Dallas Cowboys 2007 Season Preview

Dallas Cowboys 2007 Season Preview

Dallas Cowboys 2007 Season Preview
August 2nd, 2007

(Sports Network) - The conclusion of the Bill Parcells era in Dallas will best be remembered for a mishandled snap.

Had Tony Romo properly placed what was to be a 19-yard Martin Gramatica field goal try in the waning moments of last January's NFC Wild Card game at Seattle, Dallas would have been celebrating its first playoff win since 1996, its first playoff win of the Parcells era, and its chance to take on Chicago in the divisional round.

"Oh, what might have been," is the natural exclamation when assessing the end of Dallas' 2006 season, though a longer look at the last month of that campaign reveals a ship that was listing long before Romo's botched hold.

The Cowboys forfeited their pole position in the NFC East during a miserable December, losing three of their final four regular season games (all at home) and finishing a game behind Philadelphia after having owned a full two-game lead on the Eagles with four games to play. During that four-game stretch, Dallas got crushed by New Orleans (42-17), effectively surrendering an all- important first-round bye; was handled by Jeff Garcia and Philadelphia (23-7) on Christmas night; then somehow managed to lose its finale to the woeful Lions (39-31), still backing into its playoff trip to Seattle in what was a watered-down NFC.

Soon after the loss to the Seahawks, Parcells hung it up, with owner Jerry Jones probably not offering much in the way of resistance. Enter Wade Phillips, a better defensive coordinator than a head coach but a man expected to forge a positive direction for a talented roster that never quite bought into what Parcells was selling.

Will Phillips tap into that which eluded Parcells, or will he allow they keys to the Cowboy kingdom to slip through his hands, Romo-like?

As ever in the soap opera that is the Dallas Cowboys, the quest to find an answer to that question figures to be awfully entertaining.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2007 edition of the Dallas Cowboys, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2006 RECORD: 9-7 (2nd, NFC East)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2006, lost to Seattle, 21-20, in NFC Wild Card Game

COACH (RECORD): Wade Phillips (first season with Cowboys, 48-39 overall)



OFFENSIVE STAR: Terrell Owens, WR (85 receptions, 1180 yards, 13 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Roy Williams, S (62 tackles, 5 INT)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 13th rushing, 5th passing, 4th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 10th rushing, 24th passing, 20th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: N.Y. Giants (9/9), New England (10/14), at N.Y. Giants (11/11), Philadelphia (12/16), at Washington (12/30)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Brad Johnson (from Vikings), FB Deon Anderson (6th Round, Connecticut), TE Adam Bergen (from Cardinals), OL Leonard Davis (from Cardinals), T Jim Molinaro (from Redskins), T James Marten (3rd Round, Boston College), OLB Anthony Spencer (1st Round, Purdue), S Ken Hamlin (from Seahawks, K Nick Folk (6th Round, Arizona)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Drew Bledsoe (released), C Al Johnson (to Cardinals), G Marco Rivera (released), T Jason Fabini (to Redskins), DE Kenyon Coleman (to Jets), LB Ryan Fowler (to Titans), LB Al Singleton (not tendered)

QB: New Cowboys coordinator Jason Garrett is not expected to mess with the system that helped fuel Romo's success last season, allowing the quarterback to spread the football around and emphasizing the short passing game. Getting the ball out quickly will continue to be a directive for Romo (2903 passing yards, 19 TD, 13 INT), who was sacked a total of 14 times in Dallas' final five games of 2006 (the team was 1-4 in those contests). Following Drew Bledsoe's retirement, the Cowboys signed veteran Brad Johnson (2750 passing yards, 9 TD, 15 INT with Minnesota) to back Romo. Johnson will turn 39 just prior to Week 2, but Jones and Phillips like his 129 games of NFL starting experience. If Dallas keeps a third quarterback, look for it to be the unheralded Richard Bartel, an intriguing project who started his college career at SMU before transferring to Division II Tarleton State.

