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Dallas Cowboys’ Five Biggest Strengths Heading Into 2010 Season

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Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys are loaded with talent this season and a popular pick by experts and casual fans alike to be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.  The defense ranked No. 2 in the NFL last year and looks even better so far in the preseason.  The offense was second in yards in 2009 and just added a receiving threat that was arguably this draft’s most explosive offensive weapon.

It is the list of players (and coach) below, however, that makes up the core of the 2010 Cowboys.  Without further ado, the five biggest strengths for Dallas this season. . .

5. Coach Wade Phillips

Wade Phillips as a strength!?  You bet.  You won’t hear much of this on ESPN, but Phillips is the perfect coach for this Cowboys team.  He doesn’t yell a lot, but that’s not a bad thing.  It is actually a misnomer that players respond well to being screamed at. . .the illusion lies in the correlation/causation dichotomy I’ve talked about in the past.

In fact, Phillips non-aggressive approach allows the few times he does yell to actually mean something.  Going off into a tirade isn’t commonplace for Phillips, so when he does it, his message really gets across to the players.

Further, Phillips is one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL.  The Cowboys were second in the NFL in total defense last season due in large part to Phillips taking over control.  Hopefully, he’s in Dallas to stay.

4. One of the league’s best cornerback trios

I ranked Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman third in my list of the league’s top starting cornerback duos.  Both players had All-Pro seasons in 2009.

I  provided Newman with a “B+” overall grade and Jenkins with an “A-” overall grade, putting them at 10th and 8th on the team in our overall rankings, respectively.

Although nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick struggled somewhat last season, he is still one of the better third cornerbacks in the league.  Don’t forget that he often gets picked on due to the caliber of play exhibited from Newman and Jenkins.

Scandrick has also been the team’s best cornerback thus far in the preseason.

3. The league’s top set of skill position players

Imagine the frustration of opposing defensive coordinators when they try to game plan for the 2010 Dallas Cowboys offense.  The running game is one of the league’s most efficient, so that must be contained first.  Do you focus on Marion Barber up the middle and in the passing game, or Felix Jones on counters and other misdirection plays?  What do you do about the Tashard Choice/Felix Jones combo in “Razorback” formation?

But won’t selling out to stop the run leave you vulnerable against pass?  Miles Austin’s presence alone, whether he is outside or in the slot, is enough to force defenses to play honestly.  Leave him single-covered and you risk getting beat deep on any one particular play.

How about the rookie?  We still need to see a lot from Dez Bryant, but every sign points to him being a legitimate threat on offense, even in his first season.  If you focus on Austin, Bryant surely has the skill set to beat you.

And then there’s Roy Williams.  Fans were undoubtedly uninspired from his play last season, but believe me when I say this man has regained his “swag.” I explained in a previous article why this isn’t a “new” Roy Williams, but instead, we are finally obtaining a glimpse of the “old” Roy Williams–the University of Texas variety.

Don’t forget Williams also scored seven touchdowns last year and is still a threat on in-breaking routes, such as slants and skinny posts.  His game should actually be a nice complement to that of Austin & Bryant.

So suppose you have the requisite defensive line and linebackers to somehow halt the run without placing a safety in the box.  You can just sit back in Cover Two and stop the outside receivers, right?

Not a chance.  Disregarding the fact that Austin figures to be a terror in the slot this season, the Cowboys also have another pass-catcher roaming the middle of the field.  His name is Jason Witten, and he’s been arguably Dallas’ most reliable receiver over the last few seasons.  He hauled in 94 balls last year and he’s the final guy I’m mentioning. . .pretty scary stuff, huh?  Don’t forget the Cowboys also figure to utilize Witten more in the red zone this season.

2.  DeMarcus Ware & Anthony Spencer

If my “A” and “A-” overall grades for Ware and Spencer didn’t show how important they are to the ‘Boys, perhaps my ranking of the top 105 players in the NFL did.

