The Dallas Cowboys have a lot to prove in 2011. For several years, they have been hyped in the preseason, and hailed as a potential contender in the Big Dance, but always seem to find a way to fall short of expectations. With last season, many would be quick to blame it on an injured Tony Romo, but lets not forget the team was 1-5 at the time he went down with his season-ending injury.
The real turnaround came when Jason Garrett was finally promoted to replace Wade Phillips as Head Coach. Being handed a dysfunctional 1-7 team, Garrett did the best he could with what he had. He made some drastic changes, forcing players to show up earlier for team meetings, and practice harder during the week. The result: he went 5-3 in the final eight games of 2010, and earned himself the permanent position at Head Coach.
This year, the Cowboys look to try to finally capitalize on their talent. Every year, I look at the roster and think the team has some of the most talent in the NFL, but just seems to have some chemistry problems putting it all together at the right time and place. In 2009, the Cowboys had a solid season, finishing 11-5. They went on to win the first round of the playoffs, a 34-14 dismantling of the Philadelphia Eagles in their first playoff win since 1996. The ‘Boys managed to beat Philly all three times they played that season, a rare statistic that every Cowboys fan must keep in his back pocket in the event he or she is friends with any rowdy Philly fans.
But the ‘Boys came apart in the next week in a 34-3 slaughter by Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. I think back to this game often, because it was the last playoff game the Cowboys participated in, and I really felt they had a strong team poised to go deep in the playoffs; they just didn’t pull things together on offense or defense to put up a reasonable fight.
Tony Romo seems to have blame pinned on him by a lot of fans, who claim his heart is not in the game, or that he makes stupid mistakes. But I am still behind the Romo bandwagon. When I look around the league, I think it is easy to suggest that Tony Romo is easily a top 10 QB in the league. But 2011 may be his last season to really prove he’s got the juice, and that he’s ready to take this team the distance.
Much of the Cowboys success may hinge on their efforts to finally establish a running game. If Felix Jones can remain healthy (and that’s a big if), and the front line comes together, a strong running game should help alleviate some pressure on Tony Romo, and keep him from being forced to win games with his arm every week. The Cowboys have always had a wealth of talent at WR, and this year is no different. After cutting Roy Williams, which was probably overdue, the ‘Boys still have Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, both highly talented WRs who look to have big 2011 seasons. Not to mention, TE Jason Witten is Mr. Reliable, one of the best tight ends in the league. Romo will have plenty of options on offense to make some noise.
Breaking down the schedule, the Cowboys only have a few truly tough road games. They open the season at the Jets, play Week 6 at the Patriots, and Week 8 at the Eagles. With a schedule looking a little easier than years’ past (no Colts, Packers, or Steelers), the Cowboys may be poised for making a solid run in the 2011 season. I would not be surprised to see the Cowboys finish the season 10-6, losing a couple of tough road games, and a few games they probably shouldn’t at home. But if they can manage to stay healthy, a strong run into the 2011 playoffs could finally be in order.