RB: One of the major questions in the first year of the Phillips/Garrett era will be how the team plans to use running backs Julius Jones (1084 rushing yards, 4 TD) and Marion Barber (654 rushing yards, 23 receptions, 16 TD). Jones broke the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career last season, but was not much of a factor late in the year and reportedly fell into disfavor with Parcells. As Jones faded, Barber took on a more prominent role, scoring 10 of his team-best 16 touchdowns during the second half of 2006. Dallas will likely use both players at first, but if one gets the hot hand, look for a less balanced division of carries. Tyson Thompson (30 rushing yards, 1 TD), who is in the mix at kickoff returner, will be the third running back on the roster. The fullback battle among rookie Deon Anderson and holdovers Oliver Hoyte and Lousaka Polite should be contentious throughout camp. Anderson is the best pure fullback on the roster, and either Hoyte or Polite figures to be kept on due to their special teams ability.

WR/TE: Dallas took a gamble in the offseason, choosing not to target a game- ready wide receiver via either the draft or free agency and allowing 33-year- olds Terry Glenn (70 receptions, 6 TD) and Terrell Owens (85 receptions, 13 TD) to keep their starting jobs without a fight. If either player misses an extended amount of time due to injury, Dallas could be in trouble. Patrick Crayton (36 receptions, 4 TD) and Sam Hurd (5 receptions) both received significant playing time last year, but neither is a bona fide NFL starter, and fourth-round draft choice Isaiah Stanback is a former college quarterback who must be considered a project. The sixth wide receiver will probably be Miles Austin, who will play mainly as a return man. Garrett will be seeking greater red zone involvement from tight ends Jason Witten (64 receptions, 1 TD) and Anthony Fasano (14 receptions), who combined for only one touchdown a year ago. Former Cardinal Adam Bergen (15 receptions, 1 TD) is the most experienced player vying for the third tight end job.

OL: In a testament to the Cowboys' desperation along the offensive line, Dallas gave former Arizona disappointment Leonard Davis $49.5 million in the offseason, then penciled him in to play right guard. It seems to most that Davis is being overpaid, though the fact that expected starting tackles Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo both come off offseason knee surgeries means that Davis could eventually be asked to fill in at tackle. The rest of the line will be filled out by left guard Kyle Kosier and center Andre Gurode, who were 16-game starters on a 2006 team that struggled at times to provide blocking up the middle. O-line backups should include holdovers Pat McQuistan and Cory Procter along with 2007 draft picks James Marten and Doug Free.

DL: The Dallas line was an underachieving unit last season, with the three-man group of Jason Ferguson (46 receptions) in the middle and Marcus Spears (45 receptions, 1 sack) and Chris Canty (33 receptions, 1 sack) on the ends failing to make a ton of plays. Phillips is expected to move the team from the two-gap approach favored by Parcells to a one-gap system, meaning Spears and Canty should be freed up to place more pressure on the quarterback while simultaneously putting additional heat on Ferguson to stop the run. Holdovers Jason Hatcher (15 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Montavious Stanley will be the top backups at end and nose tackle, respectively, while another backup, Jay Ratliff (18 tackles, 4 sacks), can play any of the three positions up front.

LB: Linebacker is one of the deepest areas on this team, a department that was strengthened further when Dallas used a first-round draft pick on end/outside linebacker Anthony Spencer in April. It is hoped that Spencer can be used primarily in a situational role as a rookie, though the fact that projected outside starter Greg Ellis (30 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT) comes off a torn Achilles means the youngster could be pressed into a significant role early on. The other starter on the outside will be DeMarcus Ware (71 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 1 INT), a blossoming talent who comes off his first Pro Bowl appearance. On the inside, Akin Ayodele (84 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) and Bradie James (101 tackles, 1 INT) will be back, with Kevin Burnett (38 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack) and Bobby Carpenter (19 tackles, 1.5 sacks), a couple of Parcells-style former draft picks who haven't made much of an impact as pros, slated for backup duties. If Dallas carries eight linebackers, it will probably find a spot for Junior Glymph, who has the versatility to play defensive end as well.

