We caught our first glimpse of the Dallas Cowboys last night in the Hall of Fame Game against the Miami Dolphins. It’s tough to know what to expect off of one preseason game, but we do know there is a lot of pressure on the Cowboys and their head coach this season to show some marked improvement. If Dallas is going to make significant progress and earn a spot in the postseason, here are five things that have to happen:
Improvement from offensive line – The offensive line was such a concern for the Cowboys this offseason that they reached with their first round pick in order to get center Travis Frederick, who will start for them as a rookie. The rest of the unit will be largely the same as last year, and that group is going to need to play better. If Tony Romo gets time in the pocket, he has the weapons in Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten to do some serious damage, but Romo will have a tough time getting the ball to his playmakers if he doesn’t trust the protection in front of him. As with any team, protecting the quarterback is a big key to success for the Cowboys this season.
Get after the quarterback – The Cowboys need to force more turnovers this season, and the best way to do that is to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Dallas has some potential ball hawking corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne that can take advantage of errant throws, but they need a pass rush to help create those opportunities. DeMarcus Ware is their best pass rusher, and while he’ll have to adjust to playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme after spending his career as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he also has 111 career sacks in eight seasons, including 11.5 last season. Anthony Spencer had 11 sacks last year, a career high for him, and if he and a few others can join Ware in getting after the quarterback, the Cowboys should have a formidable pass rush that should help out the rest of the defense considerably.
Run the ball effectively – The Cowboys were 31st in the NFL in rushing last season, and that’s just not going to cut it. Part of this is related to the offensive line being better, but Dallas also needs ball carriers that can make plays coming out of the backfield. DeMarco Murray had a rough sophomore season, missing a few games due to injury, and the Cowboys need him to come back strong in 2013, because Dallas doesn’t have a lot of other options, as the Cowboys are relying on fifth round rookie Joseph Randle to be their backup running back. Romo and the passing game can do a lot, but there needs to be some balance in their offense, so the Cowboys need to find a way to get their running game going.
Stay healthy at linebacker – Not having Sean Lee and Bruce Carter healthy for the entire season last year really hurt the Cowboys on defense. Both can be difference makers and help give Dallas one of the best linebacker units in the league, but only if they can stay on the field for 16 games. The Cowboys signed free agent Justin Durant to make the unit even stronger and help protect against an injury recurrence to either Lee or Carter. If all three of those guys can stay on the field this season, it would help take the Cowboy’s defense to another level.
Jerry Jones keeps his mouth shut – This obviously goes against his nature, but the best thing Jones can do to ensure the Cowboys are successful in 2013 is to just stay away and let the coaches coach and let the players play. If Jones continues to undermine Garrett, things could spiral out of control real fast for Dallas. He just needs to show some trust, and perhaps even some patience, and let the season play out. If Jones is making front-page news for the things he’s saying, it doesn’t bode well for the Cowboy’s playoff chances in 2013.