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9) Can This Offense Carry Another Bad Defensive Effort?
IRVING, Texas – When the Cowboys report to training camp on July 22 in Oxnard, Calif., several questions will still need to be answered.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rowan Kavner, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – will attempt to answer these questions before the start of training camp. The questions will vary in importance, with the most pressing topics getting brought up in the days closest to camp.
Today, the staff deals with the issue of whether the Cowboys’ oft-praised offense can pick up the slack if their defense struggles to rebound in 2014.
9) If the defense doesn’t improve, can the offense carry this team?
Rowan Kavner: If the defense doesn’t improve – as in, it’s No. 32 in the league – then no. I don’t believe the offense is quite good enough to carry the absolute worst defense in the NFL, and I don’t believe there are many offenses around who could do such a thing. The Broncos’ offense did pretty much that last year, but even they didn’t boast the worst defense in the league. The defense needs to at least be a little better for this team to do anything noteworthy, but if it could just be the 25th or 20th best defense in the league, the offense has enough firepower to at least give the Cowboys a chance to sneak into one of the last playoff spots. As bad as the defense was last year, I expected more from the offense as well, and with another potential star offensive lineman, my expectations are higher.
David Helman: I think that depends on your definition of the word “carry.” If you mean “keep them competitive,” then absolutely, and if you mean “get them to the playoffs,” then absolutely not. The Cowboys finished No. 16 in total offense last year but managed an 8-8 record because of an atrocious defense. They managed the same fate in 2011, despite having the 11th overall offense. In 2012, they finished 8-8 despite boasting the No. 6 offense in the entire league. A lot of that had to do with their turnover problems, but finishing 24th in total defense certainly didn’t help. This year’s offense, with its revamped offensive line and its five Pro Bowlers, should be good enough to keep the Cowboys in any game. In fact, I think the running game will improve enough to bump this group back into the league’s top 10 overall. Be that as it may, that’s only going to be good enough to be middle of the pack if the defense doesn’t improve. I can’t see the Cowboys doing any better than seven or eight wins if the defense doesn’t improve by a good bit.
Nick Eatman: Yes, I think it can. Now, how far can a one-sided team actually go is the next question, and my answer to that is probably not too far in the playoffs, if that. But I think we’re selling this offense short a little bit. Yes, the defense was so bad that it warrants a lot of our attention, especially after three key members of that defense (DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee) are no longer in the mix. But this offense has a chance to be really, really good. In fact, I think this will be a Top 5 offense this season. The offensive line has a chance to be the strength – which is saying a lot considering where they were a few years ago. With Scott Linehan adding a few needed changes, I think the offense will be very good. Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley are both ready to take big leaps in their career, which is great because Dez Bryant will demand even more attention from defenses. If this offense can run the ball better in short-yardage, I think it can be good enough to outscore some teams.
Bryan Broaddus: As good as this offense has a chance to be with the growth of Dez Bryant, another quality addition on the offensive line and the veteran leadership of Jason Witten, there is still no way that this team can compete for the division title just with its offense. Just go back and look at the games that were lost when this offense had built leads -- Denver, Detroit and Green Bay. No matter how well this offense played, a stop in any of those games in the final minutes would have given them the division title. I am not saying that this defense needs to be like that of the 90’s Cowboys, but there was a reason Rod Marinelli was put in charge and if this group doesn’t find ways to pull its weight, the coordinator spot isn’t the only thing that will be changed. The two need to go hand-in-hand for this season to be a successful one.