Aikman: Success hinges on defense

IRVING, Texas -- As the lead analyst for Fox, Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman gets to see the best of the best the NFC has to offer.

Aikman will call the Cowboys’ season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, but he’s not sure if he will see the Cowboys again because they are good or just because they are a good draw, especially with the Sunday night and Thursday night packages taking some of the better games.

If the Cowboys' defense improves, then Aikman sees a team that can contend.

“The defense is going to be better. They can’t possibly be as bad or worse than a year ago, so it’s going to be better,” Aikman said Tuesday on ESPN 103.3 FM’s "Afternoon Show with Cowlishaw and Mosley." “Is it going enough? It’s hard for me envisioning that to be the case with the injury Sean Lee being out for the season and DeMarcus Ware [gone]. Even though he battled through injuries and was limited last year, he’s one of those guys that an offense has to concern themselves with. I know that as a quarterback whenever we played an opponent it was, ‘OK, who do we have to focus on?’ and ‘Who do we have to neutralize?’ either a great pass-rusher or avoiding somebody in the passing game. I don’t know who that would be with Dallas right now and say, ‘Wow, we have to concern ourselves with this guy.’”

The Cowboys' biggest free-agent signing was defensive tackle Henry Melton, who is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They added pieces to the defensive line, but nobody with multiple double-digit sack seasons, like Ware. They have questions at linebacker and in the secondary.

“I think the world of Rod Marinelli,” Aikman said. “He’ll get the most out of whatever that defense has to give. I just don’t know if they can give enough to give this team a chance to be as good as they want to be.”

If not, then that affects the future of coach Jason Garrett, one of Aikman’s closest friends. Garrett is entering the final year of his contract and has posted three straight 8-8 seasons, missing the playoffs each time with Week 17 losses.

“I really feel strongly in Jason Garrett and think he has done some really good things from an organizational standpoint,” Aikman said. “It hasn’t necessarily shown up win the wins and loss column, which is ultimately all that matters, but this organization internally is better now than it was when he took over as head coach of the Cowboys. I hope he’s here for a long time. ... If he’s not here very long or if this is his last year, then I think the next guy coming in will benefit from the years [Garrett] had here.”