A reoccurring joke for the past two seasons is how the Dallas Cowboys have choked in crucial moments on numerous occasions. They have lost in two straight elimination games in the past two seasons, which has stood out to many fans. You look at the NFL schedule and constantly see Dallas featured in primetime games. After they haven’t made the playoffs in three years, people have begun to wonder why do they get so much publicity other than the fact of being “America’s Team”?

While they shouldn’t be featured as much as they are on primetime television, they are starting to become the most misunderstood team in football. That may come as a surprise, but they get far too much criticism as a team. Have people forgotten how beaten up they were last year as a team? The injuries piled up for them on both sides of the ball with key players missing time.

DeMarco Murray was pegged to have a breakout season last year, but ended up missing six games. Jay Ratliff and Sean Lee both missed ten games last year, which both players are arguably the next two most valuable players after DeMarcus Ware to the Cowboys’ defense. Also don’t forget Ware was hampered with a right shoulder injury for the last three games of last season, where he didn’t have much of an impact in critical games against the Saints and Redskins.

Every team deals with injuries and has to recover from it to make the playoffs. I’m not trying to say that injuries are the only thing holding them back. They still have major problems at offensive line, particularly on the right side with Doug Free still slated to start at right tackle. The depth at running back is shaky, although Phillip Tanner has potential to replace Felix Jones as the backup. I’m still not sold on Jason Garrett as the coach in Dallas due to poor decisions especially when he’s involved with time management. No coach is on the hot seat more than him in the NFL.

 

Those are the notable knocks on Dallas that doesn’t include Tony Romo because he’s never been a major problem. His decision-making still needs improvement, but there is no quarterback in the NFL that receives more undeserved scrutiny than Romo.. When you look at a quarterback, the only stat that is overrated is passing yards with Matthew Stafford being a prime example of that. If your team doesn’t have a running game, then you can stack up on passing yards especially when your team is usually behind.

Romo nearly threw for 5,000 yards last year, which is remarkable but that doesn’t impress me the most. He still managed to have a completion percentage nearly at 66 percent along with a passer rating of over 90 for the seventh straight season. His turnovers are his downfall and need to be cut down, but he is far from the biggest problem in Dallas. If you want to rank quarterbacks, you can put Romo in the top ten and I would have no problem with it.

He showed last year that he can carry a team with an anemic running game and a below average offensive line. After all the punishment he took, it was shocking to see his passer rating still high. Now Dallas did overpay him in the off-season, but almost every player can be considered overpaid. Romo has proven year in and year out that he can be productive. The offensive line can’t be any worse than it was last year so I’m expecting an even better year from him.

The offense still could be top ten in the league, as long as Murray stays healthy. He is still young so it’s too early to call him injury prone. This is the year, where he’ll need to stay healthy and breakout or Dallas will need to seriously look into adding another running back. As long as the offensive line shows some improvement, Dallas should have no problem scoring. They have a very dangerous trio in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Miles Austin that are productive on a weekly basis.

People like to criticize Bryant's off the field issues while ignoring his production on the field. Nobody had a better second half to last season than Bryant. He carried Dallas at times offensively and showed how dangerous he can be in the open field. If they keep him focused, then he can be a top three receiver in the league. He is too physical and fast for corner backs to handle in single coverage. It will take double coverage if teams want to contain Bryant. 

 

The offense gains a lot of publicity, but it’s the defense that makes Dallas such a dangerous team. If Sean Lee and Jay Ratliff are healthy, they will be a lot better than 22nd against the run like they were last year. Lee is on track to be one of the best middle linebackers in the league, while Ratliff can still dominate on the interior line. The transition from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense could be challenging at first, but they seem well equipped to make the transition.

Anthony Spencer and Ware seem positive about moving to the 4-3, where they can continue to be one of the best pass rushing duos in the league. The same can be said for Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, as they can be considered to be a great duo at cornerback. Claiborne went through some growing pains in his rookie year, but finished out the season very strong.

If there is any Achilles heel to Dallas’ defense, it’ll be on the safeties.  Will Allen is a stopgap at this point, while Barry Church is relatively inexperienced. The new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has spent a lot of work with Church over the off-season getting him used to his scheme. Other than that, the only other concern with Dallas is their depth especially in the front four.

 

If they can stay relatively healthy, this team should be right with the Giants contending for the division title. They are a better team than Washington, along with Washington having to play a much more difficult schedule this season. The defense should be among the top ten in the league, while if Murray stays healthy the offense could be top ten as well.

Hopefully they have learned from their inconsistent play and their young players continue to grow. Bryant, Lee, Claiborne, Bruce Carter, and Tyron Smith are an excellent core of young players that should be on the team for years to come. This team has room to grow and I’m expecting a much-improved Dallas team.

 

The schedule is difficult through some areas, which will lead to some close losses. They aren’t on the level of San Francisco, Atlanta, or Seattle, but they are right there with teams like Green Bay, New Orleans, and the Giants. They are on the second level to the point, where they could potentially win a game or two in the playoffs. With the NFC East being weaker than in recent years, I’m expecting Dallas to win at least nine to ten games this year to earn a spot in the playoffs.

Some writers on the site such as John Canton and The Ace think they will lose double-digit games, which is absolutely ridiculous. There aren’t many teams that can stop their passing attack, along with teams having two offensive tackles that can contain Spencer and Ware.

I’m going to post my official NFL predictions in early September, so I’m not going to make my official prediction on Dallas yet. Whether it’s winning the division or earning a wild card spot, this team will be playing in the playoffs for the first time in 2009 as long as they stay healthy.  The lack of depth concerns me, but the amount of star talent gives me confidence in believing in them. It may be hard to believe in Dallas after constantly disappointing over the past few seasons. That ends this year and you’ll see them play in a playoff game in 2014.

 

You can follow me on twitter at @Allen_Strk or can contact me at AStrk19@gmail.com