Either way, the dominance of Ware and Spencer make the jobs of the men at No. 4 on this list much easier.  Ware led the league in pressures (by far) and Spencer set the pace for quarterback hits (by far).

Further, both players are outstanding against the run.  The importance of their presence cannot be overstated.

1. Tony Romo

I’ve used the following Michael Irvin quote a few times in various articles, but it really sums up my feelings on Romo:

Can we get Drew Bledsoe back out here (for) just a week so you guys can really fall back in love with Tony? Let’s put Drew Bledsoe back out here, because sometimes when you have a pretty girl for awhile, you forget how pretty she is. But when you throw the ugly girl next to her, you say, ‘No, I’m really doing well.’ Maybe we need to bring Drew out so we know we’re really doing well.

And Romo really is the “pretty girl” at the party.  How so?

Well, I could try to impress you with Romo’s 4,483 yards or 26:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but the truth is, Romo just needs to do what it takes to win in 2010.

And he’s done that in the past, posting an incredible 38-17 record to date. Of course, as fans, we want playoff wins.   We expect Romo to get to the playoffs.  But let’s not forget that these expectations only result from our overwhelming confidence in Romo.

Did we expect the same for Quincy Carter or Chad Hutchinson?  How about Ryan Leaf? Clint Stoerner?  Drew Henson?   How about the incomparable Brad Johnson, whose three-game stint in 2008 (should have) showed us how important Tony Romo is to the Dallas Cowboys.

This time, let’s not wait for a Romo injury before we realize his importance.  It’s easy to call for the backup when things aren’t going as planned, but true fans–the loyal ones–stick by their guy during times of adversity.  On which side of the fence will you be this season if the ‘Boys stumble out of the gate to a 4-4 start?  Will you be screaming for Kitna?  Or will you support your quarterback, knowing he is the most vital piece to the home Super Bowl puzzle?

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13 Responses to Dallas Cowboys’ Five Biggest Strengths Heading Into 2010 Season

  1. Mark says:

    Outstanding article. I especially enjoyed reading about Wade Phillips. Again fantastic article.

  2. Thanks Mark..appreciate you taking the time to read.

  3. Scott says:

    good stuff. It’s a great time to be a Cowboys fan with how many strengths this team has and how good it can be.

    I agree Phillips is underrated and gets a lot of undeserved flak because people expect a certain style of coaching, but I think his strength is that he gets to know individual plays and along with his coordinators and position coaches (an outstanding group), he tailors his coaching style and players’ roles in the scheme to the learning methods and strengths of the individual players. And I think this season we see his D scheme really mature with all the pieces working together to be very aggressive and effective.

    And pieces of the defense are outstanding, led by the best bookend duo of OLBs in the league, two of the top CBs in the league, and very solid players in the ILB, DE and S positions, with good depth all around as well.

    As for skill position players, we have arguably the top RB trio in the league with one of the most dangerous ball carriers anywhere in Felix, top 5 receiving corps in the league with two potential #1 receivers in Austin (who KC Joyner says is the best WR in the league even above Andre Johnson based on his lack of drop-off against top CBs) and Bryant (who has all the attributes to be even better than Austin), plus arguably the best all-around TE in the league in Witten. Then there’s the guys you didn’t even list. Crayton has got to be one of the most steady, reliable slot WRs in the league with great chemistry with Romo, high quality as a fourth receiver. Bennett is still all potential, but that potential is huge as our second TE. It’s not just being a homer to say that from top to bottom, from the starters to the depth, we are truly stacked at our skill positions.

    Plus we have great overall STs now with Joe D coaching, McBriar being a dangerous weapon, and hopefully Buehler showing and improving on the consistency that we’ve seen so far in preseason. If he can hone in the accuracy to go with that leg, he can be an outstanding place kicker. And Bryant brings dangerous return potential.

