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Americas Team - The Dallas Cowboys

7-17-09

The Dallas Cowboys began training camp as part of an HBO reality show called "Hard Knocks" and had high hopes of displacing the New York Giants and representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. By the end of the season, it was Dallas suffering plenty of those hard knocks, and suffering one of their most embarrassing losses in recent years against the Eagles in the season finale. It was Philadelphia and Arizona meeting for the NFC title and a trip to the Super Bowl, and Dallas was nowhere to be found. The team released Terrell Owens in the off-season and that may set things up for more changes.

Has Jerry Jones found the formula for the Cowboys getting somewhere in the NFC East?

Let's take a look at the numbers:

NFL Futures Odds To Win NFC East 

  • New York Giants       +165
  • DALLAS COWBOYS     +250
  • Philadelphia Eagles     +210
  • Washington Redskins     +550

  • To Win Super Bowl: +1500
  • To Win NFC title: +650
  • To Reach Conference title game: +275
  • Over 9 Wins -145
  • Under 9 Wins +115

Dallas has not won a playoff game since 1996, and Jerry Jones may be running out of patience. His head coach Wade Phillips, a guy who had made his rounds in the NFL, is in the final year of his contract, and he will almost certainly be gone if this team does not get beyond the first round of the post-season. Phillips might have at his disposal an improved defense, which added linebacker Keith Brookings, as well as more talent in the secondary through the draft, with Cincinnati corners DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens likely to find a role of some kind.

If a consistent pass rush can be found, this stop unit can be very formidable.  DeMarcus Ware gets after the passer aboiut as well as anyone in the league, and indeed he led all NFL sack-masters with 20. He needs a "partner," but between Anthony Spencer and veteran Greg Ellis, Phillips ought to be able to find someone to offer support. With an acknowledged run-stuffer in Jay Ratliff, if the Cowboys don't slow down opposition ground attacks, it's nobody's fault but their own.

One of the key guys in the secondary I would keep my eye on is Mike Jenkins, last year's first-round draft pick, who has the potential to be a genuine lockdown corner. Of course, coverage in the secondary is often a function of the pass rush, so one thing will invariably complement the other.

The feeling was that getting rid of Owens was going to make the locker room a little more harmonious, as T.O. had often complained about not getting the ball enough. They will nonetheless have to figure out a way to replace his 69 catches and ten touchdowns. What they have left over isn't earth-shattering. Roy Williams led the NFC with 1310 yards in 2006 and made the Pro Bowl as a member of the Lions; he will be counted on more heavily here and has to regain his form. People like Miles Austin, Patrick Crayton and Sam Hurd are among the receivers who round out the rest of the rotation. There were no significant additions in the draft.

Tony Romo completed 61% of his passes with 26 touchdowns last season, but there is going to be that knock of a guy who can't come up big in the big games until he does so. He is going to be looking once again in the direction of Jason Witten, a Pro Bowler who was the target of some of Owens' complaints last season. Marcellus Bennett, one of last year's draft picks, is a great athlete who could be counted on to make a bigger contribution.

The Cowboys should be in better shape if Romo gets injured, as they picked up Jon Kitna, who was let go by the winless Lions. Romo will have a strong running game to work with. Felix Jones was having a nice rookie season, averaging 8.9 yards a carry, until he went down with injury. Tashard Choice played well when given the opportunity, averaging over five yards an attempt. Marion Barber gained 885 yards last year, and he will be the closet this team has to an every-down back. This wil be best done by committee.

I'd be obviously very hesitant to back the Cowboys to win the Super Bowl. There's just too much historical evidence against it. If there is "addition by subtraction: after jettisoning Owens, that's fine, but this team is missing something in the air attack. Dallas will play well, but not well enough to go very far. A playoff spot is not an impossibility, and this is better than a .500 team, which is why I would lean to an "over" on the nine wins at BetUS (-145), though I would not put a lot on it.

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