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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dallas Cowboys 2008 Season Preview

The Cowboys did something this off-season that few teams do. They stood pat. They addressed certain weaknesses and upgraded at other positions. But when you went 13-3 last season and sent 13 players to the Pro Bowl there is generally not a ton of room for improvement.

In my eyes the Cowboys best move of the off-season was not letting Offensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach Jason Garrett become the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. He had a hand in guiding one of the most explosive Dallas Cowboys offenses in history. His mixture of run and pass and the way he effectively calls a game to play to his players hot hand were one of the main reasons for the Cowboys offensive success in '07.

The offense returns all seven players who made the Pro Bowl last year (the team incredibly was able to keep every Pro Bowler from last year's roster), and, scarily, I expect them to be better this year. Tony Romo showed he wasn't a flash in the pan and is a top flight quarterback. One that can be mentioned in the upper echelon with the Mannings and Bradys. He has a tremendous offensive line (anchored by Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis and Andre Gurode) that gives him plenty of time and opens up holes for the new feature back, Marion Barber.

Barber gives the Boys a straight ahead banger. I'm sure Cowboy's fans everywhere got sick and tired of seeing Julius Jones dance behind the line of scrimmage and get dropped for losses again and again. Thats the beauty of Barber: he rarely gets tackled behind the line of scrimmage. He also led the NFL in yards after first hit last season. The guy is a beast who loves to initiate contact and breaks more tackles than any other back in the league. When he tires or when the offense needs a change of pace, the Cowboys go to the bench and plug in lighting quick first round draft pick Felix Jones. I really think he will bring a different dimension to this team running, receiving and on special teams.

The rest of Romo's weapons include Terrell Owens (who even at 35 continues to put up ridiculous numbers, one of the top three receivers in the league) and the emerging Jason Witten. As scary as it sounds I think Witten might have a better season this season than last. Opposite Owens is Patrick Crayton, who is playing this season with a lot to prove after having an awful game against the Giants in the Playoffs. He should bounce back nicely in his second full season as a starter. The rest of the receiving corps is high on potential but short on experience. The Cowboys are hoping Miles Austin and Sam Hurd can be counted on as solid 3rd and 4th receivers. Look for rookie Martellus Bennett to win the backup tight end spot over Tony Curtis. Bennett is a big physical receiver who is really starting to come into his own as a blocker. This is only important because Garrett loves to run lots of double tight end formations late in games.

Two other impact moves for the Cowboys were on the defensive side of the ball. They signed veteran Zach Thomas away from the Dolphins and will line him up next to Bradie James in the middle of their linebacking corps. True, Thomas is in the tale end of his career, but he is still a tackling machine and definitely be an upgrade over Akin Ayodele. The other big upgrade is in nickleback and return man Pacman..ahem... excuse me, Adam Jones. Although he has looked a bit rusty in the preseason (15 months away from the game will do that) I expect him to show the form he showed in his first two seasons as a Titan. Expect a big season from Tank Johnson. With so much attention paid to the Cowboys speed rushers Demarcus Ware and Greg Ellis (plus the blossoming Anthony Spencer when Ellis needs a break) expect Johnson to cause havok up the middle. The Cowboys starting secondary is simply one of the best in the game. Newman and Henry are both big physical corners and Hamlin and Roy Williams are bangers at safety. Although Williams got picked on in the passing game last year he is still a devastating tackler who I think will have a bounce back season.

The Cowboys special teams were a mix of good and bad last year. On the good side, Nick Folk turned out to be a rookie free agent gem last year. Mat McBriar ended the season with an over 47 yard average per punt. One of the best averages in the history of the NFL. Now onto the bad. The return game was deplorable. Everyone got a shot and nothing stuck last year. This year will be very different. Between Felix and Adam Jones the Cowboys should be well stocked in their return game.

With all that firepower on both sides of the ball I expect the Cowboys to be the Beasts of the NFC East. They will play with a chip on their shoulders reminiscent of the '95 Cowboys who used the '94 Playoff ouster by the 49ers as inspiration for the whole season. I see another 13--if not 14 wins--and a trip to the Super Bowl. I'm not crazy enough to say a Super Bowl win, but I think they'll be in the big one.

On the fantasy side of the ball, you can't go wrong snatching up as many Cowboys as possible. Tony Romo is a Top 3 QB, maybe even the top QB if you' re worried about the knees of Manning and/or Brady. Pencil him in for 4,000 yards and another 30 TD's. Marion Barber should be a first round pick of any draft--1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns are very realistic for the Barbarian. With more playing time, I think he'll be a weapon catching balls out of the backfield as well. Terrell Owens is always good for 1,300 yards and 10+ TD's receiving. If he lasts longer than third receiver taken in any draft, I'd be surprised. Jason Witten is a top tier tight end. Right up there with Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez. Also, with age slowing down Gonzalez and injuries nagging Gates, I think Witten may be the finest Fantasy tightend. Felix Jones and Patrick Crayton are also great late round value picks. Jones especially. He could be a real sleeper. Nick Folk should get many placekicking opportunities with this offense. Lots of extra points and chippy fieldgoals. The Cowboys defense was a Top 10 unit last year and I expect more of the same this year. Lots of pressure on the quarterback and lots of turnovers. They also play the offensively weak Ravens in week 16, which, as most Fantasy owners know, is usually championship weekend.

Oh snap... it's nearing midnight EST which means I have to plop down in front of the Tiny and watch the new episode of Hard Knocks on HBO