The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Will the Cowboys Win 8 Games in 2012?

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A couple of weeks ago, we had an awesome guest post on Tony Romo from Frank DuPont of FantasyDouche.com. Today’s article is courtesy of reader Derek Smith. If you think you have what it takes to post on The DC Times, send me your stuff.

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Will the Cowboys Win 8 Games in 2012?

Football Outsiders (FO) has released its 2012 Almanac, and the Dallas Cowboys section is offered as the free sample. If you haven’t already read the section on the Cowboys, check it out. It’s a good read and deals with a lot of the ‘Boys’ possible concerns. I want to take a look at the section from a more fan’s point of view, however.

FO projects 7.5 wins for the Cowboys. To me, that’s not a horrible number. The Cowboys have a lot of question marks this year, played fairly poor last year, and their division is looking strong. The Eagles, in particular, will be a threat because they won’t go on an early-season slump again. The Cowboys will face the Eagles late in the season when the games will be more meaningful in regards to playoff implications.

FO notes that the Cowboys had a major defensive weakness on third downs. While the Cowboys were good against the run, they were really bad against the pass. Ironically (or maybe not), they were worse on third and long than on third and short. This is a problem, however, that has been addressed. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne should be a tandem that is at least comparable to the early days of Newman and Jenkins. Whether Jenkins remains on the team or not, at least we can rejoice in the fact that Alan Ball is no longer on the roster.

FO also points out that the Cowboys performed worse defensively when they sent more rushers in 2011. This seems to be connected to the poor third down performance. Hopefully, the Cowboys can figure out how to get suitable pressure with fewer rushers. Maybe Rob Ryan can figure out what was wrong with using five or more rushers and make sending more guys effective this year. It should help that Keith Brooking and Bradie James are gone, as they both seemed to have lost the ability to penetrate on blitzes (and to do much else at an above average level).

FO says that it is unlikely that Claiborne will have a good year. They cite a list of recent first-round cornerback stats as evidence that Claiborne probably won’t have a solid season. A scan of the list, however, shows that most of the rookie first-round picks played fairly well. Though Patrick Peterson, last year’s top cornerback, had some struggles at the position, he still played well in his first season. A similar season from Claiborne would be beneficial to Dallas.

Moreover, draft analysts have said that Claiborne looks to be better than Peterson as a cornerback prospect. Mike Jenkins, even, had a solid rookie year. There’s no reason to think that Claiborne won’t be better than Jenkins. Actually, it seems that Claiborne has a good chance to be better than present-day Jenkins, too.

FO says that the offensive line is the weak link this year. This could be true. We all have more hope than optimism about the offensive line. FO’s stats show that Tyron Smith was a problem when running to the right side, but Smith graded out well last year, and he can only get better. It seems foolish to think that Smith won’t produce a strong run-blocking year.

According to FO, the Cowboys’ line projects as a first-rounder, two seventh-rounders, and two undrafted players. While FO made a mistake on Doug Free (fourth-rounder), they’re right that the line is built with mainly Day 3 picks. It really shouldn’t matter how a player entered the league when they come to a team in free agency, though. The fact is, they have shown they can play; the place where they got drafted is meaningless.

What is meaningful is that there are a lot of issues with the offensive line. A lot is expected of Smith, and it’s certainly possible that he won’t deliver on such high expectations, especially at a new position. Nate Livings has been a starter, but he’s been up-and-down during his NFL career thus far. Phil Costa has gotten better, but will there be too many botched snaps this year, and is “better” good enough? Mackenzy Bernadeau is a huge question mark with a bad hip, and Ronald Leary is an unknown commodity with a degenerative knee condition. Perhaps Doug Free is the safest bet for a good season this year at right tackle, despite his poor 2011 season. My biggest fear is that the line will miss Kyle Kosier. Even as a gimp, he helped stabilize the line and was always better than average.

FO claims that the Cowboys’ new offensive line Coach, Bill Callahan, has said that Livings or Bill Nagy could unseat Costa at center. We can forgive them their mistaking Livings and Bernadeau, but with Bernadeau’s injury, it certainly appears that it’s in the team’s best interest to stick with Costa. After all, an offensive line should be strong in communication to be consistent and perform well, and the center is the biggest part of that. The center, too, must be on the same page as Tony Romo.

The bottom line is that the Cowboys are hard to project this year. The offensive line could be a weakness, or it could even be a strength. Hell, it could be a weakness (as it was for the Giants last year) and still be overcome. It certainly looks like the Cowboys will be better this year than last: a better secondary, superior linebackers, a better defensive line, comparable receivers (with health), better running backs, an addition-through-subtraction at tight end, and the same old-but-not-too-old, trusty quarterback.

Even with all of that, though, the NFC East will be brutal this year. So, while I can see why FO would predict 7.5 wins for Dallas, it also would have been understandable for them to have projected 10 wins. The Dallas Cowboys are just that unpredictable heading into the 2012 season.

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Thanks to Derek for sending in the great article.

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