The Cowboys hope to put the bad taste of the disappointing 2008 behind them as they get ready to open their new stadium in 2009. There are plenty of holes still left (primarily on the offensive line and the secondary) as well as question marks (how will they make up for T.O.'s production) on this team as they try and get back to the playoffs.
As with most successful teams, you need strong quarterback play. The Cowboys seem to have a statistical darling in Tony Romo, but a player with still a lot to prove. Yes he has been a Pro-Bowl quarterback in 2 of his 3 seasons as a starter, but he has yet to win a playoff game. He is still arguably among the upper echelon of QB's, but with the departure of Owens, it's time to show that he is the true leader of this team. To do that, Romo needs to cut down on his mistakes (14 INT and 13 Fum). Yes his improvisational skills are great, but for every amazing play he rescues with a downfield throw there are just as many interceptions deep in the red zone. I would still pencil him in for 3,800-4,000 yards and 28 TD's. The Cowboys also addressed a glaring need by picking up the very able Jon Kitna as Romo's backup. The Cowboys season was seriously derailed when Romo was injured and Brad Johnson had to step in. Should Romo go down this season I feel much more confident with Kitna.
The Cowboys backfield is a 3 headed monster comprising of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Last season they ran for 1,700 yards. Barber and Jones were injured which led to the revelation that was Choice. He ran for close to 500 yards late in the season. Barber will again start the season as the starter, but due to his bruising running style should split duty again. Look for Felix Jones to get about 12 touches a game and Tashard to spell them both should an injury occur. Barber should be good for 1,100 yards and 10 scores with another 300 yards and 2 scores receiving. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice should each split time and get around 400 yards apiece. Jones is the more effective weapon in the passing game, so look for him to get another 200 yards or so in the air game. Deon Anderson will get the start as the fullback, but rarely sees the ball on running or passing plays.
The Receiving corps suffered a dramatic departure in Terrell Owens. His pressence on the field will be missed, as 1,100 yards and 10+ TD's will have to now be accounted for. His pressence in the locker room will not be missed as often times he was a tremendous distraction. Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton gets the starts with Miles Austin in the slot and Sam Hurd backing them all up. There is no depth in the receiving corps, so I'm sure the Boys are actively scouring the waiver wire for hidden gems. Williams will be the #1 option and should get close to 1,200 yards and 8 TD's. Romo will love his jumpball ability in the endzone. The Cowboys would love in Crayton and Austin could get them close to 700 yards and 5 scores apiece.
The Cowboys tightends are quite possibly the biggest strength of the team. Jason Witten continues to play at an extremely high level. Another Pro-Bowl followed his 80 catches and 950 yards. Witten could be more of a redzone target this season. I think he has a chance to be the Cowboys MVP. 1,100 yards and 8 TDs with great blocking are all achievable. Martellus Bennett was a nice downfield compliment to Witten in the offense last season. I see him being the same this year. I think the Boys will employ a lot of two tightend formations. Bennett could 30 receps and 350 yards with 3 TDs are within reach for last years draft pick.
The offensive line for the Cowboys is quite the mirage. It placed 3 members as Pro-Bowlers, but allowed their quarterbacks to get hit a ton. What the line is is gigantic, slow, undisciplined and old. Their line was one of the most penalized units in the game. In my eyes they are very overrated. If the Cowboys are to be successful this year, they will need a huge rebound year from this unit. The whole line returns from last season. If they can cut down on their penalties and keep Romo up right they can again be effective.
The defensive line should be a strength this year. Chris Canty is replaced by Igor Olshansky who was coached by Wade Philips successfully in San Diego. Jay Ratliff was the best part of the d-line last year. Constantly providing pressure to the opposing qb's and often time blowing up runing plays in the backfield. He wazs a huge upgrade over Tank Johnson at nose tackle. Marcus Spears was steady if not spectacular. The Cowboys will need this unit to put more pressure on the offense as the linebackers lost the pressure of Greg Ellis.
The starting linebackers are also very good, but just as with every other part of this defense, their is little to no depth. Anthony Spencer takes over for Greg Ellis and should provide stronger play against the run. The Boys hope he can provide as much pressure as Ellis (I'm skeptical). Bradie James performed at an almost Pro-Bowl level, and he is now joined in the middle by Keith Brookings (another former Philips player). Brooking replaces Zach Thomas who never looked comfortable in the Cowboys scheme. Hopefully Brookings can hit the ground running. The right outside linebacker will once again be DeMarcus Ware the Cowboys best defensive player and one of the best in the league. Ware challenged Strahans all-time sack mark with 20 sacks on the season. I think this season he can wreck even more havok. Philips has talked about moving him around more to create mismatches. Offensive coordinators everywhere should be scared.
The weakest unit on defense is the Cowboys secondary. They don't cause turnovers and often give up the big play. They have a corner stud in Terrence Newman, but opposing teams avoid him and will throw against the unproven Mike Jenkins. At the safety spots they have Ken Hamlin and Gerald Sensabaugh who are both hard hitters but not great in coverage. Luckily this unit never has to defend for too long, as the Cowboys led the league in sacks last year and will be amongst the leaders again this year. The unit is a nice late round fantasy pick either as a second tier starting defense or a strong number two.
The kicking game should be solid with Folk handling PATs and FGs and draft pick David Buehler booming kickoffs. Matt McBriar is back from injury to handle punting duties. Crayton will return punts while the explosive Felix Jones will return kicks.
With the distraction of T.O. gone, as well as he circus that followed signings like Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones, it has been a much quieter camp for the Cowboys. I think Wade Philips can guide this team to a 10 win season. It may not be enough for the playoffs, or to save his job, but I find it hard to think the Cowboys can win more than 10 in a stacked NFC. Jerry Jones has invested a lot in this team and his new stadium. He will not put up with missing the playoffs (again), so Wade better hope that 10 wins can get them in.
In terms of Fantasy value, Romo is a top 5 quarterback. A nice 3rd round selection. As the Cowboys lead back Marion Barber is worth a 2nd round pick. He's a solid number 2 starting back. Witten is a great 5th round option as he will be amongst the top tightends selected. Roy Williams is the only Cowboys receiver worth grabbing in rounds 6-9. Crayton and Austin are worth late round gambles. Felix Jones is also worth a mid-round selection as he should get around 12 touches a game. Nick Folk should be snatched up the Boys should score plenty. And as I mentioned earlier the Cowboys defense is a nice reach.
10 wins and a prayer for the playoffs... if they make it, I would kill for a playoff victory. The Cowboys first since 96.