Cowboys Will Live, Or Die, With Receivers, Defensive Backs

Brent ShirleyContributor IMay 27, 2009

IRVING, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Wide receiver Roy Williams #11 of the Dallas Cowboys is tackled by Julian Peterson #98 of the Seattle Seahawks at Texas Stadium on November 27, 2008 in Irving, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

You can only find statistics for the 2004-06 seasons on receiver Roy Williams' biography page on the Dallas Cowboys' website.

Sure, in 2006 the wideout caught 82 passes for 1,310 yards earning him a trip to the Pro Bowl, but why is that the last season listed? It could be because his numbers have dropped significantly.

In 2007, Williams caught 64 passes for 838 yards. Last season, in five games with Detroit and 10 with Dallas, he only reeled in 36 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns.

If Williams can turn it around this season, he has the potential to lift the Dallas offense into the post season. He, along with the rest of the receiving corps, needs to get open.

Passing efficiency will be the biggest question mark for Dallas until the Cowboys’ offense has a chance to prove itself in the 2009 season opener at Tampa Bay on September 13.

The Cowboys are loaded at the running back position. Tashard Choice showed his potential in 2008 (472 yards on 92 carries last season), Marion Barber has been consistent in his four NFL seasons (he has had more than 500 yards rushing each year), and second-year player Felix Jones flashed his game-changing ability, scoring three touchdowns in six games as a backup in 2008.

Dallas can run the ball, as long as its passing game is potent enough to keep the opposition from piling eight defenders in the box.

That's where receivers Williams, Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, and Sam Hurd come in. Last season the Cowboys struggled in games when their number one option -- the departed Terrell Owens -- couldn't get open.

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Williams was supposed to be the answer when Dallas traded for him in the middle of the season. But he didn't get open either, and the Cowboys' once-powerful offense suffered.

In an interview with Brian Davis of the Dallas Morning News, former Cowboy and Hall-of-Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said if Williams doesn't produce soon, he will be one of the “biggest busts in the history of the league.”

The pressure is on. Last year, the passing game was the biggest weakness for the Cowboys’ offense. This season, Dallas needs to stabilize its passing game.

The early indications are good. In his organized-team-activity blog, DMN’s Todd Archer wrote that quarterback Tony Romo and Williams are putting in the required work, writing: “After Tony Romo and Roy Williams missed connection on a route in ‘on air’ drills, assistant head coach Jason Garrett wanted them to go again. One problem - the duo had already lined up before Garrett spoke, and Romo said, ‘Yep, we got it.’ They then connected on the timing route flawlessly.

The Dallas secondary is slightly more reliable than its passing game, but it will be just as important to the Cowboys’ success in 2009.

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick proved last year that draft position doesn’t always relate to the depth chart. He was selected in the fifth round, with overall pick number 143, yet he played more than the Cowboys’ first round pick (No. 25) Mike Jenkins.

Cornerback Terrence Newman battled injuries throughout the season, and safety Roy Williams sat out most of the year with a broken arm (Williams was released after the season). The Dallas coaching staff is still looking for consistent players in the secondary.

Who would line up in the secondary was the biggest question each week. The Cowboys addressed their defensive issues in the draft by selecting multiple defensive backs.

But can the coaching staff really count on rookies DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens from Cincinnati, Michael Hamlin from Clemson, Stephen Hodge from TCU (safety for the Horned Frogs, but converted to outside linebacker for Dallas) to play major roles?

Instead of selecting one player that he thinks is a lock to play, owner Jerry Jones took players in bulk hoping that a few pan out.

One thing remains certain: if the Dallas passing game and secondary don’t step up in a big way, the team will miss the playoffs for the second straight year.