The Dallas Cowboys have been the NFL’s most average team over the last decade, and as they come of yet another 8-8 season the team is looking for a new identity. The 2013 Cowboys had one of the worst defenses in NFL history, giving up an obscene amount of passing yards including allowing Calvin Johnson to break the NFL record for receiving yards in a game. Even with the defensive woes, the season came down to Week 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles. QB Tony Romo was lost for the game after an injury the previous Sunday, and a Kyle Orton interception with two minutes left in the 4th quarter ended the Cowboys season.
This year the Cowboys go into the season without All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware for the first time in nine seasons, releasing the pass rusher before the cap hit. Ware joined the AFC champion Broncos and the Cowboys brougth in Henry Melton to help out in his absence. Miles Austin was also let go after a productive career thus far, though he might still be brought back with a smaller deal if the Cowboys decide not to pick up a wide receiver in the first couple rounds of the upcoming draft.
Many of the fans complaints through the 2013 season came about the coaching staff, with Monte Kiffin’s defense playing a new system that did not work in any facet of the game. The blitzing that we saw in 2013 behind Rob Ryan was gone, with a more conservative approach being taken. On offense, Bill Callahan took over play calling duties from head coach Jason Garrett to middling success. The season began well, including a huge game passing from Romo against the Broncos in Week 5 that included 5 TDs and over 500 yards. As the season went on the offense declined, and the choice to call passing plays even with the run working baffled pundits and fans around the league.
The 2014 schedule is challenging, with home games against the 49ers, Saints, Colts and Cardinals. Those teams had a combined record of 44-20 in 2013, and the 49ers were one play away from a second consecutive berth in the Super Bowl. The Saints returned from suspension hell after the ‘Bountygate’ scandal, and were once again a force to be reckoned with — including their 32-point beat down of Dallas in Week 10.
On the road the Cowboys will see Chicago, Tennessee, and the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks. There’s no stadium in the NFL louder than Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, and the last time the Cowboys were at Soldier Field it didn’t work out too well for them. The Cowboys will also play the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London on November 9, with the Jags losing the home game from their schedule.
The NFC East is always a wide-open race, and this year expect the Redskins to once again challenge the Cowboys and Eagles. The Cowboys went 1-1 against the Eagles in 2013, and will need to get through divisional play with a winning record if they want another shot at the NFL playoffs in 2014.