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Know Your Enemy: Dallas Cowboys

Know Your Enemy turns toward the hated NFC East. We start this section of the series with the most hated team in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys were 12-4 in 2014 but fell to 4-12 in 2015. How did this happen? Tony Romo missed 12 games and played the Thanksgiving game hurt. Dez Bryant missed 7 plus games in 2015 too. An injury riddled year hurt crushed the Cowboys hopes in 2015 after a 3-0 start with Romo. We’ll see if they can rebound to 2014 form in 2016 under Head Coach Jason Garrett, OC Scott Linehan and DC Rod Marinelli.

Offense

QB

The Cowboys scored only 17.2 PPG (31st in league) in 2015. Tony Romo only had 121 attempts due to injury and the combination of Matt Cassell, Brandon Weeden and Kellen Moore was dreadful for Dallas. Romo had a 79 QB rating but this was due to playing hurt against Carolina on Thanksgiving (29 rating). The three games Romo was healthy he played solid and the Cowboys won all 3 games. Since they had 4 wins on the season, it’s clear how important Tony Romo is for the Cowboys.  Romo had a 113 QB rating with 69% completion with 34 TDs and 9 interceptions in 2014. Romo is crucial for the Cowboys success.

Kellen Moore remains the backup for now but QB Dak Prescott was drafted in Round 3 out of Mississippi State to replace Weeden/Cassell. The Cowboys hope and pray Romo doesn’t get re-injured (collar bone).

Running Game

The Cowboys had a good running game in 2015 even with DeMarco Murray taking his “talents” to Philadelphia. The Cowboys averaged 4.6 YPC led by 4.6 YPC from Darren McFadden on 239 carries. The Cowboys ran the ball 408 times which was down from the 508 attempts in 2014. I suspect the Cowboys will be back to running the ball more in 2016 with the addition of Ezekial Elliot with the 4th overall pick of the draft and the addition of free agent RB Alfred Morris. McFadden remains after a strong 2015 season. The Cowboys have 3 talented running backs that can make teams pay and run blockers for them to succeed.

Offensive Line

The Cowboys have a very good run blocking offensive line with Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Travis Frederick, Zach Martin and Doug Free. The horses are there up front for the Cowboys to have a monster running game again.

The Cowboys are also good in pass protection Smtih, Free, Frederick and Martin did really well in pass blocking. Collins had rookie struggles but should improve in year 2. Ronald Leary is a decent backup guard option. The Cowboys offensive line was one unit that did still healthy in 2015.

Weapons

Dez Bryant returns from injury after only 401 yards on 74 targets. Bryant should return to number 1 WR form and be an asset for Romo. Bryant had 1,320 yards and 16 TDS in 2014. Expect more of that and less of 400 yard type season for Bryant.

Jason Witten is still a good tight end but regressed in 2015 with bad QBs. Witten’s regression play is still very good considering he had 713 yards and 3 TDs on 104 targets. Considering Witten’s Quarterbacks, he could return to 1,000 yard form with his best buddy Romo.

Terrence Williams stayed healthy and led the Cowobys with 840 yards and 3 TDs on 94 targets. Williams should be third fiddle to Bryan and Witten again but is still a threat with some speed. Cole Beasley is a decent slot WR with 536 yards and 5 TDs in 2015.  The Cowboys have plenty of weapons for Romo in 2016.

Defense

Defensive Line

Dallas was surprisingly middle of the pack on defense (16th) allowing 23.4 PPG. Rod Marinelli did a good job with less talent in Dallas. The Cowboys have 3 suspensions to worry about in starting DEs Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory for the first 4 games of the season. Starting LB Rolando McClain is suspended the first 10 games of the season. Dallas must use their depth to make up for these losses.

Lawrence had a nice second year for the Cowboys in 2015. Lawrence had 8 sacks, 7 hits and 31 hurries and was solid in run defense. The Cowboys will be happy when the 2014 2nd round pick returns in Week 5. The 2015 2nd round pick Randy Gregory disappointed in his rookie season.  Gregory had 0 sacks, 6 hits and 15 hurries after falling in the draft due to off field issues. Now Gregory is suspended which delays his chance to prove everyone wrong until Week 5.

Greg Hardy is gone after a 6 sack, 14 hit and 19 hurries suspension shortened season. He is a scumbag but the Cowboys will miss his production and run defense. The Cowboys added Benson Mayowa from the Raiders and drafted Charles Tapper in Round 4 of the draft. These two young players must step up in Weeks 1-4 for the Cowboys.

Tyron Crawford was a good pass rushing DT with 5 sacks, 3 hits and 34 hurries. Maliek Collins was drafted in Round 3 by the Cowboys to add another pass rushing DT. Jackson broke his foot in OTAs and may miss training camp. We will see if that hinders his production in his rookie year.

Nick Hayden had a down year after a good 2014 and Hayden was not re-signed in free agency. Jack Crawford had 4 sacks and Terrell McClain returns from injury to play the nose tackle. Cedric Thornton was added from the Eagles and could play nose tackle as well. The Cowboys have plenty of DTs for 2016.

Linebacker

Dallas allowed 4.2 YPC in 2015 for 19th in the league. Sean Lee finally stayed healthy and had a good 2015 season in run defense and coverage. McClain was solid in run defense and good in coverage but will miss the first 10 games. Anthony Hitchens struggled in 2015 but will be asked to step up in 2016.

Jaylon Smith was an all-world talent out of Notre Dame that was drafted in Round 2 by the Cowboys. Smith may miss the entire 2016 season due to nerve damage from his torn ACL suffered in his bowl game. The Cowboys will miss Smith’s talent at LB. Kyle Wilber will see more time due to Smith’s injury and McClain’s suspension. The Cowboys are weak at LB until Week 11.

Secondary

Dallas gave up a 94.2 rating for 20th in the league in 2015. However, Dallas gets CB Orlando Scandrick back from injury. Scandrick played well in 2014 and will boost the Cowboys secondary after missing all of 2015.

Rookie 1st round pick from 2015, Byron Jones, played well in both coverage and run defense at CB. Brandon Carr struggled as the number 1 CB for Dallas but should excel back in the number 2 role again with Scandrick back. Carr may not beat out Jones however but could play in the slot too. Morris Claiborne was re-signed but the former top 10 pick had a poor year in 2015 but adds experience, size and speed to the Cowboys secondary as the 4th CB.

Barry Church is good in run defense but struggles in coverage at safety. JJ Wilcox had a poor year in 2015 and hopes to rebound as the starter. Kavon Frazier was drafted in the 6th round and Jeff Heath has some experience and playing time. The Cowboys lack talent at safety and it remains a weakness for 2016.

Overall

The Cowboys could have a massive rebound in 2016 with Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Orlando Scandrick back in the fold. The Cowboys added talent at RB with a lot of additions and focused on their defense in Rounds 2-4. The suspensions hurt Dallas early but they could be a very formidable team with Romo, their offensive line, their run game and plenty of weapons for OC Scott Linehan. Marinelli kept things together last year and turned out an average defense in 2015. An average defense may be enough for Romo and company in 2016.

Dallas hosts Chicago in Week 3 and visits Green Bay in Week 6. The Bears will get the full advantage from the Cowboys suspensions at DE and LB. Green Bay will only miss facing McClain. Dallas travels to Minnesota Week 13 and host Detroit Week 16 on Monday Night Football. This is a very different Dallas team than 2015. If they return to 2014 form, they could beat all four North teams. The Cowboys have the firepower for a successful 2016 season. How bout dem Cowboys?