As always expectations are sky high in Big D, but as an outsider it’s hard to figure out why. For all the good things that have happened in the off-season for the Cowboys, there still are a lot of questions that have yet to be answered.
- Can Tony Romo stay healthy?
Point blank the success, or failure, of this team rides with No. 9. When he has been in the line-up Romo has shown the ability to lead this cowboys offense, but two clavicle injuries and a bad back have sidelined the aging 36-year-old quarterback. With no legitimate backup in place, once again the playoff hopes of “dem boyz” rests on the aching bones of a guy that is running away from father time.
2. Who will provide a pass rush up front?
Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory were brought in to get to the quarterback but these two individuals can’t seem to keep illegal substances out of their system; the Cowboys’ front four is now in a bind because of their suspensions. David Irving, Charles Tapper, and Ryan Russell are far from household names here in Dallas, but those are the guys that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will attempt to coach up and get some production out of. Tyrone Crawford is the lone talent that will be in the lineup to start the season against the New York Giants but his eight career sacks won’t scare many opposing offensive line coaches.
3. Why is Rolando McClain still on the team?
Everyone that has followed Dallas over the last two seasons can see that McClain doesn’t love football; he just enjoyed getting paid. This will be the second consecutive season that he misses games due to a suspension and it seems as if he has a “take it or leave it” mentality with everything concerning football. For some odd reason, the coaches still want him on the team. What kind of message is this sending young players; you can violate team and league rules, be an above average contributor when you do play, but if the coaches advocate for you… YOU’RE GOOD. He must have incriminating photos or video on someone in the Dallas front office, because he isn’t this good to be putting up with all of this.
4. Is this a make or break season for Jason Garrett?
The king of the 8-8 season got over the hump in 2015 as we saw Dallas go 12-4 and make it to the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs. But unfortunately the team took a major step back — due in part to Tony Romo’s injury issues — and dropped to 4-12. Well it appears that Romo is back healthy and the offense has two new running back options in Zeke Elliott and Alfred Morris, but will that be enough to get back to a winning record — let alone contend for a division and conference championship? The defense still has a lot of questions but many feel that because of the talented offense, Dallas can ball-control itself to more wins. What happens if that doesnt go as planned and the Cowboys struggle on both sides of the ball? How long can Jerry Jones continue to go with a head coach whose record has shown him to be average.
5. Is there too much hype for Ezekiel Elliott ?
Everyone is drinking the kool-aid when it comes to the talented back out of Ohio State. Because of his addition, Dallas fans are now trying to create a new catchy nickname for the updated version of the “triplets.” Yes Elliott did well in Columbus and the Cowboys’ boasts the best offensive line in the NFL, but there is a big leap from being a collegiate running back that took the majority of his snaps in the shotgun from a dual threat quarterback and having to line up in the I-formation and find your hole while having speeding linemen bear down on you. Can he be a 1,000 yard running back, probably, but these proclamations of him rewriting the rookie rushing records and being a top five back before playing a down need to calm down.
6. Can a cornerback get at least one interception this season?
Everyone is focusing on the offensive trio, but it’s these three cornerbacks that hold the key to the Cowboys defense — and maybe even team. How is it that you end a season with ZERO interceptions from what is supposed to be your top three cornerbacks in Brandon Carr, Mo Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. Now Scandrick gets a pass because he was injured, but there is no excuse for the other two — and the rest of the cornerbacks on the roster. The inability for that position to pick off an opposing quarterback contributed to a horrendous -22 turnover ratio and no matter how talented the offense is, if the defense cant shorten the field, it could be another long season and that responsibility starts with these three.
7. Will the other receivers still contribute now that Dez is back?
With Dez Bryant injured for most of the season, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams led Dallas in receiving with each grabbing 52 receptions. Both offer a unique skill set that is needed in any offense — Beasley as a run-after-the-catch slot, and Williams the deep-ball threat — but will they replicate their production from 2015 now that x-factor is back in the lineup. 52 catches might be a stretch but Romo has to show that he can trust those two — and any other receiver who may be in the game — if defenses have taken Bryant away. The team must also define the roles for Lucky Whitehead, Devin Street and Chris Brown in the receiving corp because it can’t just be Beasley, Bryant and Williams catching all the balls.
8. What happens if the offensive line is hit with injuries?
The best line in the NFL has done a great job of staying relatively healthy as a unit but you can only avaoid the injury bug for so long. The one player that offensive line coach Frank Pollack can ill-afford to lose is all-pro Tyron Smith at left tackle, but because of some lucky circumstances and crafty drafting the unit can adjust if it loses anyone else — well maybe not Travis Fredrick at center. Having La’el Collins fall into their lap as an undrafted free agent has to be the coup of the 2015 NFL Draft. Also in that draft class is Chaz Green of Florida. He missed the 2015 season recovering from a hip injury but he adds versaility at the guard and tackle position in the event someone does go down.
9. Is Hitchens ready to take that next step?
Entering the third year of his young career, Anthony Hitchens has shown some glimpses of being a huge contributor at linebacker for the Cowboys. With Sean Lee and McClain out with injuries in his rookie season, he took advantage of the opportunity and finished the year with 84 tackles and one interception. But with the starters returning in 2015 his numbers dipped to 67 tackles. Because of the issues with McClain, it looks like Hitchins will be asked to step back into the role he thrived in during his first season. If he finds success again, maybe this will be the thing that allows the cowboys to rid themselves of McClain.
10. Is it really division championship or bust for Dallas?
Notwithstanding another injury from Romo or Dez, are the expectations of winning the NFC East and dare I say contending for a Super Bowl the only options for Cowboys nation? The schedule makers did the Cowboys no favors in their quest for the division title. In addition to facing the hated Washington Redskins twice, Dallas faces four other teams that made the playoffs in 2015; Expecting a team to have a 6-8 win turnaround is a lot to be asking with so much uncertainty on the roster.