As I promised yesterday after doing the Eagles preview, here is the Dallas Cowboys one that I just completed. Odds are I won't put most of the other ones that I do up here, because I try to limit duplicate content, and hell, that is why I have my own blog, Juuust a Bit Outside, in the first place. So if you want to see more (and I inserted cheerleader photos in each one because I figured Oakland needed some sort of positive), go there.
DALLAS COWBOYS (9-7 in 2006, lost to Seattle 21-20 in NFC Wild Card Round): America's team returned to the postseason last year with a lot of new faces, and a botched snap on a chip shot field goal prevented them from moving on to the second round of the playoffs. Changes were made in the offseason, as Bill Parcells retired, replaced by Wade Phillips. Drew Bledsoe is gone, replaced full time by Tony Romo. Can Romo avoid a sophomore slump and carry the Cowboys toward the Super Bowl?
KEY ADDITIONS: QB Brad Johnson (FA, Minnesota), G Leonard Davis (FA, Arizona), S Ken Hamlin (FA, Seattle), DE/LB Anthony Spencer (26th overall pick in draft, Purdue), T James Marten (3rd round pick, Boston College), QB Isaiah Stanback (4th round pick, Washington), T Doug Free (4th round pick, Northern Illinois), K Nick Folk (6th round pick, Arizona), FB Deon Anderson (6th round pick, Connecticut), CB Courtney Brown (7th round pick, Cal Poly), CB Alan Ball (7th round pick, Illinois), TE Adam Bergen (FA, Arizona)
KEY DEFECTIONS: T Jason Fabini (released, signed with Washington), G Marco Rivera (released due to serious back issues), QB Drew Bledsoe (retired), C Al Johnson (FA, Arizona), DE Kenyon Coleman (FA, Oakland), LB Al Singleton (released), LB Ryan Fowler (FA, Tennessee), S Tony Parrish (released)
KEY GAMES: September 9 vs. New York Giants, October 14 vs. New England Patriots, November 11 @ New York Giants, December 16 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, December 30 @ Washington Redskins.
OFFENSE: The Cowboys broke down as follows on the offensive side of the ball:
6th in total offense (6003 yards)
6th in passing offense (4067 yards)
1st in yards per pass attempt (8.04)
6th in TD passes (26)
26th in INT thrown (21)
13th in rush attempts (472)
13th in rush yards (1936)
15th in rush yards per attempt (4.10)
3rd in rushing TDs (21)
Tony Romo will be the undisputed starter at quarterback from week one in 2007 for the Cowboys. Romo was 6-4 as a starter in 2006, after relieving Drew Bledsoe in a week 6 Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants. The season started with him on the bench, and ended with him being a Pro Bowl selection, the first Dallas QB to get the nod since Troy Aikman in 1996. Romo finished the year completing 65.3 percent of his passes for 2903 yards, 19 TD passes and 13 INT. However, after starting off 5-0 as a starter, he was sacked 14 times in the final five games of the regular season, completing less than 50 percent of his passes twice, and the team went 1-4. As a safety net, the Cowboys signed Brad Johnson as a free agent from Minnesota to back Romo up. Johnson threw for 2750 yards with 9 TD and 15 picks last season before being replaced by Tarvaris Jackson.
The Cowboys are a team with no problem running the ball. One of the major questions in the first year of the Phillips/Garrett era will be how the team plans to use running backs Julius Jones (1084 rushing yards, 4 TD) and Marion Barber III(654 rushing yards, 23 receptions, 16 TD). Jones broke the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career last season, but was not much of a factor late in the year and reportedly fell into disfavor with Parcells. Barber heated up in the second half, putting the ball in the end zone 10 times, and he led the NFC in rushing touchdowns with 14. He also averaged a very healthy 4.8 yards per rush, and is the better receiver. Look for a platoon situation until one gets hot, then the 'Boys will go with the hot hand. Tyson Thompson (30 yards, 1 TD) is the third stringer, and will be more counted on for special teams. Rookie Deon Anderson and holdovers Oliver Hoyte, and Lousaka Polite are battling for the starting FB position.
Dallas has a great, though aging, 1-2 combination at wide receiver. The team is gambling on the health of Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, as they made no move to get a proven, game ready NFL receiver in the offseason. Both men are 33, and if either misses extended time, Dallas's offense may suffer. Glenn (70 catches, 1047 yards, 6 TD) is slated to come back to practice Saturday after having arthroscopic knee surgery to remove a cyst on the back of his right kneecap on August 1. It will leave a short window for him to get back to game shape if he is to play in the opener. Owens (85, 1180, 9) battled through an overdose, a broken finger, and a slew of dropped balls to record another 1000 yard season, and coupled with Glenn, and Julius Jones's 1000 yard rushing season, gave the Cowboys just their second trio of 2 1000 yard receiver and a 1000 yard rusher in the same season. The other time was in 1979, when Tony Dorsett rushed for 1107 yards, while Tony Hill (60, 1062, 10) and Drew Pearson (55, 1026, 8) cracked the 1000 yard receiving mark. Patrick Crayton(36, 516, 4) showed strides of becoming a productive third option, while Sam Hurd (5 grabs, 75 yards), converted quarterback Isaiah Stanback and Miles Austin will most likely round out the group. Jason Witten (64, 754, 1) is an excellent pass catching tight end, and will be backed up by second year man Anthony Fasano (14, 126, 0), giving Romo more options to throw to.
