IT'S NOT OUTSIDE THE REALM OF POSSIBILITYBy Todd Archer
Given the recent news regarding the health of Tyron Smith and Mike Jenkins, the prolonged absence of Terence Newman, the poor showing of the first-team defense in the preseason and the youth on the offensive line, I understand why people will think I'm nuts.
Crazy isn't always a bad place to be.
Yes, I believe the Cowboys will make the playoffs. Barely.
I don't see this as a rebuilding year. You don't rebuild when you have the offensive weapons the Cowboys have, like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Felix Jones. The defense has holes but the Cowboys are not playing a who's who of the best offenses in the NFL, especially early in the season when they will be learning Rob Ryan's scheme.
My first year on the Cowboys beat was in 2003. Bill Parcells brought hope his first year but there wasn't a lot of talent to go with it. Quincy Carter was his quarterback. Troy Hambrick was his running back. The defense was filled with unheralded but solid players.
Parcells had the Cowboys prepared for every scenario. For the most part they didn't beat themselves. And they went 10-6 and made the wild-card round. Coaching matttered.
Jason Garrett has preached situational football in his first training camp. He has talked about the importance of winning in the fourth quarter.
He went 5-3 as Wade Phillips' replacement last year and the three losses were by seven points. He did it with Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee playing quarterback. He did it in the final four games without Dez Bryant. He did it with an altered defensive scheme with players lacking confidence. Coaching mattered.
With expectations so low and a schedule that is hardly a murderers' row, the Cowboys can overachieve for the first time in 2003.
So a wild-card spot is what I have. Hey, ESPN's Adam Schefter has them in the Super Bowl.
Even I'm not that crazy.
DON'T GET YOUR HOPES UPBy Bryan Broaddus
ESPN 103.3 FM
The Cowboys will go 9-7 this season, and that won't be good enough to make the playoffs.
Offensively, the Cowboys are good enough to put points up on a consistent basis despite having Phil Costa, Bill Nagy and Tyron Smith as starters on the offensive line. The talent level at receiver, tight end and running back will cause problems for opposing defensive coordinators this season.
On the flip side, the defense will have trouble pressuring opposing quarterbacks unless it is able to bring extra rushers. Opponents will figure out ways to block DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff. The concern for Rob Ryan is how and when he'll dial up this pressure. The inside linebackers have yet to show me they can be a factor on the blitz. I have seen players in the secondary -- mainly Orlando Scandrick and Abram Elam -- create some positive pressure, but not so much from guys like Bradie James or Sean Lee. Keith Brooking did have some productive opportunities two seasons ago, but not as many in 2010. To Brooking's credit, he has a feel for how to attack the pocket and avoid blockers, but with him missing the entire preseason, I've yet to gauge where he fits into the scheme this way.
Another concern for Ryan will be his front seven versus the run. The defense struggled to get off blocks on a consistent basis this preseason. DEs Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears will be key as to how the Cowboys play at the point of attack against the run. Strongside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who has always been better against the run than rushing the passer, wasn't playing the run as he needed to this preseason. If Spencer, Coleman and Spears struggle, it will not be too difficult to see what the results might be for this team.
Another area that might hold this team back is the kicking situation. The Cowboys will carry two kickers on the roster, which is one too many. But when you struggle with consistency, it's the price you pay. Dan Bailey did show promise early in training camp but went through a bad spell in the middle. I have never trusted David Buehler to make the simple kicks, but the longer ones might be a different story -- which could maybe pull out a game or two.