The Dallas Cowboys opened the 2012 NFL season with a notable performance on national television and closed it with another one. Each game—the opener with the Giants and the finale with the Redskins, each in prime-time—showed the wide pendulum that this team’s fortunes can swing.
After dismantling New York in Week 1, Dallas looked every bit the Super Bowl contender its apologists regularly say they are. It ended with a winner-take-all loss in Washington in which the Cowboys imploded and finished the year 8-8 and home for the playoffs.
If Dallas is going to get off the wildly swinging pendulum, they need to run the ball more often and more effectively. The running game, keyed by Demarco Murray, ranks close to the bottom of the NFL in both rush attempts and yards-per-carry. It’s no wonder that quarterback Tony Romo forces throws into traffic, with so little support.
It’s a similar story on defense. Dallas brought in a new defensive coordinator to replace Rob Ryan, but whoever is in charge, has to get this team to be more physical in the trenches. The Cowboys’ rush defense was susceptible.
They did a better job on pass defense, with a good pair of corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, but they secondary did not get enough interceptions. With turnovers often the difference between winning and losing in today’s NFL, that’s something that has to be rectified.
I’ve waited until the end of this post to really delve into Tony Romo, because I think his often wildly inconsistent play gets so much publicity that we overlook the real problems in the trenches that Dallas has. And while I don’t think a better running game and a defense that could rank in the top half of the NFL would turn Romo into Tom Brady, the Dallas quarterback might stabilize, if not for the all the pressure the team’s flaws place on him.
Romo completes nearly two-thirds of his passes, and with Dez Bryant emerging at wide receiver, the Cowboys get a good volume of yardage on those completions. Bryant’s breakout year allowed Miles Austin to settle into a more natural role of #2 receiver, and tight end Jason Witten remains a steady threat underneath.
Somewhere along the line, though, the Romo-Coaster has to settle down and the interceptions drastically reduced. Otherwise, it’s just going to be another wild year where Dallas looks like a Super Bowl team one week, a train wreck the next, and ends a pedestrian 8-8.
Even Las Vegas has caught on, and Dallas’ Over/Under win prop, the measuring stick of TheSportsNotebook’s preseason NFL analysis, is only 8.5. It’s hard to see the ‘Boys finishing anywhere outside the 9-7 to 7-9 window. Since I’m a Redskins fan and therefore enjoy rooting against the Cowboys, I’ll take the Under out of spite.