Dallas Cowboys: Five Burning Questions for the Cowboys Going into 2012
For the Dallas Cowboys, 2012 represents one of the most important seasons in the last 10 years. The window is considered to be closing. While there are young promising players on this roster, the true core players are in the final years of their prime. A win-now philosophy is starting to emerge. It’s that serious.
Everyone seems to be torn about how far the Cowboys will go, but the consensus seems to be they’ll have a great season. With a full offseason with Rob Ryan and Jason Garrett at the helm, and an increased focus on defense and execution, the Cowboys are finally poised to make a run.
But this season isn’t a gimme. It never is in the NFC East. There are questions surrounding this team. The answers will directly impact whether or not the Cowboys have what it takes to emerge as a legitimate Super Bowl contenders this season.
Let's take a look.
Should the Cowboys Trade Mike Jenkins?
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With the Cowboys first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, they traded up to land can’t miss prospect Morris Claiborne. In free agency, they added Brandon Carr to a 5-year $50.1 million deal. That is a drastic change made this offseason to a unit that ranked 23rd in passing defense last season.
With starter Mike Jenkins and slot corner Orlando Scandrick the only returning members of last years cornerback rotation, there is a wonder on who will play the slot. Last year Scandrick, the primary slot corner, got a 5-year $25 million contract extension, while Jenkins is in the final year of his rookie contract.
Jenkins is a physical corner who has been a Pro-Bowler in this league. There were reports that Jenkins requested a trade this offseason and that the front office was fielding offers for the disgruntled cornerback.
When Jenkins has played for the Cowboys, he has played tough. Injuries have slowed him down, but he’s even been able to come out in clutch situations, while injured, to help this team win. His physical style and developing skill set make it hard to believe the Cowboys will ever get a trade package that they absolutely love for Jenkins.
Jenkins has a crucial role on this team despite the revamped starting lineup. Rob Ryan likes to employ all active cornerbacks and Jenkins solidifies depth for what is likely the most talented cornerback rotation in the league. For me, it’d be hard to trade a corner who can be a plug and play starter and extremely productive player in multiple defensive-back sets.
So, will he be traded? No. The Cowboys can’t afford to get rid of Jenkins at this point. The idea of a trade is nice, but this isn’t the MLB. Jenkins would warrant a legitimate return because he isn’t a washed up player, just one stuck in a logjam of elite talent. I believe that Jenkins buys in, plays well, and might even earn an extended stay in Dallas.
What Can We Expect from the Defensive Line Rotation This Season?
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Last season the Dallas Cowboy’s defensive line wasn’t considered above average. They recorded 42 sacks as a team, but 28.5 of them were from players who weren’t on the defensive line. This offseason one of the biggest focuses of team officials seemed to be improving the pass rush.
In the draft they brought in third round pick Tyrone Crawford and fourth round pick Kyle Wilber. In addition, they brought in undrafted pass-rush specialist Adrian Hamilton. Add to that improvements of some of the practice squad and depth players, and you have a good bit of improvement to look forward too.
Reports are surfacing that Jason Hatcher looks incredible this season, being disruptive and racking up sacks against the first team offense. Tyrone Crawford has been eating up some of the depth-lineman with his combination of speed and power. Clifton Geathers is garnering a lot of attention and he’s really looked improved this offseason and I expect Sean Lissemore to finally breakout.
So what you get this season is one elite defensive lineman (Jay Ratliff) and five above average rotation players, some with the potential to grow into elite lineman. The improvements to the passing defense makes these defensive line rotation candidates to produce break out players because of the extra time they’ll get to rack up stats.
I expect big things from this unit this season. They’ll likely come in underrated and underestimated and that could key a hot start.
Who Will Fill the 3rd Receiver Position?
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While the concern has been who will fill the third receiver position, I think any receiver will do. My theory is that Tony Romo fills the third receiver position. Some may criticize Romo for his post-season play, but I recognize Romo for what he is, which is a tremendous regular season quarterback.
