's enough to challenge for the division crown, even though you feel the outlook spells out a losing season due to a tougher schedule and division than last year. Remember this as we all continue to debate the likelihood of the Cowboys finding success (yet another variable) in 2014. We may all be well informed, but that does not mean we must all see things the same way.
So what do you think the future holds for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys? How are the positional groups trending in your opinion?