It's been a while. But it is time to sit back, put out feet up, and pour ourselves a nice, frosty, Dallas Cowboys blue glass of Kool Aid.
Gil Brandt, who helped create the Dallas Cowboys, and who now writes for NFL.com, has come up with ten reasons why the Cowboys will win the NFC East. That kind of stuff is just music to my ears. And since the OTAs are closed to the media for the rest of the week, it is time to look forward.
But, before we get those unhatched barnyard fowl totaled up, let's take a look at his reasoning. It is the offseason, that time when caution is flung to the wind, every rookie and most of the returning vets look like locks for the Hall of Fame, and we cannot imagine anything going wrong this season. Well, some of us have been known to get that way, (cough) me (cough), and in the interest of not building up your hopes too far, I want to examine the case he presents and perhaps play a little Devil's advocate at times. I think he has some good points, but maybe not all his ideas are that accurate.
The basic concept is that the Cowboys have improved enough to take the division, which would of course get them into the playoffs after a three year absence. Here are the specific talking points Brandt came up with.
1) Better defensive coaching
OK. I am not going to be able to argue with this, either for the basic point or putting this at the top of the list. I am so on board with this, I ought to be steering the ship. No, I have zero feelings of concern about this assertion.
However, I do have a little twinge of worry about my own attitude here. I remember a couple of years ago, when I had high hopes for another defensive coordinator hire. And we all know how things worked out with Rob Ryan.
Having made that confession, I do have some reasons for thinking this is different. When Rob was hired, I didn't know anything about him, since I tend to focus so much on the Cowboys that my knowledge of other coaches and teams is a bit sketchy. And upon finding out that he was Buddy's son and Rex's twin, I did feel a bit queasy. But I pushed that aside and convinced myself that he was innovative and just what the Cowboys needed to get the edge back in their 3-4 defense.
So am I making the same mistake here? I don't think so. For one, I, and maybe one or two other people, convinced ourselves that Rob could succeed despite not having the most stellar record elsewhere. But Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli have outstanding records as NFL defensive coaches. The only blemish for Kiffin is his rough time at USC, and I think his near legendary status as the architect of the Tampa 2 far outweighs that. Marinelli of course had a bad experience as a head coach, but his coordinator credentials are excellent. And I have become convinced that this is a coach's league, where the relative level of talent is less important than what the staff does with the talent they have. And even the Dallas area skeptics, who are the Bugatti Veyrons of sports naysayers, are impressed with Monte and how he has attacked his job. An article in the Dallas Morning News (not by one of the more egregious "Dallas sucks" guys, to be clear) outlines some additional reasons why this could work out very well. I think this is going to be a move that all Dallas fans will come to love in the next few seasons.
2) More help for Tony Romo, part I
The contention is that adding Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams will give Romo more targets, and teams will no longer be able to largely shut down the passing game by accounting for Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin (when all three are healthy). This is a good thought, if Escobar and Williams are what the team thinks they are. That remains to be seen, of course. Williams is still having a little issue with his hands out there - but there is a bit of a fallback developing. Bryan Broaddus thinks Dwayne Harris is going to be a serious contender to be the third wide receiver.
I honestly believe that Harris along with Bryant has made the biggest jump as a receiver in the terms of route running and catching the ball. We all have seen what he does in the open field with the ball in his hands on punt returns and the feel he has for reading blocks plus pound for pound he is the best blocking receiver they have on this squad. I do not see Harris' height as a limitation to him because I feel like he turns that into a strength for him.
I feel the more the merrier. As long as the team can find some reliable targets to add to the offense, it should only help. But this is not a done deal. We have to see how the draftees pan out, and how the other candidates, like James Hanna, Cole Beasley, and Danny Coale, come along. If several of the options pan out this will be good. If.
3) More help for Tony Romo, part II
This is Travis Frederick. I fully agree that the center position is undervalued, and that upgrading it is a major key to a better season. The question is how Fredbeard will work out. I am guardedly optimistic, but again there is the if. Dallas managed to draft and start a rookie lineman two years ago in Tyron Smith, and that has to be considered a success. Here is hoping they are good at that, and not pushing the odds. But there are little tidbits like this.
Travis Fredrick is one of the nicest, intelligent and well spoken people you will meet. Give him a helmet, he turns into monster instantly— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) May 22, 2013
Now that is something to inspire a little hope.