DB: No part of the Dallas roster was scrutinized more in the latter stages of 2006 than the secondary, which seemed to lose its ability to cover in several key situations. Safety Roy Williams (62 tackles, 5 INT) was the symbol of that struggle, which prompted the team to sign a true free safety in Ken Hamlin (96 tackles, 3 INT, 2 sacks) during the offseason. Hamlin's presence should free up Williams to make more plays in the box, and will also take significant pressure off the shoulders of corners Anthony Henry (81 tackles, 2 INT) and Terence Newman (63 tackles, 1 INT). There is still not much secondary depth, though safeties Pat Watkins (36 tackles, 3 INT) and Keith Davis (26 tackles) have both seen significant time, as has cornerback Jacques Reeves (12 tackles). Fourteen-year vet Aaron Glenn (22 tackles, 1 INT) was expected to be back in a nickel role, though the 35-year-old experienced some knee problems early in camp. If the team chooses to cut ties with Glenn, safety Abram Elam (13 tackles) and corner Nathan Jones (9 tackles) should feel slightly more comfortable about their chances of making the squad.

SPECIAL TEAMS: His long-range leg is still erratic, but Martin Gramatica (6-8 FG) remains Dallas' best option in the kicking game. The Cowboys used a draft pick on Nick Folk, but Folk has a reputation for having a scatter-leg and is likely being targeted for kickoffs. Mat McBriar (48.2 avg.) is one of the most underrated punters in the business, and L.P. Ladouceur will once again be snapping the ball to him. Miles Austin (26.0 avg.) and Tyson Thompson (26.0 avg.) are both capable kickoff return men, and Terence Newman (10.1 avg., 1 TD) has been known to spark the team on punt returns.

PROGNOSIS: The message that Jerry Jones sent with the hiring of Wade Phillips was that he liked the talent he had on his team, and was simply looking for a new set of hands to steer the ship. From both a personnel and schematic standpoint, the 2007 Cowboys won't look much different from the 2006 edition. Which is good and bad. Dallas still has one of the weaker offensive lines in the league, still has depth and aging issues within the receiving corps, and still lacks consistency in the areas of pass rushing and coverage. Yet this was a playoff team last year, and the more relaxed approach of Phillips and his staff should yield positive returns, at least initially. Are the Cowboys ready to take the next step and threaten for a Super Bowl berth? Probably not, but they're still a 9-to-11 win team that should find itself in the postseason mix.

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Re: Dallas Cowboys 2007 Season Preview

Getting to 53: Dallas Cowboys Roster Prediction
August 2nd, 2007

(Sports Network)
Below we take our stab at predicting how the 53-man roster of the 2007 Dallas Cowboys will take shape:

QB (3): Tony Romo, Brad Johnson, Richard Bartel

RB (5): Julius Jones, Marion Barber III, Tyson Thompson, Deon Anderson (FB), Oliver Hoyte (FB)

WR (6): Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd, Isaiah Stanback, Miles Austin (RS)

TE (3): Jason Witten, Anthony Fasano, Adam Bergen

OL (9): Flozell Adams (LT), Kyle Kosier (LG), Andre Gurode (C), Leonard Davis (RG), Marc Colombo (RT), Pat McQuistan (T), Cory Procter (C/G), James Marten (T), Doug Free (OL)

DL (6): Chris Canty (DE), Marcus Spears (DE), Jason Ferguson (NT), Jason Hatcher (DE), Jeremiah Ratliff (DE), Montavious Stanley (NT)

LB (8): Akin Ayodele (ILB), Kevin Burnett (LB), Bobby Carpenter (ILB), Greg Ellis (OLB), Bradie James (ILB), Anthony Spencer (OLB), DeMarcus Ware (OLB), Junior Glymph (LB)

DB (9): Anthony Henry (CB), Terence Newman (CB), Roy Williams (SS), Ken Hamlin (FS), Jacques Reeves (CB), Pat Watkins (FS), Nathan Jones (CB), Abram Elam (S), Keith Davis (S)

SP (4): Martin Gramatica (K), Nick Folk (KO), Mat McBriar (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)

Outside Looking In: Lousaka Polite (FB), Andy Thorn (TE), Tony Curtis (TE), Aaron Glenn (CB)

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