5 Bold Predictions for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys
It’s really important to not only make predictions, but also to track them, which is what I did with the Dallas Cowboys last year and will continue to do in 2014. I make a number of Cowboys and NFL-related predictions each year, revisiting them at the end of the season.
Predictions are important because they convey understanding of a subject matter. Pretty much anyone can look back on past events and tell you what happened; few can interpret those events in such a way that it helps identify predictors of future events.
As it relates to the Cowboys in 2014, we’re looking for predictors of future play that might not be factored into past stats. When I chose George Selvie as my “biggest surprise” for Dallas in last year’s preseason, for example, I used a combination of his career pressure rate and his arm length to predict that his past struggles in the NFL weren’t a sign of his future play.
For this year’s predictions—both in this slideshow and in future articles—I’m combining predictive stats with my opinions on how this Cowboys team is going to transform with new personnel and coaches. I think the addition of Scott Linehan is going to have a pretty significant impact on quarterback Tony Romo’s stats, for example, so that needs to be accounted for in my predictions.
With that said, here are five bold predictions for Dallas in 2014.
QB Tony Romo Will Throw for 5,000 Yards.
Tony Romo had a career-high 4,903 yards in 2012, which was nearly 500 yards more than in any other season; in eight seasons as a starter, Romo has surpassed 4,300 passing yards just twice.
In the 2012 season, you’d think Romo was more efficient than normal, but he wasn’t. Actually, his 7.6 YPA was 0.2 yards per attempt lower than his career mark of 7.8. Romo approached 5,000 yards because he threw 98 more passes than in any other season of his career—due mostly to a horrific defense.
In 2014, I think we’re going to see a version of Romo that’s very similar to 2012 Romo.
With the addition of Linehan and a defense that’s again poised to allow a whole lot of points, we can probably expect lots of attempts for Romo—600 is probably a pretty conservative projection, and it’s not unlikely that he’ll again approach his career-high 648 attempts from 2012.
With that many throws, Romo would throw for 5,054 yards if he matches his career efficiency.
WR Dez Bryant Will Lead the NFL in Touchdowns.
I fear that defenses are going to double Bryant more than ever this year, which could cut down on his impact between the 20s. In the red zone, though, it’s tough to double anyone. Bryant is such a dominant force near the goal line that it’s just a matter of how much the Cowboys can utilize him.
When you factor in a handful of garbage time touchdowns for Bryant, it’s not unreasonable to project him around 12 or 13 scores, with a ceiling of 17 or more touchdowns. Fifteen or so should be close to the league lead.
TE Jason Witten Will Fail to Reach 800 Yards Receiving.
When I projected tight end Jason Witten at fewer than 900 receiving yards last year, some thought I was crazy. I had him at 880 yards and he ended with 851.
This year, there’s good reason to expect Witten to regress even more. First of all, he’s done it for a half-decade now. Regardless of the fact that casual fans still label him as one of the game’s best tight ends, Witten is a mediocre player at this point in his career; he’s not efficient as a pass-catcher and he’s an overrated blocker.
In 2014, you can expect second-year tight end Gavin Escobar to steal at least some of Witten’s snaps and targets. The Cowboys have been force-feeding the ball to Witten way too much for years, so when that stops, all that’s left is a moderately effective tight end with a lighter workload, and thus less impressive bulk stats.
It’s worth noting that Witten probably has a really low floor in 2014, too; it’s not out of the question that he ends the year with a 65/650/2 sort of line, with poor efficiency along the way.
TE Gavin Escobar Will Score at Least Six Touchdowns.
Part of the reason I’m down on Witten is his own declining skill set, and part of it is due to the fact that I’m bullish on Escobar. At 6’6”, 251 pounds, I’m particularly high on Escobar in the red zone, where he has the frame to dominate (as he’s done it in the past, including at San Diego State).
If the Cowboys would truly let players compete, there’s a good chance Escobar would beat out Witten for a starting job. There’s no denying that Witten has been a Hall-of-Fame-caliber tight end in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean he’s playing at that level right now. Both Escobar and James Hanna should be utilized way more frequently.
DT/DE Tyrone Crawford Will Have at Least Seven Sacks.
Projecting Tyrone Crawford at seven sacks might not seem crazy until you realize that there’s a good chance he won’t even start for Dallas. The Cowboys view him as a three-technique defensive tackle who can also play defensive end—positions at which the starters are basically set.
Regardless of where Crawford plays or even if he starts, I think he’s going to break out in 2014. He’s a 6’4”, 284-pound player with very long 33.75-inch arms, according to NFL.com. It’s all about health, but there’s no reason to think that Crawford is injury-prone at this point. He’s this year’s George Selvie for Dallas.