by a rookie before suffering the fractured fibula?
Can the kicking tandem of rookie Dan Bailey and David Buehler handle the three-point pressure?
Will new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's system be the elixir to cure what ailed this unit in 2010, when 10 of the 11 starters from the '09 unit that gave up an impressive 250 points (15.6 a game) then gave up a franchise-high 436 (27.25), since at least eight of those same guys (when healthy) return?
Can Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, once healthy, hold up on the corner when much will be expected of them because of Ryan's infatuation with pressuring the quarterback?
And was this defense's inability to consistently stop the run in preseason a mirage?
Questions, questions, questions.
But again, here is what happens this time of year. We know implicitly where every wart on the team is, just like those following every other team in the NFL know theirs. And believe me, every team has questions this time of year. Yes, I know it's hard to believe, but even the Philadelphia Dream Machine, too.
And what happens is we tend to minimize what's good, and by golly there is some real good:
- Tony Romo, the only Cowboys quarterback to have thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a single season, and having done so twice, the only two seasons he's started all 16 games.
- Felix Jones' career average of 5.3 yards a carry and 8.4 yards a touch in the passing game.
- Miles Austin's 17 touchdown receptions since becoming a starter Week 5 of the 2009 season, the second most in the NFL, only three short of Roddy White during that time span.
- Dez Bryant being on pace his rookie season to catch 60 passes, and his eight total touchdowns matching the fourth-highest total by a Cowboys rookie, the only three better, Tony Dorsett (13), Bob Hayes (13) and Emmitt Smith (11) all eventually landing in Canton, Ohio.
- Jason Witten ... need I even qualify his greatness with numbers?
- DeMarcus Ware leading the NFL last year in sacks (15.5) for the second time in three seasons.
- Punter Mat McBriar leading the league last year in average and net average.
- Bryant's punt return capability.
- The Cowboys offense averaging 31.3 points a game in seven of the eight
Garrett was the head coach.
Believe me, these are not the 1989 Cowboys. I know rebuilding when I see it, further proof they should still be ashamed of going 1-7 the first eight games of last year's wasted season.
The key to this year is the Cowboys keeping their heads above water heading into the bye after four games. By then, the footballs gods willing, this should be a healthy team for the most part. By then, these defensive guys should be getting the gist of Ryan's defensive system. By then the baby offensive linemen should be starting to figure out this NFL stuff if they indeed are worth their salt the Cowboys are betting on. By then the Cowboys will be only a few weeks away from adding second-round draft choice Bruce Carter to the defensive mix.
Winning Sunday night? That's a tall order. A lot would have to go right, and certainly the Cowboys won't win if a fumble at the end of the first half is returned for the Jets only touchdown and a Romo touchdown pass to win the game on the final play is nullified by a stranglehold by the substitute right tackle. What a night of horrors.
"We got to get it, we got to win," veteran inside backer Bradie James said of Sunday night's opener, knowing getting off to a good start could be inspiring. "Got to be ready." "I feel we got to be up and running from the start," Ware said.
"I don't think this team is a sleeper," Witten said when asked that question, "but it's quiet."
Do not let Sunday night's result cloud your judgment of these Cowboys, and nor should they allow the game to define them, as last year's opener seemingly did, setting the tone for some weird, weird things to continue occurring all season long.
But remember, this team went 5-3 under Garrett's leadership the last half of the season, and that was 5-3 despite giving up 204 points during that eight-game span (25.5 a game), and despite Romo, a 2009 Pro Bowl quarterback, missing the final 10 games. This offense has weapons, no longer held hostage by Barber, and likely further juiced by Tashard Choice and