Spagnola: Going On The Offensive Again

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IRVING, Texas – So at some point last season, and I'm not quite sure when it was, maybe when it became apparent there would be no Jay Ratliff and no Anthony Spencer. Or maybe when none of the three starting linebackers were available for the Green Bay game. Or maybe during that time period when Jason Hatcher missed a start while DeMarcus Ware was playing with an elbow in need of postseason surgery.

         Heck, maybe it was even earlier than that when the Cowboys had given up at least 30 points in three of the first five games of the season and that revolving door on the defensive line already was spinning out of control.

         But I did say, realizing this was a sad-sack defense on its way to becoming the worst in Cowboys history and 32nd in the league last year, OK offense, this is on you. Gotta score thirtysomething each week to win.

         Well, knowing what we now know about the Cowboys current defensive state, already having lost Sean Lee for the season, combined with the looming unknown since there is a chance the Cowboys could roll out seven new starters in 2014, we just might have to up that offensive ante to, hey, better score fortysomething.

         Real smart aleck, right?

         Of course, that would be asking the Cowboys to reset the NFL scoring record the Denver Broncos smashed this past season, putting up 606 points to break the 2007 mark of 589 set by the New England Patriots. Tall order, and an unreasonable edict.

         But here is the point: With all the negativity swirling around this team – my gosh, what would folks be saying if the Cowboys were coming off 5-11 last year instead of the middling 8-8? – has anyone even considered:

An awfully good Cowboys 2013 offense, injury permitting, will be even better in 2014? Becoming a real Lean On Me unit?

         Don't you dare scoff!

         Let's examine, and start here:

         Tony Romo, what you think? Am I off my rocker? Can this offense be better than last year?

         "Yes," he said without hesitation, his eyes lighting up, "and I have no qualms about saying that."

         What about you Stephen Jones, just how good can your offense be?

         "I think we have a chance to have an elite offense," the team's COO excitedly said.

         And let the always pragmatic Jason Witten give you the main reason why them others are saying what they're saying:

         "We've got a lot of playmakers, a lot of ways to attack."

         What, a slice of optimism from The Ranch? Really, and to think the team just completed its offseason workouts on Thursday and the Summer Solstice isn't until Saturday? Or even if Cowboys head coach emphasized during his parting media session, until we meet again the start of training camp on July 22, "We have a long ways to go."

         Now before even more pessimism comes spilling out, even in lieu of the above, here are some facts from the 2013 season you should know first before rolling your eyes:

         First and foremost, this Cowboys team scored 439 points last year, or averaged 27.44 points a game. That represents the most points the Cowboys have scored in a single season over the last six years, having last scored more (455) in 2007 when they went 13-3.

         Plus, for more historical perspective, the 439 is the second-highest total the Cowboys have scored in the past 30 years, needing to go all the way back to the team-record 479 scored in 1983 to find more. And only two other times in the franchise's now 54-year history has a Cowboys team scored more than 439: In 1980, the Cowboys scored 454 points, and in 1966, if you can believe this in a 14-game season, they tallied 445.

         OK, that's Cowboys history. Now, how did the 439 stack up last year in the NFL, and of course far behind the Broncos' historic 606-point pace?

         Well, lookee here. While everyone wants to point out the Cowboys had the NFL's 16th-ranked offense, that's just total yards. But when it came to total points, and yes, defensive and special teams points are counted in this total, the Cowboys finished fifth, and just six points from the second-place Chicago Bears (445).

         Here is the breakdown, since the Broncos were the only team to average more than 28 points a game, a ridiculously-high 37.89: Chicago (27.81), New England (27.75), Philadelphia (27.63) and the Cowboys (27.44).

           Why, the Cowboys were able to at least score my requested thirtysomething seven times last season, or in 44 percent of their games. Problem was, and hopefully not too painful to recall, they only went 4-3 in those games, and just 5-4 when scoring at least 27 points, losing three of those by a grand total of five points.

         Oh, that defense, giving up 51, 31 and 37 in those three losses.

         So now, loaded with those facts, seriously, why can't the Cowboys have an even better offense this year, and this is assuming good health for Romo, who put up a 96.7 passer rating last year, totaling 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions?

