NFL Preview '11: Dallas Cowboys
After an NFC East title in 2009 the pieces were in place for the Dallas Cowboys to make a run at Super Bowl XLV. But the pressure proved to be too great. The Cowboys were unable to overcome a pair of tough early season losses then Dallas lost Tony Romo to a season-ending injury. After Romo's injury the season spiraled out of control, leading to the midyear firing of coach Wade Phillips.
Romo had finally exercised the demons with his first postseason win in 2009. But in Week 7 against the Giants Romo broke his collarbone and would be out for the rest of the year. Romo is back in 2011 and even though Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee kept the offense going, Romo is needed. With a reliable quarterback in place the Cowboys have enough weapons to light up the scoreboard. Wide receiver Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten have been mainstays in the Dallas aerial attack and they were joined by rookie Dez Bryant last year. Bryant flashed his potential and grew more comfortable as the season progressed. The Cowboys are also deep in the backfield with Felix Jones coming off a solid season after racking up 1,250 combined rushing and receiving yards. Along with Tashard Choice the Cowboys were comfortable releasing Marion Barber and replacing him with rookie DeMarco Murray.
Despite the Romo injury what really plagued the Cowboys in 2010 was defense. In the postseason year of 2009 the Cowboys had one of the NFL's best defenses. 2010 was a different story. Dallas ranked 23rd in total defense and 31st in scoring. Against the run the Cowboys held their own but defending the pass was a glaring issue throughout 2010. Dallas ended the year 26th versus the pass and opposing quarterbacks completed more than 64% of passes thrown against the Dallas defense. Those numbers stand out considering Gerald Sensabaugh and Terence Newman both notched five interceptions. Also noticeable was DeMarcus Ware's 15 1/2 sacks, good for tops in the league. It could be more of the same in 2011 as Dallas was did not go after defense in the draft or free agency.
The pressure to win in 2010 became so great that things came to a head after a Week 9 thrashing at Lambeau Field. Wade Phillips was fired shortly thereafter and was replaced by Jason Garrett who is back in 2011 to guide the team. Dallas improved under Garrett but that could be a result of the change from the toxic atmosphere surrounding the team under Phillips. With a healthy Romo the Cowboys should have no issue putting up numbers. But for the Cowboys to return to the playoffs the defense must get stronger.