Going into last season, the conventional wisdom - of which I shared - was the defense was going to carry the Cowboys if they were going to have a successful season. By the time December rolled around and the Cowboys started going into a funk, it turned out the Cowboys offense was going to have to save the team because the defense was in a free-fall. The Cowboys offense wasn't good enough to carry the Cowboys on their backs, but it wasn't from lack of production. Over the last six games the Cowboys averaged just over 22 points per game but went 2-4, including the playoff game in Seattle. Much of that was because the defense gave up over 28 points per game over the same time period.
It wasn't all the fault of the defense. The same dynamic that hurt us in the beginning of the year with Drew Bledsoe started to hurt us at the end of the year, and that dynamic was offensive turnovers at crucial times. In the first five games started by Tony Romo, he threw two interceptions. Not coincidentally, the Cowboys won four out of five of those games, only losing to Washington on a bizarre FG ending. In the last six games Romo threw eight interceptions, not to mention his numerous fumbles, some recovered and others lost.
To be clear, I'm not blaming Tony Romo for the collapse, but he was a part of it. The problem was Romo played so well out of the gate that expectations became unrealistic for an inexperienced NFL QB getting his first shot at regular play as the starter. Instead of having ups and downs during games, Romo had ups and downs measured in parts of the season. In his first stretch of games he played like an experienced all-pro, the second stretch was marred by inexperience that manifested itself in untimely turnovers. It culminated with his famous fumble of the snap in Seattle. The good news is all that experience and adversity should serve Romo well this season.
Which brings us to the offensive game plan for the 2007 season. With the departure of Bill Parcells and most of the offensive coaching staff, the Cowboys have the opportunity to go in a new direction or stick with what worked last year. Jerry Jones has emphatically answered that question - Dallas will stick with the same basic offense they ran last year.
"No. No!" Jones said quickly.
Why would Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett change what's worked? The Cowboys had the fifth-best offense in the NFL last season, and their 5,772 total yards were the fifth-best in team history. Even more impressive, only once -- in 1995 -- did a Triplet-led Cowboys' offense gain more yards than Dallas did last season.
"We did well offensively last year," Jones agreed.
Indeed, the Cowboys offense was a very effective unit in terms of pure production. What it wasn't very effective at was ball security, which didn't help out a struggling defensive unit down the stretch.
If you look at the Cowboys skill positions on offense, they don't have a lot of holes - unless you count the fullback. The receiving corps has two effective veterans, Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn; two quality running backs in Julius Jones and Marion Barber; and a very good TE in Jason Witten. Throw in the promising Tony Romo, and you have the makings of an offense that can score points regularly. Where they may have some issues is along the offensive line - especially Marco Rivera. But assuming they can find a replacement for Rivera, where else do you draft or sign a free agent on offense? The one place they might need help is at fullback. Oliver Hoyte was converted to the position and proved to be a physical blocker that could open holes for the running game. But at this point he probably isn't well-versed in the other two main responsibilities of a FB, catching the ball out of the backfield and providing the occasional run from scrimmage to keep a defense guessing. Here's Jerry on the fullback's role under Garrett/Sparano:
Wade Phillips was hired primarily to fix the defense and change the atmosphere out at Valley Ranch. Jason Garrett and Tony Sparano are charged with the task of keeping the offense on track, and possibly improving it where they can. But outside of a new lineman or two and possibly a true fullback, the Cowboys already have their starting personnel on offense on the roster.
The biggest improvement on the Cowboys offense won't come from new personnel or new schemes. It will come from Tony Romo, who must make ball security his number one issue over the offseason. If he can manage to get that aspect of the game under control, the Cowboys offense should be fine.