Photo credit: Dallascowboys.com
DALLAS -- Mediocre has become a term all too fitting for America's Team. The Dallas Cowboys concluded yet another disappointing season with an overall record of 8-8 in 2011, as the Boys finished .500 against the NFC (6-6) and 2-4 against the NFC East. With the start of training camp, expectations are certainly high for 2012.
"I think as a player there's a sense of urgency every single year that this is the year we're going to have success and do the things we're excited about," Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said Tuesday during a promotional appearance. "I haven't been this excited about a football season as far as the collection of talent we have on the football field, and I think that's exciting."
The Cowboys strength on offense was clearly the passing game a season ago, which averaged 262.6 yards a game (7th in the NFL), while Dallas' rush defense held opponents to 99.1 yards per game (7th overall).
Romo finished 2011 with 346 out of 522 pass attempts for 4,184 yards and 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Skeptics like to play devil's advocate when it comes to characterizing Romo as someone who chokes down the stretch, but Tony finished strong in 2011. Romo threw 10 touchdowns and only 1 interception in the Cowboys' last five games, but the team finished with a woeful 1-4 record during that stretch on their way to being left out of the playoff picture.
The truth is that the Cowboys' rushing attack and their passing defense were ultimately what doomed Dallas a season ago. The Boys finished with a rushing attack that only averaged 112.9 yards a game, which was only good for 18th overall in the NFL. Even worse was the 244.1 yards per game that the defense allowed through the air in the secondary, which was "good" for 23rd in the league.
DeMarco Murray led the squad with 897 yards rushing (5.5 yard average per carry), while Felix Jones only managed 575 yards (4.5 yard average per carry). Both are talented, electric runners, but their offensive line MUST open holes for these running backs to break through.
The scariest stat for this running-back duo was that they combined for only 3 rushing touchdowns in 2011. Jason Witten led the team in receiving catching 79 balls for 942 yards, scoring 5 touchdowns, while Dez Bryant caught 63 passes for 928 yards and 9 touchdowns.
The Cowboys scored LSU cornerback sensation Morris Claiborne with the sixth overall pick in this year's NFL draft. Morris made 46 tackles and finished 2011 with 6 interceptions for the Tigers. Claiborne has the talent to become a defensive stopper, but can he acclimate quickly enough to help improve the Dallas secondary that was horrendous a year ago?
Dallas also added free agent cornerback Brandon Carr to help improve the Cowboys secondary. Carr was a sensational cover man for Kansas City and he finished 2011 with 45 tackles and 4 interceptions. Carr made things happen on the defensive side of the ball, as he picked off 8 passes and forced 6 fumbles in his last four seasons for the Chiefs.
Should Carr and Claiborne live up to expectations, and if Mike Jenkins comes back from his shoulder injury, along with high hopes for Orlando Scandrick, the Cowboys should have a much different result in 2012 from their pass defense.
It's simple math. If the Cowboys can exceed or even maintain their passing offense and rush defense, while improving their own rushing attack and passing defense, the Dallas Cowboys can indeed contend for a playoff birth in 2012.
2012 PRESEASON SCHEDULE
Monday, Aug 13 @ Oakland 7 PM ESPN
Saturday, Aug 18 @ San Diego 8 PM NFL NETWORK
Saturday, Aug 25 vs St. Louis 7 PM TBA
Wednesday, Aug 29 vs Miami 7:30 PM TBA
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