Dallas Cowboys: 10 Reasonable Expectations for Team This Season
Philadelphia Eagle fans usually retort something about the Cowboys never having a window in the first place, and they expect another seemingly promising season that fails to live up to expectations.
Ah, there's that word again—expectation.
What exactly are the expectations for the 2012 version of the Dallas Cowboys?
Some look at the talent and storied history of the franchise and will expect championships.
Others counter with the fact that the Cowboys haven't made the playoffs since 2009 and have only won two playoff games since 1996. Perhaps they just aren't good enough for lofty expectations.
What follows are 10 expectations that should be in place for the Cowboys' 2012 season.
1. DeMarco Murray Becomes Elite
DeMarco Murray was on his way to a breakout campaign in 2011 before a season-ending ankle injury crashed the party.
Despite the injury, Murray's 897 rushing yards was still tops in the league among rookies.
This season, Murray is hungry for more of the same. As Charean Williams from the Star-Telegram reports, in addition to offseason martial arts training, Murray still seems to be carrying a serious chip on his shoulder based on where he was drafted.
At the end of the day, I’m still the…sixth running back taken last year, third-round pick, looked over by many, and I’m still working to get better. I’m not a veteran. I haven’t been here for many years, so I’m trying to work hard every day and prove to myself that I belong here.
I like what I see, DeMarco, I like what I see.
With that kind of attitude, I expect to see Murray build on his rookie season while racking up 1,500 rushing yards and staking his claim as one of the league's elite running backs.
2. DeMarcus Ware Leads the League in Sacks
DeMarcus Ware is a machine. With 99.5 sacks in eight seasons with the Cowboys, Ware has been producing ever since he stepped into a Cowboys uniform.
Now with the Cowboys bolstering their entire secondary in the offseason, it looks like the machine just got a new upgrade.
The logic is simple enough. The better the secondary coverage, the fewer places opposing quarterbacks have to throw, the more opportunities the pass rush has to tee off on the quarterback.
Considering Ware's 19.5 sacks from the 2011 season placed him second in the league behind Jared Allen—when the Cowboys had no secondary to speak of—it's not unreasonable to expect him to lead the league in sacks with a revamped secondary behind him.
Heck, Michael Strahan's record could even be in jeopardy.
3. Tony Romo Makes the Pro Bowl
It's not like he hasn't done it before.
For all the heat Tony Romo takes, it's easy to forget that he's been to three Pro Bowls already and was downright snubbed last season.
He also holds the second-highest career QB rating in NFL history. I'm serious. Look it up yourself.
Point is, Romo will continue to excel this season. It's reasonable to expect he will make his fourth Pro Bowl, and, like Roger Staubach says, give the man some respect.
4. Dan Bailey Comes Through
One of the most overlooked bright spots of the 2011 Cowboys season was rookie kicker Dan Bailey.
Bailey booted a club-record 26 consecutive field goals last season while adding four game-winners and finishing the season a rock-solid 32-of-37.
Any team that wants to be great needs a sturdy leg to rely on, and the Cowboys have found one in Bailey.
Expect more of the same in 2012.
5. Dez Bryant Racks Up 1,000 Receiving Yards
Surprisingly, Dez Bryant has not yet reached the 1,000-yard receiving level for a single season in his NFL career, thanks to a scattered assortment of injuries.
He came close last season, racking up 928 yards on 63 receptions, but the 23-year-old should be able to cross the threshold come 2012.
6. Miles Austin Racks Up 1,000 Receiving Yards
Unlike Bryant, Miles Austin has gone for more than 1,000 yards receiving before in his career, but he is coming off a hamstring injury-plagued season that saw him register a mere 579 yards on just 43 catches.
However, like Bryant, reports about Austin in training camp are also fantastic, and there is no reason why a healthy Miles Austin won't return to form in 2012.
7. Offseason Moves Shore Up the Secondary
It's not a secret the Cowboys' weakest link last season was their secondary.
However, with the signing of Kansas City Chief defensive back Brandon Carr and trading up to draft standout LSU corner Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys have certainly addressed their weakness.
When you pair Claiborne and Carr with Brodney Pool (yet another secondary upgrade) and returnees Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick and Gerald Sensabaugh, it's clear the Cowboys secondary has some bite and will surely make up for the mess it left last year.
8. Jason Garrett Starts to Shine
It's often noted that by the time a player hits his third year in the NFL, he should start to show some sort of progress.
Welcome to year three, Jason Garrett. Now it's time to expect some progress.
In his first two years at the helm, Garrett has shined at times and faltered at others.
In order for him to start to live up to his billing as Jerry Jones' supposed Tom Landry, the time is now, and Garrett should be expected to shine in 2012.
9. Rob Ryan Ends Up with a Better Defense Than Rex
Last season, Rob Ryan's defensive schemes didn't live up to their hype. The performance was seemingly excusable because the Cowboys simply lacked talent on the defensive side of the ball.
Not so much in 2012. The Cowboys went all-in on the defensive end over the offseason, and Ryan will only have himself to blame if the Cowboys defense costs them any games this year.
Expect Rob Ryan's defense to be good enough to lead the Cowboys into the promised land and for it to be better than Rex Ryan's defense in New York.
10. The Cowboys Go 11-5 and Make Noise in the Playoffs
The culminating expectation of all of the Cowboys talented parts should be this: a regular season record of 11-5 and a deep run in the playoffs.
Looking over the schedule shows a rough stretch during Weeks 8-10 where the 'Boys must face the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles on consecutive weeks, but relatively easy non-divisional games against the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks.
Come playoff time, expect the Cowboys to finally shake their unlucky postseason curse as Romo's fortunes take a turn for the better. The Cowboys are overdue for some big-time success.