’08 Preview: Cowboys closing on that one win

Jerry Jones has never been more frustrated than he is right now.

Or motivated.

Last season, the Cowboys left him despondent after tying the franchise record with 13 wins, earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and sending a league-record 13 players to the Pro Bowl – only to lose in the first round of the playoffs. That it occurred to the eventual champs – the New York Giants – didn’t make him feel any better.

So Jones has made up his mind to do whatever he can to end the Cowboys’ embarrassing streak of 11 consecutive seasons without a playoff win.

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

There’s no reason it shouldn’t end this year, as the Cowboys are among the league’s most talented teams, and that was before Jones added Zach Thomas in free agency for leadership, controversial but talented Adam Jones and a pair of highly regarded first-round picks in speedy running back Felix Jones and cornerback Mike Jenkins.

The Cowboys certainly look ready to win a playoff game this year, but it’s clear Jerry Jones has his sights set on something higher than that. He wants to hold the Lombardi Trophy for the fourth time in his life.

Offense

Coordinator Jason Garrett believes in using a multiple offense built around a power running game and deep passing attack. Dallas doesn’t use much motion or shifting – compared to teams like Washington – because it has so much talent. Garrett just wants to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers so their talent can flow.

Dallas threw the ball 54.5 percent of the time last season, and there’s no reason to think that trend will change this year, as Tony Romo is such an accurate passer and so adept at avoiding pressure. But at the end of games, Garrett is stubborn about giving running back Marion Barber a chance to close it out, especially if there are fewer than four minutes left in the contest.

Defense

Head coach Wade Phillips, an expert at creating pressure from the 3-4, calls nearly all of the Cowboys’ defensive signals. But he gets a lot of game-plan help from second-year defensive coordinator Brian Stewart.

Under Phillips and Stewart, the Cowboys play a one-gap scheme built on pressure. They try to put outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis in position to pressure the quarterback, and the duo combined for 26½ sacks last year and were both Pro Bowl selections.

Phillips really likes to use first-down blitzes in hopes of creating long-yardage situations on second and third down.

The book on: Roy Williams

A rival sizes up the Cowboys safety:

“First, he’s not as bad in coverage as everyone thinks. He has some flaws, but the Cowboys don’t do a good job of keeping those hidden and they expose him, especially in quarters (Cover 4), where he sometimes has to cover a receiver 40 yards down the field. He’s much better underneath, where even if he gets beat, there’s plenty of help behind him to keep it from being a big play.

“Roy can be good in coverage because he’s been good in the past. But he has to be technically sound. Too many times, he’s not. He doesn’t stay low enough in his backpedal and he has stiff hips. If he’s low, then he can quickly get in and out of breaks and stay with the man he’s covering.

“He also needs to do more film study, because he’s not an instinctive player. The more he studies, the more familiar he can become with different route combinations and the more he can anticipate certain routes given the down and distance.” “First, he’s not as bad in coverage as everyone thinks. He has

Bottom line

This is one of the NFL’s best teams, and it should be considered a serious contender to win the Super Bowl. The Cowboys have upgraded their roster and added playmakers. Now, it’s just a matter of whether this group of players can move past their poor finishes of the last two years and get the breakthrough playoff win that can propel them to a championship.

There’s no reason it shouldn’t happen. After all, those 13 Pro Bowl players are back.

Prediction: 13-3, first in NFC East.

Jean-Jacques Taylor covers the Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News and Sporting News.


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Updated Thursday, Jul 17, 2008