1. Will the defense perform under Rob Ryan?
Last year the Cowboys were in popular talks for the Super Bowl, the stage seemed set perfectly. The Cowboys fresh off a fairly productive season, winning their first playoff game in years, Romo was playing well and the team had a pair of good wide outs in Miles Austin and unproven (at the time) rookie Dez Bryant. The Super Bowl was going to be at the Jerry Dome, hopes had rarely been higher in Big D. Then of course the Cowboys ran into a problem, their defense. While the Dallas defense is home to a number of very good players (DeMarcus Ware, Keith Brooking and debatably Terrance Newman) the defense was atrocious last year surrendering 31 touchdown passes. In a division with the score from anywhere offense of the Philadelphia Eagles, and the stable of receivers chomping at the bit in New York, Dallas can no longer depend solely upon a strong offense. The question is whether this unit just needs a new season or whether Dallas needs an infusion of youth on defense.
2. Ball’s In Your Court
Slightly related to the first question, the Cowboys did nothing to replace Safety Alan Ball who was an absolute liability in coverage last year. True, this wasn’t the strongest class of safeties with the first safety going in the second round, but it has become blatantly obvious that Ball is holding Dallas back and it will be interesting to see whether Jerry Jones and the Boys decide to make a play for Sam Huff if/when free agency starts.
3. Can Tony Romo win the Big Game?
Throughout his career quarterback Tony Romo has faced criticism for choking under pressure, being more interested in hanging with celebrities than playing football and just not appearing completely focused at times. Coming back from a broken clavicle that sidelined him early in the season (effectively dashing any hopes the Cowboys had of a playoff run) Romo has a lot of questions to answer if he wants to remain the unquestioned starter of this team. Romo may never have had a more dangerous collection of pass catchers with Dez Bryant returning for his second season after a strong rookie season before being sidelined by an ankle injury, Miles Austin as his reliable #1 wideout and his good friend Jason Witten still attacking the center of the field. Romo’s backfield is strong with Felix Jones, Demarco Murray and possibly Marion Barber still backing him up. There will be no excuse for Romo to underperform this season and it will be a hellish offseason this time next year if he does.
4. Can the Cowboys make the playoffs?
There are few division that are tougher in the NFL than the NFC East. With the exception of the Redskins (We’ll get to them in a little bit) all these rosters seem loaded with either big name players or players who are about to be big including Ware, Austin, Vick, Jackson, Tuck, Amukamara, Phillips, Nicks, Smith, Rolle, Bryant, Manning (I have my doubts but I’m obligated to put him on the list because he won a super bowl) and McCoy. Between all of these names it’s very legitimate to wonder whether the Cowboys have missed their window and this division is the Michael Vick show now. With a talented roster and a few key free agent pickups Big D could reinsert themselves in the conversation, but for now we just don’t know.