Cowboys' fans entered the 2015 season with big hopes. The Cowboys missed their shot in the previous season when Dez Bryant wasn't able to complete the catch in the playoff loss to Green Bay. Consequently, the Cowboys weren't able to complete the run they had put together. And when the new season came around, it was an opportunity to finish what they had started. Only that didn't go so well. While it was puzzling why the season went so bad so quickly, BTB's RoSHa put things in perspective by breaking down what happened with the star players in the "magnificent seven" group that I recently wrote about.
That's behind us now. What can be learned going forward? Well, taking a look at the upcoming Super Bowl, there are some interesting storylines that the Cowboys should pay particular interest to.
Call for backup
Peyton Manning started the season as the Denver Broncos' quarterback and he'll be ending it as their quarterback. However, in between, the Broncos had to rely on their backup as Manning dealt with a plantar fasciitis injury. Brock Osweiler started seven games this season, leading the team to a 5-2 record in Manning's absence. A second-round pick in 2012, Osweiler completed 62% of his passes with 10 TDs and 6 picks. He wasn't spectacular, but he wasn't terrible, either.
It helps to have a great defense, but the Broncos were able to replace their starting quarterback with a viable backup. This offseason, the Cowboys should to do everything in their power to find a way to do the same so they can remain competitive in 2016.
They say offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. Even in such a prolific passing era, the importance of a great defense cannot be overstated. Just looking at recent Super Bowls, you'll find them full of great defenses. Super Bowl 50 will be no exception. The Denver Broncos are the number one defense in the league when it comes to yards allowed. They gave up 283.1 yard per game. The Carolina Panthers, who are advertised as the highest-scoring offense in the league, aren't too shabby on the defensive side either. They led the league in takeaways with 39 this last season.
Over the last few seasons, the Cowboys have shown vast improvement in the yards the defense has given up each season. They've gone from 32nd in 2013 to 17th in 2015. But yards allowed only tells part of the story. As the Cowboys learned this past year, the ability to take the football away is a critical factor in the success of a football team. Look no further than the reigning NFC East divisional champs to see evidence of such. The Washington Redskins defense was 26th in the league in yards allowed, but they were in the top 10 in takeaways. Back in 2011, the Green Bay Packers went 15-1 with a defense that gave up 412 yards a game (worst in the league). Fortunately for them, the defense finished second in the league in takeaways.
If the Cowboys want to be successful again, they better figure out a way to take the ball away.
Ron vs. Wade
When Bill Parcells left the Cowboys after the 2006 season, Jerry Jones went searching for his new head coach. Two of his candidates were Wade Phillips and Ron Rivera. Now, we all know what Jerry ended up deciding as Phillips would spend the next three years in Dallas. Wade is a great defensive coach and has found success this season in Denver after joining Gary Kubiak's staff a year ago. And just like that he's coaching in a Super Bowl. Congrats Wade, we're happy for you.
But what about the guy Jerry didn't hire?
Riverboat Ron has been the coach for the Carolina Panthers for five years now and he has taken them to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. And now he'll be coaching them on the game's biggest Sunday. Success seems to follow Rivera as he's no stranger to the big stage.
30 years ago, Ron Rivera won a championship playing linebacker for the Chicago Bears when they defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. That season he learned from former Cowboys assistant coach, Mike Ditka. About 20 years later, he returned to Chicago and helped the Bears reach the Super Bowl as he was Lovie Smith's defensive coordinater when Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts beat them in Super Bowl 41. Rivera is a defensive genius and he has transformed a team that was 2-14 in 2011 to a team that was 15-1 this last season.
Jimmy Johnson took the Cowboys from cellar-dweller to the top in just four years. With a victory next weekend, Rivera could do the same for Carolina in five.
Follow the Fox
In the movie, "Good Luck Chuck" Dane Cook's ex-girlfriends would immediately find love after their breakup as the next guy she would date would end up being the guy she eventually marries. He was some type of good luck charm. It was a very plausible premise for a movie.
John Fox could be this same kind of good luck charm as the last two coaches that have replaced him from his previous head coaching jobs are now coaching his former teams in the Super Bowl.
Fox was fired as the head coach of Carolina after the 2010 season. Rivera replaced him in 2011.
Fox was fired as the head coach of Denver after the 2014 season. Kubiak replace him last season.
If the Cowboys ever make a coaching change, maybe they should consider giving Fox a quick shot so the coach that follows him can lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl?
Beware of Carolina
Entering 2015, the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Panthers looked like the only two teams that posed any threat to a Cowboys playoff run. That's not the case anymore. The Carolina Panthers are the real deal. And while their success has been built from their defense, it is the emergence of the offense that has them reeling in success. The Panthers are the top scoring team in the league, averaging 31.2 points a game in the 2015 regular season. Cam Newton is a big part of their success as he's had an MVP-like season.
As good as their offense is this season, it could be even better next season. The Panthers lost their top receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, when he tore his ACL in August. Benjamin was Carolina's first-round pick in 2014. The 6' 5", 240-pound receiver is a big target and he proved it with an outstanding rookie campaign. He had over 1,000 yards receiver and nine touchdown catches. He'll be back next season.
If the Cowboys revamp and are contenders again in 2016, you better believe this Carolina team will be one of the toughest obstacles standing in their way.