         Start with the offensive line. Ask around, and you'll be told first-round draft choice Zack Martin, even without having pads on during this past week's minicamp or the nine OTA practices, "is the real deal," and will be an upgrade at the right guard spot. And to think the Cowboys had upgraded the offensive line last year with the addition of Travis Frederick, an improved Doug Free, veteran Brian Waters for a limited period of time and even Ron Leary playing well for most of the season. So the offensive line should be even better, led by Pro Bowler Tyron Smith.

          Now running back. DeMarco Murray had a breakout season last year, finally rushing for more than 1,000 yards, and his 1,121 the most by a Cowboys running back since Emmitt Smith went for 1,203 in 2000. Murray also became the first Cowboys running back to rush for at least nine touchdowns since Marion Barber had 10 in 2007 and represented the second-most TDs by a running back since Emmitt had 14 in 1999. Plus, Murray's 5.2-yard average over 217 carries was the NFL's highest last year among runners with at least 119 attempts, to go along with 53 receptions for 350 yards and one very big touchdown catch against the Redskins in Game 15.

         Oh, and watch out for a healthy Lance Dunbar. New offensive play-caller Scott Linehan seems partial to his new offensive toy. And don't go to sleep on the likes of Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams.

         Tight end? Witten is Witten, having caught at least the 73 passes of last season in each of the last seven years while scoring eight touchdown in 2013, one short of his career high. And from the spring look of things, Gavin Escobar is ready. You watch, watch him start coming out of the slot more than last year.

         Now wide receiver? Well, remember you got all that encouraging information here last week. Assuming Dez is Dez and impressive youngsters Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley take the next step, along with Dwayne Harris and rookie Devin Street chipping in, this just might be the deepest, most talented *group *of receivers since Tony Hill, Drew Pearson and Butch Johnson in 1983 when, uh, the Cowboys put up those record 479 points. OK, well must admit, the 2011 trio of Bryant, Laurent Robinson and Miles Austin was pretty darn good. So, too, was the 1992 trio of Michael Irvin, Alvin Harper and Kelvin Martin.

         But look, this past season those three wide receivers put up at least 39 catches: Dez 93, Williams 44 and Beasley 39, all to go with Witten's 73.

         So let's analyze: How many times have the Cowboys had three wide receivers with at least 39 catches in a single season? And I understand this is a different era in the NFL and, because of the Cowboys' previous inability to run the ball, they had to throw.

         But I only found two other seasons with as many as three receivers each having at least 39 catches. In 2011, of course, Bryant 63, Robinson 54 and Austin 43. Then in 1983, Hill 49, Pearson 47 and Johnson 41. But, that's it. [embedded_ad]

         And get this, in only two other seasons did the team's top three wide receivers total more than last year's 176 catches of Bryant, Williams and Beasley. Those would have been in 2012, Bryant 92, Austin 66 and Kevin Ogletree 32, for 190, and in 2006, Terrell Owens 85, Terry Glenn 70 and Patrick Crayton 36, for a threesome club high of 191.

         Hey, the best threesome performance during the Cowboys' Super Bowl era of the 1990s came in 1992; Michael Irvin had 78 catches, Alvin Harper 35 and Kelvin Martin 32, totaling 145, though remember Emmitt Smith was also winning an NFL rushing title that season.

         Still, pretty lofty company for Bryant, Williams and Beasley, especially considering their combined years in the league last year totaled just seven and that Bryant was the only first-round draft choice among 'em, and that Bryant was the only one of the three to start more than five games when not opening in three-receiver sets. The trio just may have scratched the surface in 2013.

         And oh, I'd be remiss if not mentioning the team's leading scorer from last year is back, one Dan Bailey, who went 28 of 30 on field-goal attempts (93 percent) and hit all 47 extra-point attempts for 131 points, matching the second-most scored by a Cowboys kicker in club history, only Baily's 135 in his rookie season of 2011 better.

         "I just think this will be our best offense since I've been here," Romo says.

          So when there are those insisting the Cowboys will be hard-pressed to win even eight games this year, my response is, well, how the heck do you think they won eight games last year with that defensive mess? Offense … and quite possibly, this will be the same thing all over again, you know.

         Hey, just score baby!

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