Saturday, June 06, 2009

Dallas Cowboys 2009 Outlook: A Rebuilding Year?

By Jon Stall

A Rebuilding Year?

Coming off a 13-3 finish and their first NFC East title since 1996, the Dallas Cowboy 2008 season opened amidst great expectations. Hopes were high in spite of their disappointing first round loss to the Giants in the playoffs. However, in the immortal words of Dickens, what was expected to be the "best of times" ended as the "worst of times" with the underachieving Cowboys finishing a disappointing 9-7 and a failure to make the playoffs.

Silver and blue faithful unlike last season will more likely greet the 2009 campaign, featuring the team's debut in the brand new, state of the art, $1 billion Cowboy Stadium, with feelings more akin to cautious optimism. Expectations this year are tempered by the off season moves made by the team that seem to herald a new commitment to youth as the team showed a number of proven veterans the door in favor of promoting younger players to the starting line up. Whether the off season decisions represented a change of philosophy by Cowboy owner Jerry Jones and a willingness to concede this season to a rebuilding year in hopes of garnering greater success in the future or was simply a cost cutting measure as some have speculated, remains rather murky at present. Yet without any doubt, it is clear that the Cowboys will have to do more with less (talent) in 2009 if they expect to improve on last year's disappointing finish. Gone from the team roster are the likes of Terrell Owens, WR; Pacman Jones, CB; Anthony Henry, CB (16 game starter in 2008), 11 year veteran Greg Ellis, OLB and veteran safety Roy Williams. In most respects, the Cowboys will be looking to a group of young, unproven, albeit talented players with little NFL experience, to step up and fill some pretty large shoes left by the departing veterans.

Last year Dallas had what was for the most part, a respectable defense, finishing 20th in the league in scoring defense, 12th in rushing defense and 5th in passing defense. At least early on until the younger players have the chance to settle into their new starting roles, defense which bore the brunt of personnel changes, threatens to be a glaring weakness. It isn't all gloom and doom in the Lone Star state however, as the Cowboy offense could improve over last season, especially if Quarterback Tony Romo is able to shake off last year's lackluster performance and return to his 2007 season form and someone steps up in the receiving corps to provide a legitimate deep threat.

Can Dallas pick up the pieces and put together a credible run at a conference championship and the playoffs this year? As a life-long Cowboy fan since the days of Don Meredith and Tom Landry, I certainly hope so. Yet while the Cowboys may have a lot of the talented pieces needed to be successful in 2009, one has to wonder if they have them all.


The Dallas offense in 2008 lacked both consistency and efficiency finishing the season with a 22 point per game average (18th in the league) and just over 107 yards per game rushing average (21st in the league). Boasting what is arguably the deepest running back corps in the NFL with Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice, I look for the Cowboy running game to improve in 2009, which should in theory result in a more robust passing game. Yet which version of Tony Romo reports for duty along with the unanswered questions at wide receiver will have a great impact on offensive productivity. Strength returns in 2009 in the form of what is still one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and in the form of stalwart Jason Witten at TE. Newcomer John Phillips, also at TE, advertised as sure handed, a good blocker and experienced on special teams is a promising addition on the offensive side of the ball.

Dallas traded away Terrell Owens, who despite the drama and distractions he creates wherever he goes, was still one of the most potent and productive receivers in the league and leaves perhaps the biggest shoes to fill. The other Roy Williams, Patrick Clayton, Sam Hurd and Miles Austin are the receivers that will have to make the Dallas passing game go this year, all of who locally are not highly regarded. Still I feel optimistic that this group can get the job done. In years past, Cowboy teams have been able to achieve good success in the passing game with journeymen type receivers. With only a handful of notable exceptions, Dallas has rarely had super star caliber players at the wide receiver position.


The departure of Greg Ellis and very nearly the entire secondary along with an inexperienced, unproven cast at inside linebacker combine to make the defense the biggest question mark for Dallas this season. Ask any Cowboy fan what their biggest fear concerning the team's defense is, and almost every one of them will say it's the secondary. The Cowboys gave up both talent and experience in dealing away both Pacman Jones and veteran Anthony Henry. CB Terrance Newman returns as the only defender in the secondary with significant experience. How the young Cowboy secondary plays will potentially make or break the 2009 season.

Historically linebackers have been a strength for Dallas but this is another unknown in 2009. Anthony Spencer will replace veteran Greg Ellis at one of the OLB spots and standout DeMarcus Ware returns to fill the other. Youth and inexperience will be the rule for the inside linebacker positions as well as with regard to depth at all linebacker positions.

The defensive line should be solid despite some new faces there as well. In comparison to the secondary and linebacker positions, the defensive line is the least area of concern.

The Cowboy secondary has struggled in recent years and while on the surface it seems little has been done to improve this area of weakness the Cowboy faithful are hopeful that someone like DeAngelo Smith or Mike Mickens will step up and surprise.

This is a season where success or failure for the Dallas Cowboys hinges on whether a talented but largely inexperienced group of players are able to take the next step. Feeling cautiously optimistic that they are, after getting off to a rough start I expect the team to get better as the season progresses and predict they will finish the year at 8-8. While I expect 2009 to be a second consecutive year that Dallas will miss the playoffs, with lowered expectations perhaps the Cowboys have a chance to impress their fans by overachieving for a change rather than being a team that is expected to do big things but that in the recent past has always seemed to fall short of those expectations.