4) A steadier offensive line
I guess this is related to number 3, and not stretching one point into two, because this has to do with the veterans getting some cohesion and improving on last year. There are a lot of reasons to hope. Smith is entering just his third year, and should just be getting better. Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau are both likely to be healthier than they were last year, and Ronald Leary, David Arkin, Kevin Kowalski and Phil Costa have all gotten nice mentions for off season work and early showings. And even Doug Free may still be on the upward swing he showed in the latter half of the 2012 season. Brandt also puts a lot of faith in Bill Callahan being in his second year with the team. If the whole play calling thing doesn't distract him, the theory is that he can build on last year, hopefully without all the lack of continuity the line suffered last season. I'll cross my fingers and burn John Mara in effigy. The first is for luck. The latter is just on general principle.
5) "Bedlam" in the backfield
This clever play on words refers to the annual rivalry game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the alma maters of the expected running back tandem of DeMarco Murray and rookie Joseph Randle. I think the concept is great, with Randle being drafted as a runner very similar in style and, hopefully, ability when compared to Murray. He should be able to step in for Murray, who has had injury issues both his first two seasons, and keep the running game going, which is also a help for Romo. Kendial Lawrence may be insurance for that bet as well. It should work if Randle and Lawrence aren't busts.
6) Extra prep time
Absolutely. Starting early with the Hall of Fame game prep cannot be anything but good, especially after the
Goodell/Mara shafting unfortunate way the schedule played out last year and cost Dallas a few days of practice.
7) Season starts and ends at home
At first glance, this seems rather minor. But when you consider how close the playoffs were the past two years, even a minor advantage could be crucial. Still, I am not all that sold on this being a difference maker.
8) They have to be healthier
Whenever I see something like that, I shudder a little and remember an old Bill Cosby line: "Don't ever say it can't get any worse. Because as soon as you do, you know what comes rolling around the next corner? WORSE!"
But he is almost certainly right. Dallas was one of the most injury plagued teams, with the defensive injuries in particular clustering in a manner to aggravate their impact. The tendency for these kinds of things to regress to the mean is a fancy statistical way of saying the same thing, and it is valid. That, in and of itself, is enough to improve at least a game or two in the won-loss columns, I think.
9) A special teams boost
This is a largely overlooked aspect of things. Rich Bisaccia's hire was pretty much totally eclipsed by the Kiffin/Marinelli acquisitions, but he is very good, and there is certainly some evidence that the special teams had gotten a little stale under Joe Decamillis. And who can argue with the value of Dan Bailey?
10) Wisconsin bond
All right. Enough. Brandt was just reaching for a way to get to a tenth reason by citing the geographic connection between Romo and Fredbeard. I somehow don't see how having hometowns in the same neck of the wood is going to affect the relationship between the quarterback and the guy he puts his hands . . . er, well, let's just say they have plenty of other opportunity to be close, OK? This is just silly.
Fortunately, I came up with another tenth reason, thanks to a couple of my fellow FPWs who were discussing this.
10) Who else in the NFC East is poised to take it?
Joey Ickes gave this take on the NFCE:
Giants are rebuilding their secondary and OL
Eagles are a mess, and have a new coach and a whole new culture of how to practice and play football to learn
Redskins have a running QB coming off an ACL surgery...
Granted the Cowboys have a new defensive base alignment and philosophy, but they are no worse off than any other team in the div.
And OCC added his take.
We are going to cut through the NFC East like a hot knife through butter.
Steve Spurrier 2.0 is going to have a rude awakening in Philly.
A running QB is going to surprise exactly zero teams in the NFL in 2013.
And the Giants' best linebacker is - wait for it - Dan Connor.
The NFC East, as Joey contends, is at worst a tossup from the Cowboys' point of view. And the Giants are running into some additional issues already.
Neither Hakeem Nicks nor Victor Cruz was in attendance at Giants OTAs. Tom Coughlin sounded uncertain why Nicks was missing.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 22, 2013
Giants' Hynoski hurt in Wed. practice. Would be pretty tough for NYG run game to overcome loss of him, Bradshaw and MBennett.— Dan Graziano (@espn_nfceast) May 23, 2013
I know that Dallas will undoubtedly face some challenges along the way, but right now, things look pretty positive. Not everyone agrees that the Cowboys will take the division this year, but right now, I rather like their chances. I have my reasons.