How The Cowboys Can Win The NFC East
The Dallas Cowboys can win the NFC East in 2014. As ludicrous as it sounds and early as it is for predictions, there’s always room for a little more optimism in Cowboy country. So as part of a point-counterpoint series, I’ll attempt to make their case for postseason plausibility. Which, of course, means not touching the defense with a 10-foot analytical pole.
The first notion that comes to mind is basically, why not? This is the NFC East. The Cowboys aren’t its only members known for implosion. But the main reason really is the offense. Dallas could definitely boast the division’s best attack, which might actually mean something in 2014. Once again, it’s clearly a year with room enough for just the division champ, and looking at each team’s offseason progress to date, they all appear to be moving toward offensive reliance, intentionally or not.
Along those lines, the ‘Boys do have their jobs cut out for them. I like what each team’s done offensively thus far. New York re-tooling its line and partnering Odell Beckham with Victor Cruz should give Eli Manning the time and targets to run a consistently productive vertical game. 2013 numbers aside, Darren Sproles is, to me, a major steal for Philadelphia. He adds the element of backfield confusion via his use in handoffs, screens, laterals, quick outs and shovel passes — you name it. And Nick Foles is a rising star. With better line play, Philly can more than overcome the loss of DeSean Jackson — who obviously can’t hurt Washington’s offensive hopes. The Redskins have the most overall offensive balance; they simply need to stay healthy to be competitive.
Yet, the Cowboys could own them all offensively in 2014 (in theory).
Let’s start with the big picture. The best offensive linemen in the game today are the young ones at the peak of their physical condition. The top offensive skill players are in their mid- to late-20s (apologies to Wes Welker and Steve Smith). The best quarterbacks are in their 30s. The personnel and their pinnacle-of-performance periods are aligned.
Then there’s the Scott Linehan factor. On paper, his play-calling suggest more verticality and shot-taking, which is the key link between balancing the run and pass game. Generally speaking, the Cowboys need to run it more in 2014. Therefore, they need their average gain on passing plays to increase. It’s basic play-action theory, and Linehan’s playbook seems built for it, as does the Cowboys personnel. But it starts with the run-blocking and the number of touches Murray gets.
The cohesion is there for this unit. Quality depth? That still remains to be seen. As for execution, it’s once again all about possession and keeping the defense off the field: converting third downs and minimizing turnovers. Same story, different season. But with the right mixture of those variables and some good health, the Cowboys offense can consistently be a dominant, tempo-dictating force.
You can’t understate the importance of establishing offensive chemistry during training camp. The team’s opening stretch of games is its roughest. But that’s also when the heavy hitters have their guards down and can be tripped up. Three of their first four opponents — San Francisco, St. Louis and New Orleans — have nasty defenses. Early as it is, their slate represents the best opportunity the ‘Boys have to position themselves as contenders by besting some really good defenses.
Hit the ground running, knock off a couple heavyweights in the early going, then handle the division like last year. It’s far from impossible if the offense plays like one of the league’s elite.