Don’t believe me?
Look at Patrick Crayton. While a Cowboy with Romo throwing to him, Crayton averaged 40.5 receptions, 596 yards, and 5 touchdowns a season. While with San Diego over the last 2 seasons Crayton averaged 25.5 receptions, 381 yards, and one touchdown. That’s a pretty dramatic drop.
Laurent Robinson? The oft-injured receiver played his third complete season in the NFL with the Cowboys last year as a free agent castoff. The Cowboys brought him in and watched him match or surpass all career totals except for yards. (Robinson was 142 yards from matching his career total) Now Robinson finds himself struggling after taking a huge payday in Jacksonville.
So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not as concerned about this particular problem.
The Cowboys are going to have Dez Bryant , Miles Austin, and Jason Witten. Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray are deadly receivers out of the backfield, and I’m sure that one of Andre Holmes, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley or Raymond Radway have the talent to be placed into the lineup and be productive.
The bottom line is that Romo makes players better, not vice versa.
Someone will emerge on this roster as a front-runner, and when they do they’ll look great. I wouldn’t be as concerned about this as everyone seems to be. There are talented young guys on this team and they’ll show up when it’s time.
Will the Offensive Line Be Improved This Season?
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Let me completely blunt here, this offensive line is dreadful on most accounts. I think the offseason additions of Nate Livings and Mackenzie Bernadeau were smart moves. However, they weren’t the type of moves that make a team instantly better. Livings figures to plug and play immediately, but Bernadeau is injured and isn’t getting the time he needs to get acclimated to the offense. Ronald Leary is a player to watch because he was, in my opinion, a top-100 talent in the draft before injuries got him. Not only could he be a starter, he could be a star.
Returning this season are Phil Costa, David Arkin, Bill Nagy, Jeremy Parnell, Tyron Smith, Doug Free, and Kevin Kowalski. Out of those eight linemen returning, only Tyron Smith and Doug Free are worth mentioning. It will be tough work to get this line improved. The one guy that has to get better is Phil Costa, who repeatedly sent snaps over Romo’s head last season. Keep an eye on the center battle this offseason, as a free agent acquisition may still be a possibility.
If anyone can improve this unit though it’s new offensive line coach Bill Callahan. Callahan is a great offensive line coach. He understands what the Cowboys are trying to do and knows what it takes to produce all-pro offensive lineman. I think this unit will be improved because of his presence alone. I expect Tyron Smith to be a Pro-Bowler this season under Coach Callahan.
Is This Tony Romo’s Season?
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Tony Romo, to me, is the most overly scrutinized elite caliber quarterback in the history of the NFL. A career passer rating of 96.9 is nothing to joke about, and neither is his exceptional season last year. Playing through broken ribs and a punctured lung, Romo still had the best season of his career, producing 4,184 yards, 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a 102.5 passer rating.
While I am a big Romo fan, I recognize his inability to deliver in the postseason. For such a great regular season quarterback, much more is expected when you have the star on your helmet. One playoff victory in 10 years in the NFL is unacceptable to all standards.
However, there is reason for optimism.
The Cowboys are restocked and reloaded this season. Dez Bryant looks much improved. Miles Austin is healthy. Jason Witten returns. And DeMarco Murray has recovered from a season ending injury. Romo has all his weapons back to accompany his renewed focus and all these variables come together in a equation for success.
Add the improved defense that lost the Cowboy’s many of the games that Romo directed to victory and you get the feeling that this season could be incredibly special.
This is Romo’s season. I believe it with everything I have. Will there be a Super Bowl victory? I’m not sure. But I do believe we’re looking at postseason run that will put the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game. Romo is stronger as a player, but most importantly as a leader. He has a will to win and is starting to impose that will on other players. The result? Players are buying in. Garrett and Romo have changed the philosophy for this team, and they’re a much better and tougher bunch this season.