The Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs again in 2012-13, but reaffirmed their belief in quarterback Tony Romo to get them to the promised land with a nice, fat contract this offseason. Dallas went just 8-8 last season and haven't done much better -- or much worse, for that matter -- in recent seasons. Still, the Cowboys remain a talented team sitting on some real potential.
But have they done enough to improve? Jerry Jones is an impatient owner, and many have questioned the status of head coach Jason Garrett. Some thought he might not make it to this season. He has, albeit without his play-calling duties. Jones has suggested that this is not a make-or-break season for Garrett, but it's hard to see Garrett surviving a losing season or even a third consecutive 8-8 season.
Dallas made Bill Callahan the play-caller, the man to decide what Romo will be doing. They gave Romo that big contract, drafted a potential starter at running back and took a starting center in the first round of draft. But many believe they left too many needs out there on defense. Have they done enough?
We'll take a look at reasons they can succeed, ways they can fail and what constitutes a winning season in Dallas.
3 Steps To Success
1. Stick to any decision made on offense
Much has been said about the play-calling duties this offseason. The original plan was for the Cowboys to wait until preseason to announce the play-caller, but it was recently noted that offensive coordinator Bill Callahan is taking over duties. The worst thing the Cowboys can do at this point is change their minds and add more instability to an offense that has invested so much in its quarterback.
2. Get a running back to step up
DeMarco Murray has been given a vote of confidence and will likely be the starter entering the season. As a rookie, he managed 897 yards with a per-carry average of 5.5 yards. Last season, he played in only 10 games and put up 663 yards and a per-carry average of 4.1 yards. He'll need to step up if the Cowboys can be successful. Rookie Joseph Randle also is a factor, though he is still dealing with some injuries.
3. Cause trouble for Washington and New York
Nobody quite knows how the Philadelphia Eagles will look with Chip Kelly at the helm, but the Cowboys aren't going to make it into the playoffs unless they do some serious damage to New York and Washington. Robert Griffin III took his team to a new level, and the Cowboys can't rely on a Wild Card spot with good teams in the NFC North and NFC West.
3 Feats Toward Failure
1. Offensive line struggles
Dallas had a middle-of-the-pack offensive line last season, but when they played at their worst, Romo fell apart. The team took Travis Frederick in the first round of the NFL Draft, which surprised many because most felt he would be there in the second and possibly even third round. If Frederick can't win the starting center job and play well, the Cowboys could be in for a rough ride next season. Romo is one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he has time to throw the football.
2. Safety position as poor as advertised
Someone might be able to break out at safety for the Cowboys, but as it stands, it's a mess. Barry Church played in only three games before going down with an injury last season, Matt Johnson didn't play a snap in the regular season last year, J.J. Wilcox is a rookie who only played one year in college and Will Allen is the only guy with real starting experience. Dallas missed a huge opportunity to capitalize on the safety position in the draft this year.
3. Struggles adjusting to a 4-3 defense
DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer have both spent their careers as outside linebackers, but they'll play down as defensive ends in Monte Kiffin's 4-3 defense. These are two very crucial players and will make or break Dallas' pass rush. If they struggle in the transition, the Cowboys are shooting themselves in the foot by killing their only true strength on the defensive side of the ball.
So what constitutes a successful season for the Cowboys? As noted above, Jerry Jones won't settle for 8-8 seasons any longer. The team is investing in Romo and they want to win sooner rather than later. Maybe Garrett isn't the right guy to lead the team, and a season that ultimately guarantees his exit would be "successful."
But let's go by what the expectations should be. A successful season for the Cowboys would be Romo having a great year leading the team to an NFC East crown. Of course, winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal, but if the Cowboys manage to win a competitive NFC East and make it back into the playoffs after struggling for the past few seasons, the fans will probably be happy.
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