Last week, I posted the Cowboys’ five biggest strengths heading into the 2010 season. Those are the primary reasons that Dallas is favored by many to win the NFC. Here is what could potentially bring them down. . .
5. The schedule
Playing in the NFC East, the Cowboys’ schedule is always difficult. Road trips to Philadelphia, New York, and Washington are intense no matter the teams’ records. This year, two of those games (at Washington and at Philly) bookend the schedule.
Further, November and December, as always, are going to be chaotic. Check out this string of games: @GB, @NYG, DET, NO, @IND, PHI, WSH, @ARZ, @PHI. Holy crap. Only one “sure” win in the bunch.
Rebuttal: Each NFC East team plays 12 of the same teams. They each play each other twice, so only two games really separate each team’s schedule.
Also, the start of the Cowboys’ schedule is relatively easy. The opener will be difficult, but games against Chicago, Houston, and Tennessee are all very winnable, meaning Dallas has the potential to start off well.
4. Immeasurable pressure
The expectations this season are through the roof. The last time this happened, Dallas stumbled to a 9-7 finish and missed the playoffs. As if the regular pressures of playing for the Dallas Cowboys aren’t enough, there’s also the home Super Bowl. Anything short of a championship is a failure. . .can any other team really say that?
Rebuttal: Every team and every player has pressure on them to perform. These are professional athletes. For the majority of them, the most pressure they feel is internal.
Perhaps additional external pressure isn’t a bad thing either. Extra pressure to practice hard. Extra pressure to play hard.
3. Field goals
Making field goals is important. Very important. The distribution of talent among NFL teams is more spread out now than ever before, meaning doing the “little things” adds up to big-time success.
The difference between a poor field goal kicker and a great one is huge–about a win per season, according to my calculations. In the NFC East, an extra win is monumental.
The Cowboys would like Buehler to win the job (against himself), but even if they bring in a veteran, that is no guarantee of accuracy on field goals.
Rebuttal: David Buehler has looked very good in the preseason. He is six-of-seven on field goals and is still driving the ball through the back of the end zone on kickoffs. More importantly, he’s got the right mindset to succeed. His confidence may be unparalleled for a kicker, and that mentality will help him rebound from poor kicks.
2. Predictability on offense
This is a controversial subject. Many of you believe that predictability doesn’t matter, or at least not that much. What counts is execution.
While I don’t discredit the importance of players’ ability and efficient execution, intelligent, innovative play-calling, in my opinion, is just as imperative. Yes, players could theoretically execute each play to perfection, but that isn’t going to happen.
Instead, each play has a certain chance of working. It is the offensive coordinator’s responsibility to dial up plays that have the highest success rate in certain circumstances. It is illogical to blame players for failing to execute on a play with a potential success rate of only 10 percent when another play with a 70 percent potential success rate could have been called.
I’ve previously detailed why Jason Garrett is anything but unpredictable in his play-calling, from his use of draws and playaction passes to his play variation from certain formations to his second down play-calling. You can’t tell me it isn’t an advantage for a defensive coordinator to know that the Cowboys run a strong side dive 85.7 percent of the time they motion into “Double Tight Strong” or pass the ball a ridiculous 98.4 percent of the time from “Gun Trips.”
Rebuttal: The players must execute, no matter the play-call. It doesn’t matter if a defense knows what play is coming if they can’t stop it.
Note: I obviously don’t agree with this rebuttal and place an extreme emphasis on the importance of play-calling. It is very rare for an NFL team to not be able to stop a play if they know it is coming.
1. Offensive line depth (and age)
In my opinion, the offensive line is the key to the Cowboys’ success this season. Nearly everything else is in place: the defense is stacked and the skill position players are the NFL’s best.
The age of the Dallas linemen may be showing itself, as right tackle Marc Colombo and left guard Kyle Kosier are already out. Kosier will miss at least the first two regular season games as well.
While the starting linemen aren’t awful (despite what others might say, they are still at least adequate), the team will run into a lot of trouble if any of the starters get injured for an extended period of time.
Alex Barron is a solid backup left tackle, but who knows if he has the skill set to man the right side of the line as well. If not, the Cowboys will have to rely on the unproven Robert Brewster in the event of another Colombo injury (or setback).
In the interior line, the Cowboys are even thinner. Montrae Holland is decent at guard, but behind him the Cowboys are incredibly weak. Backup guard/center Phil Costa has played well in the preseason, but that is against second-team defenses. Do we really want to see him starting at a position as critical as center during the regular season?
Rebuttal: Perhaps we are getting greedy by expecting the Dallas backups to be starting-quality players. The talent on this roster is so great that, just maybe, we’ve come to develop unrealistic expectations with the second and third-teamers.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys could be in trouble if multiple linemen go down this season.