Despite completing four weeks of OTAs and minicamp practices, several things remain unsettled for the Cowboys. When the team reports to training camp on July 28 in Oxnard, Calif., several questions still need answers.
The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rob Phillips, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – have attempted to answer these questions before the start of training camp.
Tod[embeddedad0]ay, the staff completes the series by assessing how the Cowboys can reach their first Super Bowl in 20 years:
1) How Does This Team Make It To Super Bowl 50?
Nick Eatman: Obviously, Jason Garrett would cringe if he knew there was specific talk about his team going to the Super Bowl, but that's the ultimate goal, right? That's what they probably talk about in their own meetings when it's time to set goals. So we should be able to do the same. For this team to make it, the Cowboys will need either Joseph Randle or Darren McFadden to step up and completely fill the shoes of DeMarco Murray. The offense needs a running game like it had last year, if not better. It opens up things for the entire passing game and helps the defense stay off the field. Speaking off defense, this team needs more interceptions. That usually comes from a better pass rush, which is something this team needs as well. If they can get three players with at least eight sacks, that will be a huge step in the right direction. As a team, they don't have to go 8-0 on the road but this 4-4 nonsense at home has to stop. If the Cowboys can win the division and secure a home playoff game again, I think it sets them up to play in the NFC Championship. If you get that far, anything can happen.
Bryan Broaddus:If this team is going to make a Super Bowl run, it is going to have to come from its defense. The group that finished last season played well in the final month of the season and at times in the playoffs but needed some serious upgrades – and they have added those. This club desperately needed to add a pass rusher and they have done that with Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory, and they should be a welcomed addition to a line with DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey. Look for Sean Lee to pay some early dividends at weak side linebacker, but how well Jasper Brinkley and Anthony Hitchens play at the other spots will also be a key to the early part of the season. I do like the direction the coaches have taken with this secondary by playing to its strength with more man coverage – which is exactly what was needed. Byron Jones and Corey White should provide stable answers to a secondary that gave up its share of big plays last season. If the pass rush clicks and the overall health of the defense does not have issues, this team is good enough to be there in the end.
David Helman: Two of the biggest question marks on this team centered on improving the pass rush and making sure Dez Bryant is playing games. The Cowboys got answers to both of those questions in recent weeks, as their Pro Bowl defensive end is now available for 12 games and their All-Pro receiver is signed on for five years. With those things taken care of, I think it comes down to this: the Cowboys need to keep Tony Romo healthy, and they need to find an adequate replacement for DeMarco Murray. I'll be the first to tell you that Murray isn't the best running back in the NFL, but his play personified the team's identity last year. Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle are talented, but can they pound out tough yards and keep the chains moving? Can they take the pressure off Romo and take the focus off Dez? Someone is going to have to, because Romo needs the ground game to complement him – we all saw what a potent combination that was last fall. The defense doesn't look dominant, but there's no doubt it has improved. If Romo is healthy, and he's got a competent ground game to take the pressure off, the Cowboys have as good a shot as anyone.
Rob Phillips: No. 1: Health. The team needs essentially a full season from Tony Romo again. No. 2: More Pass Rush. It's no coincidence the club signed or drafted multiple players who can pressure the quarterback – it has such a positive domino effect on the rest of the defense. No 3: Turnover margin. The Cowboys were tied for ninth at plus-six last year. Take care of the ball in today's league and the percentages say you give yourself a chance to win any game. No. 4: A running game that, if not dominant again, is effective enough to control the line of scrimmage and allow Romo to work off playaction. No. 4 leads into No. 5: Poise and execution in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys were 4-1 last year in games decided by a touchdown or less, and the run game was so important in controlling the clock late (See: Seattle) and generally establishing a physical mindset. Accomplish these five things, and the Cowboys have enough talent and excellent coaching to win the NFC. I really believe that because they've done enough this offseason to make a 12-4 roster more balanced.
#17 - Who Emerges As This Year's Surprise Camp Standout?
#16 - What Can We Expect From Morris Claiborne in 2015?
#15 - Which Cowboys Player Will Make His First Pro Bowl In 2015?
#14 - Which Position Will Be Toughest To Trim Down At Final Cut
#13 - Which Performance From 2014 Will Be The Hardest To Match?
#12 - How Should Cowboys Handle McClain's Suspension?
#11 - Which Cowboys Rookie Will Make The Biggest 2015 Impact?
#10 - Can The Cowboys' Defense Become Among NFL's Top 10 Units?
#9 - Which Veteran Needs A Strong Training Camp Performance?
#8 - Will Move To Outside LB Help Sean Lee's Durability?
#7 - Biggest Beneficiary Of Having Dez At Camp?
#6 - Prediction At Left Guard? La'el Collins' Role?
#5 - Can Hardy Play Enough To Lead Cowboys In Sacks In 2015?
#4 - Who Can Challenge Dez For Training Camp MVP?
#3 - Who Will Lead Cowboys' Offense In Rushing In 2015?
#2 - Will Healthy Offseason Lead To Better Season For Romo?