In short, even though I’m a serious Cowboys homer, I think the answer is no.
Reasons why they could reach the Super Bowl
The Cowboys have a stable of capable running backs in Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. By all accounts Barber has slimmed down this offseason and hopes to avoid some of the punishing hits that have slowed him down over the past two seasons. If he can balance avoiding hits while still delivering his punishing stiff arm to defenders, he can be a more effective back this season. I think Barber would be most effective as a closer, much like the 2007 season. Jones is an explosive home run hitter who is both a dangerous runner and receiver. I would like to see him get more touches to make this offense more explosive in the run game. In Choice the Cowboys have arguably the most able third back in the league. Even with injuries, the ‘Boys should expect to have a potent ground game.
Witten, Austin, Bryant:
With the emergence of Miles Austin last season, despite the Roy Williams bust, the Cowboys had a strong air attack. That attack figures to become even more lethal if Dez Bryant (the Cowboys first round pick) can live up to the expectations he’s creating at camp. If Romo can develop a strong chemistry with Bryant, they will have two home run hitters with Austin and the most reliable safety blanket in the league in Jason Witten. If they can keep Crayton around, develop Kevin Ogeltree, and convince Martellus Bennett to show his potential, they could have one of the most complete receiving corps in the NFL.
The cowboys have experience and talent at the linebacker position with veterans Keith Brooking and Bradie James. These two defensive stalwarts combined for over 200 tackles last year and their steady play allowed for Demarcus Ware to have another monster season rushing on the outside. Anthony Spencer is also a skilled outside pass rusher, and Ware’s dominance frees him up quite a bit. Jay Ratliff (with his Super Shredder face mask) emerged as a dangerous interior lineman and did more than just absorb blockers (as interior linemen in a 3-4 often do). This front seven will stifle running games and pressure the quarterback in 2010.
Romo has now had several years with essentially the same receivers (Dez Bryant being the obvious exception) and his chemistry and comfortability should be at an all time high. If he is the gym rat that Jason Garrett claims he is, now is the time to produce gaudy passing and offensive numbers. He has more weapons at his disposal than at any other time in his career and wants to vault himself into the elite quarterback conversation. This could be his year.
Reasons they will not make the Superbowl
He can be a great quarterback, and he can be an absolute nightmare. Bill Parcells never fully succeeded in coaching the gunslinger out of Tony Romo. To be fair, his escapability and willingness to be unconventional makes him an exciting player. However, everytime he drops I feel like I’m on the verge of a touchdown or interception, joygasm or aneurism (Favre does this to me as well). You don’t get this sense with the great quarterbacks. I have much greater faith in Peyton, Brees, or Brady. If he can play well they could be dominant, but if he slips up, lets the pressure get to him, he could torpedo the Cowboys chances to make a deep playoff run. (By the way, has any quarterback mastered the post game conference cliché like Romo? He always says things like “as long as we’re getting better” or “as long as it’s fun”, or “we’re working hard to get better” Last year wrote a letter to Jerry Jones letting him know that if he was in the market for a more fiery colorful quarterback I was his man. I have a few intramural flag football championships to my name, and I’ve heard the jump to the pros isn’t that bad. Yet to hear from you Jerry).
I’m not totally sold on getting rid of Flozell Adams. Sure he cost a lot and he happened to trip a few Giants (football is a nasty game, people get tripped—big deal) but he was a great left tackle. I’m not totally certain that Doug Free can step in and fill that void especially when he’ll have to matchup against guys like Clay Matthews, Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, and the Giants pass rush. Also, if there were an injury at either tackle spot, I don’t foresee Alex Barron stepping in and providing the kind of protection necessary for the Cowboys vertical passing game. To be fair, their interior line offensive line is strong with Kyle Kosier, Leonard Davis, and Andre Gurode. But as we saw last year against the Vikes and in their playoff matchup against the Giants, if the protection breaks down, Romo panics and the ‘Boys lose.
Simply put, if they cannot find a reliable kicker, they will have a hard time winning games. I’m not sure David Buehler is going to be the guy you want kicking crunch time field goals.
The safety position is troubling. They are relatively strong at corner with Mike Jenkins emerging and a reliable Terrence Newman. However, Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball, Mike Hamlin, and Pat Watkins are not exactly intimidating safeties. All are serviceable, but I think they will struggle against marquee tight ends and slot receivers. I think other playoff caliber NFC teams will be able to exploit the Cowboys at safety
Possibly excepting the Vikings ( Jets, Cowboys, Packers, Patriots in a row) the Cowboys have the most brutal midseason schedule of any potential NFC playoff team. During a key five week stretch in the middle of the season, the ‘Boys play the Giants, Packers, Lions (don’t worry I don’t consider this a tough matchup), Saints, and Colts. They get a short turnaround to prep for the Saints. This brutal stretch comes after the buy week so they should go into it healthy. However, competition of this caliber is bound to create some injuries and some losses. I think its very possible the ‘Boys will come out 7-5 after this stretch is finished and be hard pressed to secure much in terms of home field for the playoffs. **They are the only team to play both of last years Super Bowl teams.
Ultimately I think the schedule and a combination of the other factors could prove to be there undoing. Unless they can lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, I have a hard time seeing them reaching the Superbowl. In all likelihood they would have to win on the road in New Orleans, Green Bay, Minneapolis, or the New Meadowlands in order to play in the Super Bowl at home. I don’t like their weak secondary’s chances and poor kicking on the road in playoff situations.