[This article is a counter-point to the optimistic article posted earlier. Check that one out here.]
Visions of Jerry Jones dancing with a new addition to his collection of Lombardi Trophies is a nice fantasy, but for now it is just that - a fantasy. The Cowboys are still far from being a complete football team. Many questions will have to be answered over the course of the 2015 season and not all of the answers will be positive. A line from a Robert Frost poem keeps repeating itself in my mind.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
The Cowboys, too, have promises to keep, and miles to go before rejoining the top-tier of NFL squads. Progress has been made, of that there is little doubt, but it may not be enough.Still more work remains to be done.
1. Linebacker Issues
One area of concern is at linebacker. A tandem of Sean Lee and Rolando McClain sounds like one of the better combinations in the game. The problem with that pairing is two-fold. Lee has yet to complete a full season due to injury concerns. His reckless style of play is both a blessing and a curse to the team. We love the passion that he brings to every snap of the ball; his willingness to sacrifice himself on the gridiron is what makes him effective as a linebacker and as the leader of the Dallas defense. It is also what makes him vulnerable to injury. Sean Lee is his own greatest enemy. For Dallas to find success, Lee is going to have to find a compromise that allows him to both be effective and also to remain on the field.
McClain has well-documented issues of his own. His return to football was a blessing with the loss off Lee during preseason activities last year, but he is also his own worst enemy. Off of the gridiron McClain seems to be bent on self destruction. Legal issues and substance abuse problems surround the player. If McClain wants to continue with the revitalization of his football career he is going to have to find away to better control his personal life and stop allowing it to get between himself and his career.
2. Harder Schedule
The Cowboys also find themselves being "punished" for experiencing success. The National Football League believes in parity, and to help maintain that the league constructs all schedules based on the team's performance during the prior campaign. The Dallas Cowboys will find themselves playing a first-place schedule this season. That means that even a much improved squad could find itself struggling to match last season's 12-4 mark. On top for 2015 are dates with both of the most recent Super Bowl combatants, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, as well as the Green Bay Packers who eliminated Dallas from the playoffs in January. The Cowboys will also face the usual six game trial by fire that is the NFC East schedule, where anything can and does often happen. The road to success features many potholes that Jason Garrett and Company will have to steer around if they are to get back to the post season.
3. Home Field Problems
Since the opening of AT&T Stadium in 2009, the Dallas Cowboys have experienced struggles at home. No longer can they allow their own field to be known as Giants Stadium West; it must become a hostile environment for opposing teams on Sunday afternoons if the Cowboys are going to return to dominance. A team that went undefeated on the road in 2014 managed to play only .500 ball at home. That will not get it done if the Cowboys are going to continue to experience the success of last season. This team will not go undefeated on the road again in 2015. Dallas is going to have to dig deep and figure out exactly what it will take for them to establish home field advantage in the House That Jerry Built. Until they can do that, questions will remain about the franchise's long -term prospects for sustained success.
The Dallas Cowboys are headed down the right road, but they are still far from their destination. 2015 should be viewed as an opportunity to journey further down the road that they are on, but it should not be considered as being the culmination of the team's efforts. This is an opportunity to lay another cornerstone for the next wave of success. Progress will continue to be made, but the end is not in sight. The 2015 season is all going to come down to a simple word...IF:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!