COMMENTARY | How 'bout them Cowboys?
Well, what about them?
In 2009, Jerry Jones' pride and joy captured the NFC East and, in the process, posted a playoff win for the first time since 1996 in the process.
Well, so much for building on that success. The last three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys are a combined 22-26 and haven't posted a winning season in any of those instances. The last two years has seen the team finish 8-8. And in both instances, the team had an opportunity to win a division title on the final Sunday of the season.
But onto 2013, and here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys:
QB Tony Romo: The much-maligned signal-caller now has much more money after signing a new and lucrative contract this offseason. And apparently the scrutiny, fair or unfair, will continue for Romo until he and the team have more success.
Last season, the Cowboys' quarterback threw 28 touchdown passes but also served up 19 interceptions, the latter tied for the most in the league. Of course, Romo dropped back a whopping 684 times last season (including being sacked 36 times) due to the fact that the Dallas running game was ineffective. Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan will be calling the plays for Jason Garrett's club this year.
RB DeMarco Murray: The talent is certainly there when it comes to the former Oklahoma product who led the team in rushing with 663 yards last season. But the Cowboys ran for only 1,265 yards as a team in 2012, next-to-last in the NFL behind the Arizona Cardinals in 2012. Staying healthy has been the biggest problem for Murray in each of his first two seasons in the league. The Cowboys drafted running back Joseph Randle (Oklahoma State) in the fifth round in April, but Murray needs to stay on the field.
WR Dez Bryant: The third season proved to be the charm for Bryant, who has seen his playing time, catches, receiving yards and scoring receptions increase every NFL season. A year ago, Bryant totaled 92 grabs for 1,382 yards and a dozen touchdowns and was one of the league's hottest receivers the second half of 2012. In his final eight games of the season, Bryant totaled 50 catches, 10 for scores. Another year with Romo and the supporting cast of wideout Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten and the sky's the limit here.
DE DeMarcus Ware: Since entering the NFL in 2005, no player in the league has gotten to the opposing quarterback more than the athletic Ware. The Dallas defender has totaled 111.0 sacks in 128 contests and has yet to miss a game in eight seasons. Now in the team's new 4-3 defense, Ware will line up and right defensive end opposite left defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is currently on the mend after surgery. The consistent Ware has totaled 11.0 or more sacks in seven consecutive seasons.
MLB Sean Lee: The talented defender saw his 2012 season cut short by injury but the former Penn State standout had been the Cowboys' top tackler in recent seasons. With the switch to coordinator Monte Kiffin's 4-3 defense and Lee's coverage skills, Lee could enjoy a stellar campaign. Injuries to Lee and much of the linebacking corps was one factor in the team's disappointing defensive showing a year ago. The Cowboys gave up 400 points and ranked 19th in total yards allowed (22nd vs. run) in 2012.
So what can we expect from the Cowboys in 2013? Can the team bounce back from consecutive 8-8 finishes? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season?
And isn't it the Cowboys' turn to win the NFC East? We shall see.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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