DEFENSE: Dallas's defensive numbers stacked up as follows:
12th in total defense (5388 yards)
25th in pass yards allowed (3729)
28th in pass yards per attempt (7.31)
28th in TD passes allowed (25)
12th in INT (18)
9th in rushing attempts allowed (429)
10th in rushing yards allowed (1659)
8th in rushing yards per attempt (3.87)
14th in rushing TD allowed (12)
The Cowboys need to get more production from their defensive line. They were unable to make big plays with the three-man group of Jason Ferguson (46 tackles) in the middle and Marcus Spears (45 tackles, 1 sack) and Chris Canty (33 tackles, 1 sack). Phillips is expected to change the defensive format from the two gap format that Parcells ran to a more conducive one gap formation, in hopes of freeing up Spears and Canty on the pass rush. The downfall is that it will put more pressure on Ferguson to shut down opposing running games. Holdovers Jason Hatcher (15 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Montavious Stanley will be the top backups at end and nose tackle, respectively, while another backup, Jay Ratliff (18 tackles, 4 sacks), can play any of the three positions up front. The Dallas defense registered just 34 sacks a season ago, and that has to improve, or they will be shredded by opponent's passing games again.
Dallas's linebacking corps is one of the deepest in the league, and the deepest part of the defense. They added even more depth with the drafting of Purdue's Anthony Spencer in the first round, 26th overall, this season. Demarcus Ware made his first Pro Bowl appearance, recording 71 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 1 INT, 6 pass breakups, 5 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. On the other side will be Greg Ellis, provided he can recover from a torn Achilles he suffered late last season. Ellis had 30 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT and 3 FF before going down. If he is not ready to go when the season start, expect Spencer to get thrown into the fire. Akin Adoyele (84 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT, 2 FR) and Bradie James (team leading 101 tackles, 1 pick, 2 FF, 2 FR, 9 pass breakups) are the starters at the inside linebacker spots. Kevin Burnett (38 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack) and Bobby Carpenter (19 tackles, 1.5 sacks) provide depth, but have been underachievers in the NFL so far. (NOTE: Burnett is slated to undergo surgery today, August 28, to remove a bone chip from his ankle.)
The Dallas secondary was scrutinized last season and through the offseason, as they were shredded like confetti, as teams seemed to throw at will at times last season. In the second half of the year, Dallas almost lost focus, unable to cover receivers at key points. Roy Williams made the Pro Bowl, but had, by his standards, a subpar season, recording 62 tackles, 5 INT, 14 pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. The struggles prompted Dallas to go out and get Ken Hamlin via free agency. Hamlin racked up 96 tackles, 3 picks and 2 sacks for the Seahawks in 2006, and his presence should allow Williams to roam free, make more plays in the box and generally wreak havoc. Hamlin's presence should also help corners Anthony Henry (81 tackles, 21 pass breakups, 2 INT) and Terence Newman (63 tackles, 12 pass breakups, 1 INT) as well. Newman is currently recovering from a slight tear in his plantar fascia, though the team hopes he will be ready opening day. Fourteen year vet Aaron Glenn (22 tackles, 1 INT) is the nickel back, though, at 35, the Cowboys are not sold on how much he can play and actually help the team. There is still not much secondary depth, though safeties Pat Watkins (36 tackles, 3 INT) and Keith Davis (26 tackles) have both seen significant time, as has cornerback Jacques Reeves (12 tackles). If the team chooses to cut ties with Glenn, safety Abram Elam (13 tackles) and corner Nathan Jones (9 tackles) should feel slightly more comfortable about their chances of making the squad.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Martin Gramatica was the de facto kicker for Dallas coming into the year, but has been hampered by a hamstring injury and has practically conceded the job to sixth round pick Nick Folk. Scout. com had Folk as the #2 kicker in the draft behind Colorado's Mason Crosby. He was a double duty kicker for Arizona last year, handling kicking and punting. He averaged 44 yards a kick on 78 punts, hit 75% of his field goals, and has excellent leg strength. At the combine he hit 13 of 15 field goals, with his two misses from 45.
Mat McBriar is probably one of, if not the, most underrated punter in the NFL. McBriar averaged 48.2 yards on 56 punts in 2006, putting 22 of those inside the opposing 20. For his efforts, McBriar went to the Pro Bowl. He also is just the fifth punter to average 48+ yards a kick over a full season, and the first since Yale Lary in 1963. His net average was also a stellar 38.6 yards.
Miles Austin(29 returns, 26.0 yard average) and Tyson Thompson (21 returns, 26.0 yard average) will handle the kickoff return duties, while Newman, if healthy will return punts. He averaged 10.1 yards a runback last season and took one back for a score. Patrick Crayton is the secondary option if Newman can't go. The Cowboys kick coverage team are stellar, allowing just 19.6 yards a kickoff return, though the punt unit needs a little work, allowing 10.8 yards a return.
OUTLOOK: The Cowboys are poised for a return to the playoffs, and their first postseason win since 1996. The return of Ellis and Newman will be key, as depth on the defense is a bit shaky. They also need to keep Glenn and Owens on the field. If the pass rush ramps up, and Romo avoids a slump, watch for Dallas to go 10-6, and qualify as a wild card. From there, it is anyone's game.