Unfortunately, it appears that the 2014 offense will have to be even better than a year ago in order for Dallas to compete this season.
An already skeptical defensive group has faced a number of injures, the latest to a promising young talent in DeVonte Holloman. The linebacker’s football career is most likely finished after suffering another neck injury against the Baltimore Ravens, per Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (h/t Pro Football Talk).
The good news for the Cowboys is that it’s quite possible this year’s offense could be significantly better than it was in 2013. The unit’s only noteworthy loss (if you can call it that) was Miles Austin, while it added another first-round pick.
Whether or not Jerry Jones wanted to draft Johnny Manziel, the team ended up with a much smarter choice in offensive lineman Zack Martin. The Notre Dame product has been solid in his first preseason and has made an already formidable line into a position of strength.
Teamed up with fellow first-rounders Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the Cowboys should have one of the best lines they’ve had in a number of years.
ESPNDallas.com’s Todd Archer wrote, “The Cowboys have their best offensive line since 2007 when Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode made the Pro Bowl.”
The skill positions are quite impressive as well.
Even though the Cowboys have been easing Romo back into the swing of things, he’s looked good so far. In his only preseason action, he finished 4-of-5 for 80 yards and a touchdown. That equates to a perfect passer rating of 158.3. In play-caller Scott Linehan's offense, Romo should have a career year with the cast around him.
Let’s start with the running backs. Murray is coming off his best year as a pro and will be looking to improve upon his 1,100-yard campaign. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2013, so look for his stats to explode if the Cowboys utilize him properly.
LeSean McCoy had nearly 100 more carries than Murray last year. If Dallas can give him an increased workload, he can easily enter the elite conversation at running back.
ESPNDallas.com’s Jean-Jacques Taylor discussed the offense with Romo. The quarterback said:
I think what you find is a misconception sometimes that quarterbacks just want to throw. It's far easier to win when you run the ball well. If we can run the ball -- and I envision us being able to do that -- it's going to take a lot off a lot of different areas in the football team. I think that's a huge thing, and what we're trying to do is create the environment where we can rely on that in the situations we want to.
An additional weapon the offense has that it didn’t use enough in 2013 is change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar. Even though his stats don’t show it, the fact that Dallas sat Dunbar out of the first preseason game with the rest of its stars tells you everything you need to know. He’s an electric talent and will be used in a variety of ways this year. I see a lot of Darren Sproles in Dunbar.
There’s plenty of young talent ready to break out at tight end and receiver, too. We all know about Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, but it’s the guys behind them who are going to make this year’s squad better.
Both Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams are entering their second seasons, and each has high expectations.
Williams had a solid rookie season; however, there’s more pressure on him now to perform as the only No. 2. Bryant should be getting plenty of double-teams all year, so there’s an added onus on Williams to be a consistent playmaker. Like many other promising receivers, I think Williams’ game will increase considerably in year two.
The same could be true for Escobar despite not seeing nearly the same amount of playing time as Williams a year ago. The 6’6” tight end is extremely athletic and a matchup nightmare for defenses. Even though he suffered a minor shoulder injury in the last preseason game, Escobar should be someone defensive coordinators have to game-plan for.
The depth and role players bring this offense full circle. Players like rookie Devin Street, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and James Hanna give the coaching staff a variety of options.
Dallas’ 2014 offense is going to be one of the best in the NFL. All the pieces are in place for it to consistently put up big points on a weekly basis. With the added pressure from an inadequate defense, there’s no reason the Cowboys can’t score 30 points per game.