Commentary

Talent oozes from Cowboys' offense

Skill players best since glory days of Triplets, but health, O-line pose challenge

Updated: September 14, 2012, 1:09 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Want good reason to hope that Jerry Jones' thirst for another guzzle of glory can be quenched this season?

[+] EnlargeTony Romo and Kevin Ogletree
AP Photo/Julio CortezAdd receiver Kevin Ogletree (85) to a list of talented Cowboys skill players led by quarterback Tony Romo.
Just look at the plethora of offensive playmakers on the Dallas Cowboys' payroll.

Tony Romo is a franchise quarterback playing the best football of his life. Jason Witten is a potential Hall of Fame tight end who continues to perform at a Pro Bowl level.

DeMarco Murray is an explosive, physical tailback capable of taking over games. Miles Austin is a receiver with a history of being a game-breaker, and Dez Bryant has more talent than any of them. Oh, and throw Kevin Ogletree in there for good measure after his breakout performance as the third receiver in the season-opening win over the defending Super Bowl champions.

It's the best bunch of skill players the Cowboys have featured since The Triplets & Co. celebrated three Super Bowl titles in a four-season span.

"Boy, these guys they've got are talented guys," said Jerry confidante Larry Lacewell, the team's scouting director during the '90s dynasty and an annual training camp visitor. "Now, I hope they keep playing talented."

Lacewell, by the way, buys the opinion that the Cowboys haven't been this loaded with offensive weapons since the heyday of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek.

Maybe that sounds like faint praise, considering the Cowboys have a grand total of one playoff win in the past 15 seasons. But remember that the 2007 Cowboys, featuring Terrell Owens and Marion Barber, ranked second in the NFL in scoring offense and third in total offense.

Give me this group over the '07 skill players. These Cowboys have a better tailback and more weapons at receiver than that 13-3 team, which started Patrick Crayton opposite T.O. Most importantly, the Cowboys' current quarterback is a heck of a lot better than the five-years-ago version of himself.

"You look at some of these guys' ability, starting with [No.] 88, it's rare what those skill positions can do," Witten said, giving this team's skill players the nod on talent. "I think Tony has really taken his game to another level of, 'Hey, I'm just going to find those matchups and attack it.' Before, I don't know that that was always the case."

All that talent doesn't guarantee success, especially if the stars can't stay healthy. Or if they don't have opportunities to display their skills due to an offensive line that would have to improve significantly to be mediocre.

[+] EnlargeTroy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin
AP Photo/Linda KayeCowboys confidante Larry Lacewell agrees that the offense hasn't been this loaded since Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith ruled the huddle.
Romo, Austin, Bryant and Murray all missed significant time the previous two seasons because of injury. Maintaining the health of Romo, in particular, has to be a huge concern about an offensive line that has almost as many question marks as reps together.

Other than the cornerbacks corps, the offensive line was the Cowboys' top offseason priority. Tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free switched sides. The Cowboys invested a total of $30 million in free-agent guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau.

And the line is still the weak link on this team.

That's quite a contrast to the all-time elite lines during the Dallas dynasty years. The eight O-linemen who started '90s Super Bowls for the Cowboys combined to make 37 career Pro Bowl appearances.

Smith has that type of talent, but he's a 21-year-old pup learning to play the line's most important position. The Cowboys are getting by with grinders at the line's other four spots, including a center they got for a few rolls of athletic tape at the end of the preseason.

Don't be fooled by the 433 yards the Cowboys put up against the Giants. The offensive line didn't play well.

Romo was sacked just twice, but he made plays after eluding pressure on several occasions, including his two touchdown passes to Ogletree. More than half of Murray's 131 rushing yards came after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, including the 48-yard run that wasn't blocked well enough for him to get back to the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys' skill players overcame their offensive line in Week 1. That's a tough trend to continue.

"What about the offensive line? I don't love 'em, trust me," said Lacewell, who mentioned that his hope was the line would improve throughout the course of the season. "But I love the quarterback."

There's a lot to love about the quarterback. Same with the tailback, the tight end and the receivers.

That's a big reason why Jones called last season the most disappointing in his 23-year tenure. A group of weapons like this doesn't come together too often, and it was wasted in an 8-8 season that crumbled down the stretch.

There's a lot of hope and highlights at the moment. The Cowboys' best bunch of playmakers since the Super Bowl years is healthy.

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