The roster-building phase of the offseason is all but over. The front office still has some feelers out there, but the 2016 Dallas Cowboys are ready to start putting their on-field product together. With OTAs underway, it is time for the Cowboys coaching staff to start the work of mixing together the incoming rookies, free agent acquisitions, and returning veterans.
Usually at this point of the offseason the optimism gauge is is reading full. After the events that transpired last season however, many fans Cowboys-colored glasses are definitely a little more muted. The loss of Tony Romo and, to a lesser degree Dez Bryant, in 2015 exposed several weak spots for Dallas. The offseason work that Stephen Jones, Will McClay, and the Cowboys brain trust put in have addressed some of the team's deficiencies, but some of the question marks still remain. Here are the top four unanswered questions heading into OTAs.
1. Where will the turnovers come from?
One of the biggest reasons the Cowboys were unable to overcome the loss of their franchise quarterback in 2015 was the defense's inability to create takeaways. Dallas was last in the NFL in give/take margin at -22. And make no mistake, Dallas came about their ranking honestly. Not only were the Cowboys last among NFL clubs in takeaways(11), they also led the league in giveaways(33). The good news for Cowboys fan is that it will be nearly impossible for the team to duplicate these dismal numbers. With the return of Romo, Dallas should expect to see their offensive turnovers decrease dramatically. But how will the Cowboys defense improve on their 2015 numbers?
2. Has the backup quarterback situation improved?
Of course the hope here is that this question remains unanswered throughout the 2016 season. The Cowboys best chance to duplicate their 2014 division title is to keep Romo healthy and keep Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott off the field. Last year Romo only played two games from start to finish which forced Dallas to rely heavily on Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel, both of whom are now gone. The Cowboys have definitely upgraded the depth at running back to help ease the pressure on the passing game, and they may still add a veteran presence at quarterback before training camp. If they don't get another seasoned passer we'll all be holding our collective breath every time Romo is taken to the ground.
3. Can the offense return to it's 2014 form?
Just two seasons ago, the Dallas Cowboys were one of the more feared offenses in the NFL. In that season they were the league's fifth-ranked scoring offense at 29.2 points per game. This was due in large part to a run-first philosophy and an ability to exploit teams when they overloaded to stop the rushing attack. In 2015 the running game was still in the top ten, but without a passer who could keep defenses honest many drives stalled and the points per game number fell to 17.2, which was second-worst in the NFL. Now with the addition of rookie back Ezekiel Elliott and the return of Romo to the helm, the expectation is that the points will flow freely once more. The Cowboys 2016 aspirations hinge on this; Cameron DaSilva had this to say in his 5 reasons the Dallas Cowboys will win the NFC East in 2016.
If Dallas returns to its ground-and-pound form from 2014 when they won the division, the Cowboys will certainly be the team to beat in the NFC East.
4. Will the Rushmen create enough pressure?
This last question has actually been dogging our beloved Cowboys for several seasons. The Dallas defense has ranked no higher than 20th in sacks in any season since 2011. Over that span, the highest number of sacks recorded byDallas was 34, which they achieved in both 2012 and 2013. The front office took a flier on talented-but-troubled free agent pass rusher Greg Hardy in 2015, but the sack total only decreased. Now in 2016, the Cowboys brain-trust is attempting to go with young, unproven talent to remedy this long standing situation. If successful, the entire defense will benefit. If it doesn't work however, Romo and the offense will likely have to win several shootouts.
As the Cowboys take the field this week at Valley Ranch, these questions and more will begin to be answered. The front office and coaching staff are hoping that enough positive answers are found between now and the end of the preseason to put a title contender on the field. So which question do you think is most vital to the Cowboys success in 2016? Let us know in the comments.