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.
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
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?