OXNARD, Calif. –If there was one constant over the summer that I kept saying over and over, whether it be in columns, radio shows or to anyone else wanting to listen, it's that this offense is being overlooked.
Yeah, the defense is getting all of the attention for being one of the worst in NFL history last year. And the fact that some of the key players from that defense are gone now only causes more concern.
Now all along, I've thought the offense could possibly make up for it. I've thought we're forgetting how dynamic and explosive this group can be, especially now if the offensive line develops into a dominant group that can run the ball.
So as camp comes to an end this week, I'm certainly not changing my tune on the offense. In fact, this group might be better than I've thought all along.
The problem is, I'm not really sure this offense will be able to be* that *good. And my emphasis on the word "that" comes from the notion the defense hasn't given us many signs that it's going to be any better than last year, if not a little worse.
Now, you'd like to think it won't be the 32nd ranked unit this year. But how do we know that? They've lost Sean Lee, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher from last year.
Justin Durant replaces Lee. That's a significant downgrade, although Durant arguably had his best practice of camp Wednesday against the Raiders. But Kyle Wilber replaces Durant's spot on the strong side, which is another downgrade.
We don't know if Henry Melton can be as good or better than Hatcher was last year. I think the Cowboys are hoping for a wash there.
As for Ware, the Cowboys drafted DeMarcus Lawrence to fill that void and he's out for at least another two months with a broken foot. He was going to be a downgrade from Ware and so whoever they fill in there at right end will probably be a double-downgrade.
And we're not even to Orlando Scandrick's four-game suspension yet.
So all this talk about there's no way the Cowboys can be worse on defense might be premature. I think there's a way they can be as bad or worse.
Rod Marinelli is now the defensive coordinator and he's been very good in the past but if he can somehow pull this defense out of the NFL cellar and be somewhat respectable, it might be the best feat of his entire career.
Now I'd hate to be premature here and completely write off this defense after just one preseason game. That game meant nothing in my mind to the overall expectations of the defense, which played the game with half of their regular contributors on the sidelines.
As we get through the next two games of the preseason, including Saturday's game with Baltimore at AT&T Stadium (6 p.m. CDT kickoff), we'll start to get an even better feel for how this defense is going to fare.
In terms of players who might play Saturday, safety Barry Church should return and possibly Morris Claiborne and George Selvie. But Henry Melton (groin) won't be out there and it's the same for Brandon Carr. I wouldn't be surprised if Scandrick plays this game but at some point, the Cowboys are going to need to sit him and let these younger corners like B.W. Webb, Terrance Mitchell and Sterling Moore to play against the No. 1 unit of the Ravens, then Dolphins in the third preseason game. [embedded_ad]
But once again, all of this comes back to just how good the offense can be. Can they overcome the deficiencies that we're expecting on defense? That's the million-dollar question here that won't be answered until the season starts.
And we'll probably find out right away considering how good of a matchup the Cowboys are going to get in the first game against San Francisco. They've got a stout defense – with or without Aldon Smith and Navarrow Bowman – and the offense is a powerful attack that will take advantage of a defensive line that has trouble stopping the run.
We know the Cowboys are going to be explosive on offense. We think they're going to have the ability to be a ball-controlled unit that can run the ball better this year.
To me, that's the key here. That's the one way the offense can help the defense the most. If the Cowboys can find a way to run the ball, run the clock and then score touchdowns instead of field goals, it'll keep the defense off the field and maybe with a few leads that they can find a way to keep.
Three weeks ago I thought the offense was going to be great. Three weeks later I think they've been great.
But now, I'm wondering if great will be enough to offset this defense that can't seem to catch a break.