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Cowboys Season Primer:  The Road that Leads to the Super Bowl

So many different scenarios could play out in the upcoming season. I have already heard predictions for the year Romo, Dez and Felix will have, the troubled secondary that has yet to see Newman or Jenkins take the field, and the musical chairs being played out in the interior of the offensive line.

These are subplots. These stories bubble up every year at this time and are like flashing lights for the Cowboys fan who just wants his team to be relevant come playoff time and ultimately make THAT run. Last season it was about whether or not Roy Williams and Romo were finally on the same page and how Ball was faring in the switch to safety. Fans and media both speculated on the RB rotation and who would see the most carries and they worried over Dez missing preseason because of his injury.

This season there will be stories emerging that no one could have predicted. With last year’s injury to Romo and the slow start for the Cowboys with Romo, we can easily see how subplots are just distractions from the reality of the team’s chances to play into February.

The 2012 Cowboys do have a road available to them to play in Indianapolis for the trophy. That road is narrow and doesn’t offer many detours. For the Cowboys to reach Super Bowl XLVI, they must succeed in several key areas:

1)Find an effective nose tackle that frees Ratliff up to play heavy minutes at DE.

The Cowboys will have to use scheme to pressure the QB but can’t make a living off of it. They will get exploited if they don’t ultimately find a reliable DE and LB to consistently win the individual matchups on second and third and longs. Ratliff is already the best rusher at DE and the fact he is the best at NT stopping the run does not bode well for the talent on the defensive line. Finding that nose tackle also means they would have found someone who can clog up the holes and keep the offensive lineman off of their backers to an extent so they can hit their gaps.

2)Dangerous screen pass becomes part of their identity

The Cowboys RB contingent all have wiggle, all are terrific out of the backfield and they also all have enough long speed to be a threat. We saw consistent screen calls throughout preseason and we can expect an even heavier dose in the regular season. Hopefully penalties and second and very longs aren’t what dictates the screens but instead, the calls will be completely on Garrett’s terms. This frees up Witten more, keeps Romo healthier, and helps to prevent the bracketing that Dez and Miles are sure to see as the season gets underway. If the Cowboys are highly proficient with the screen pass, their offense could be exceptional at both possession football and long ball.

3)Discipline returns to the Cowboys

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the only prominent identity they have had for several years is how heavily they are penalized and more importantly, the timing of those penalties. Alex Barron aside, this team makes critical mistakes and often pre-snap. This team needs to get out of its own way so they can reach the tremendous potential the talent offers. Mike Jenkins, Tyron Smith, Terence Newman, and Jason Witten all need to use technique and concentration to prevent he interferences and false starts that could plague this team in 2011.

4)Responding to Adversity

The Cowboys will see their share of adversity and how they respond to it will be telling. This is the #1 tangible difference I expect to see from the Garrett Cowboys vs. the Phillips version. They will make bad mistakes, stupid penalties, suffer major injuries and see their share of bad calls from the referees. Responding to setbacks well is a signature characteristic of good teams and a critical element to the success of every Super bowl winner.

5)Putting teams away

This team is good enough to worry about putting teams away. How they play after they take a lead and how they perform in the last few minutes of each half is a glaring indicator of what the team’s mentality is. Some teams toughen up and buckle down while others limp to halftime and wither in the late stages of the fourth quarter. The Cowboys have been that team that fades late in games and suffers defense lapses as they approach halftime. It’s time for this Cowboys team to unleash the animal inside and own what they think they have.

6)Physicality and Brutality at the point of attack

This is the #1 intangible difference between the Garrett and Phillips Cowboys. I’m not sure it can always be seen through the eyes of the typical fan but the opponents feel it. Running and stopping the run are not schemes. They are in a team’s DNA and the Cowboys have been lacking that gene for years. Abram Elam, Gerald Sensabaugh, Bradie James, Sean Lee, Phil Costa, Kyle Kosier, and Bill Nagy are all defenders of the turf. The nastiness they give the opponent will define exactly the kind of team the Cowboys will be. Playing weather games and tough road games late in the season and playoffs are attitude and mentality checks and through the Phillips tenure, the Cowboys had been soft. If Garrett’s signature colors this Cowboy team, they will grow into the toughest of outs come playoff time.

Every team starts the season with the capability of making it to the Super Bowl. For the Dallas Cowboys, many in the media are placing them below the Saints, Packers and Eagles among other teams. If the Cowboys can address and carry out many of the missions defined above, they will find themselves in the heart of the December and January battle. For Garrett and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys, the time for transformation is about to begin.

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