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2014 NFL Preview: Dallas Cowboys

by Photo of Sam Cohen

CHARGED.fm talks to Blogging the Boys’ Tom Ryle about the Cowboys’ upcoming season.

2014 NFL Preview: Dallas Cowboys

In this article…

Although the Dallas Cowboys are coming off their third consecutive 8-8 season, this year feels different for America's Team. The Cowboys haven't made the playoffs in four years, but it would be of little surprise to see that streak come to an end. With Tony Romo still in his prime, running back DeMarco Murray looking better than he ever has, and Dez Bryant entrenched as one of the best receivers in the NFL, fans will get to see one of the NFL's most explosive offenses this season.

That being said, the team has a lot of questions to answer. Tom Ryle, a writer for SB Nation's Blogging the Boys, follows the team as close as anybody and we had the chance to talk to Tom about some of these questions that the Cowboys face going into the 2014 season.

What are your expectations for Tony Romo coming off of a major back surgery?

I think we are going to see the same Tony Romo that starts almost every season, a fiery competitor and very good passer. If his back is good to go, he is the least of the Cowboys' worries, although keeping him upright becomes job one for the offense. He came into the 2013 season off a different back surgery, but was further behind in his recovery than he is this year. Also, the injury that led to this surgery appeared to happen in week five of last year. He lost something on his deep passes that will hopefully be there again.

He also has what we believe is an improved offensive line, and that is after having the best line in years last season. Add in a still impressive array of weapons around him, led by Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten, and a healthy Romo will be statistically in the top five quarterbacks. Hopefully that will translate to a playoff spot, despite all the doom and gloom.

With so many big-named offensive-minded coaches in Dallas, including head coach Jason Garrett, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, and coordinator Scott Linehan, who do you see running this offense and do you think the three coaches will be able to coexist in Dallas?

Garrett will primarily set the game plan, but Linehan is going to be in charge of executing it on game day. I don't think there will be any issues between those two, since Linehan was a Garrett-driven hire. Callahan is being a good soldier about being held to the final year of his contract. He may have some critical things to say once he moves on, but for now, the play-calling situation is much more settled than it was last year, when the situation was apparently forced on Garrett. This time around, he seems in overall control, and things seem to be coming along well.

Who is under more pressure to succeed this year, Tony Romo or Jason Garrett?

People who follow the Cowboys and pay attention, and those in the national media who also pay attention, know that Tony Romo is not the reason the Cowboys only won 8 games each of the last three seasons. He is the reason they didn't lose more than 8 games each of those seasons. He suffers from misconceptions held by casual football fans. As repeated analyses show, he is one of the best fourth period quarterbacks in the game, but that interferes with the whole bash Romo meme.

The pressure is on Garrett, although it is not as cut and dried as many think. If the assumptions are correct that the worst defense in the league in 2013 just got weaker, and that the schedule is far harder this year, then another 8-8 finish or even a 7-9 will absolutely guarantee that [Owner and General Manager] Jerry Jones will fire him. What many don't realize is just how much Jones has bought into Garrett's philosophy. He honestly wants his head coach to succeed, because he wants to keep working with him. A real, 2010 style collapse would be certain doom, but if the Cowboys are fighting to the last whistle in every game, Garrett may get a year's extension even without a winning record. Still, there is a lot of pressure to finally make the moves of the past three years pay off.

The Cowboys fielded the worst defense in the NFL last season. With Sean Lee is out for the season and DeMarcus Ware now on the Broncos, should Cowboys fans expect to see another historically bad defense this year?

That's what everybody expects. I think everybody is dead wrong.

The Cowboys defense in 2013 was like a frozen pond in early winter. There was a nice, solid looking surface, but when you cracked through, you were in deep water. That was what the team had at the beginning of the year. Besides Ware, Lee, Jason Hatcher, Orlando Scandrick and Barry Church, they either had untested, often inexperienced players or the ones like Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Bruce Carter that just did not play up to their potential.

I think a lot of those issues are fixed. The underperforming players all seem to be ready to play this year, and it looks like [defensive coordinator] Rod Marinelli is going to use their talents more appropriately. Many of the players last season like J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, DeVonte Holloman, and Jakar Hamilton, who were literally thrown to the wolves, now have a year's experience and know more about how to play their positions. And there are some key players returning from injury, like Tyrone Crawford, that should be able to make a contribution.

Add it all together, and I think the defense will climb out of the cellar. It doesn't have to be top 10 in the league, just out of the bottom quarter or so, and the offense should put the team over the top in many games.

Which rookie do you think will have the biggest impact in his first year?

Barring a surprise emergence, I have to go with DeMarcus Lawrence. While Zack Martin is an important addition, he is replacing a capable starter. Lawrence is replacing a future Hall of Fame player in DeMarcus Ware. If Lawrence can just keep the drop-off from a healthy Ware's production to a minimum, he will have played a major role in helping get the defense turned around. A five- or six-sack season from him, with the rest of the defensive line rotation (Marinelli plans to have at least eight D-linemen have significant snaps each game) carrying their part of the load, and he will have proven to be worth the trade made to move up and take him.

Which player do you believe will breakout this season?

Gavin Escobar. I don't expect him to have huge numbers, but I think Scott Linehan will use him to put the dagger in, especially in the red zone. I think the Cowboys' fans will see why the team spent a second round pick on him.

As a backup choice, watch Lance Dunbar if he can stay healthy. Like Escobar, he will be a clear number two, but will be used to gash the opposition.

What are your predictions for the Cowboys this year?

Playoffs. I think they are going to shock some people and take the NFC East, getting Garrett an extension. Of course, I felt that way the past three years, so take it as you will.

For more from Tom Ryle, make sure to check out Blogging the Boys, as well as BloggingTheBoys and TomRyleBTB on twitter.

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