    The biggest question to me going into the season is the oline, both starters and depth, and this is just highlighted by the recent injuries. I predict Free will turn out to be our best oline player this season, and the release of Flo will be seen as a move similar in its wisdom to the releases of T.O., Ellis and Henry with the ascendance of Austin, Spencer and Jenkins. But I believe Davis and Gurode are overrated, making pro-bowls based on reputation and not performance, and possibly entering decline. Hopefully I’m wrong and they can be solid this season. Colombo is one tough SOB but I’m not really sure how reliable he is in his play and his durability. Kosier is a solid, underrated player, but now he’s the one who will be missing for at least a game or few to start the season.

    The 3 parts all work together, with the D and ST depending on the O to all be truly dominant together, as they can be. And the QB and all the skill positions of course depend on the oline to function, run and pass. Not every part can be a strength I suppose, but it’s not terribly confidence inspiring to have the oline be the area with the biggest question, one the success of the team depends upon despite all the other strengths.

    What the oline does have going for it is experience and continuity. If they can stay healthy and use those advantages, they can also be a strength. We all hope that’s the case so the rest of the strengths can all come together into a truly dominant, championship team.

  4. moses says:

    I think the weak part of the Cowboys right now is the offensive line. I know it is preseason but the line had a few let downs against the Raiders. With Columbo out. Kosier out. Barron not playing well and out too. The like looks vulnerable.

    Without a good line, the skill positions aren’t much of a factor.

    Great report!

  5. Jorge says:

    This is the best Dallas Cowboys site. Thank you for your insight.
    Most of the articles on the internet (or TV) are not based on real data just assumptions, and bias opinions.

    I really enjoy reading. Thank you again.

    Regards from Monterrey Mexico.

  6. john coleman says:

    I would agree across the board. I particularly like the props for Romo and Wade. Wade may be the most under the radar coach in the league and his style does fit these players. He was/is the perfect guy behind Bill. For the record, I am a big fan of Big Bill. He helped build this team and I think the front office learned a ton from him. Then there is Romo. He is in the same situation as Steve Young was. Until he wins the big one the criticism will continue. IMO with our current line, very few guys would do a better job. I do think we need to be looking for the next guy, for grooming. Especially if they do not think McGhee is the guy. As of now, he has shown improvement, but still has a long way to go.

  7. Scott…good point about the special teams. I was actually considering putting McBriar on the list. He would have to be No. 6 for me. When you think of players that are valuable to Dallas you don’t think of a punter, but his time out in ’08 showed just how vital he is to the ‘Boys. What a struggle that was without him.

  8. Thanks Moses. You’re right…I’ve always thought that a great line can make average skill position players looks great, but it doesn’t go the other way around.

  9. Thanks Jorge! Really appreciate the comment and you reading.

    John–I appreciate what Bill did as well. He changed the culture of the entire organization, but Phillips is certainly a better fit to coach this team as it is now.

    I’ve been pretty impressed with McGee on tape. Not spectacular, but you wouldn’t expect that yet. Great arm and athleticism, but he needs to hit his check downs and get more comfortable sitting in the pocket.

  10. Tom says:

    Nailed it, JB!
    If you did have a #6, the ST as a whole would be a worthy selection. Between McBriar and Buehler’s kickoffs, the team might have the best tandem of field position weapons. If Buehler can keep on track with those FG’s, they are looking solid. Coverage units are among the best, and I’m expecting the return units to also be among the best with Dez on PR, and either Dez or AOA on the KR.

    Such a well rounded team, but yet the OL could still be it’s downfall. I am wishing for a speedy recover for Kosier (especially) and Colombo, since our depth is now at zero while they are out. (actually -1 if Barron is out)

  11. Thanks Tom. I am definitely excited to see Dez and AOA on returns. As much as people talk about Dez needing time in the preseason to get settled into the offense, I think the same is true on returns (perhaps not to the same degree).

    I am hoping for a speedy recovery from Kosier and Colombo as well, but due to their age, I’m anticipating returns around the pessimistic end of the ranges.

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