Why these five have to thrive for Cowboys

Getty Images/Trevor Ebaugh, ESPN Stats & Information

Roll over each player to see why they’re so valuable to the Cowboys.

The Dallas Cowboys have immense expectations for 2012, as they will look to advance past the Divisional Round of the playoffs for the first time since the franchise won Super Bowl XXX in 1996. The Cowboys have a very talented roster, but here are five integral players who must play well for them to succeed.

Tony Romo

Tony Romo is the most important player for the Dallas Cowboys, and when he plays well, they win. In the Cowboys’ eight wins last year, Romo boasted a 82.7 QBR, throwing 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He was able to avoid sacks, taking only 11 (1.38 per game) and averaging 8.3 yards per pass attempt. However, Romo was a completely different player in the Cowboys’ eight losses. He threw seven interceptions and was sacked 25 times (3.13 times per game) with a mediocre 53.4 QBR. If Romo can limit turnovers and keep his jersey clean the Cowboys should be a force in the NFC East.

DeMarcus Ware

DeMarcus Ware is the premier edge pass rusher in the league. Ware’s 19.5 sacks last year was the second-most in the NFL, trailing only the Minnesota Vikings’ Jared Allen (22). Ware had the most sacks (9) of any player in a base defensive formation (3-4 or 4-3), and the sixth-most sacks when the Cowboys put five or more defensive backs on the field. He is a balanced pass rusher who can get to the quarterback in any situation, and will be a key cog in Rob Ryan’s defense.

Miles Austin

Miles Austin picked up last year right where he left off in 2009 and 2010. He was tied for first in the league in receiving touchdowns (4) and targets (24), and fourth in receiving yards (233) through the first two weeks of the 2011 season. But a recurring hamstring injury derailed his season, and he just simply could not match his production of his two previous years. In only eight games he caught 29 passes for 346 yards, with three touchdowns and one reception of 30 yards or more from Weeks 3 through 17. A healthy Austin should provide Romo with the elite big-play weapon the Cowboys need to compete in a very strong NFC East.

Sean Lee

Sean Lee is the defensive play-caller and leader of the Cowboys defense. Despite dislocating his left wrist tackling Michael Vick in Week 8 last season, Lee displayed his toughness by playing the rest of the year in a cast. He still led the team in combined tackles (104) and tied with David Harris for the most interceptions (4) in the league among linebackers. With Lee fully recovered, he should be even more effective in coverage and possibly take a step forward in 2012.

Jason Witten

Jason Witten has been one of the most consistent receiving tight ends in the league since 2007. He has finished in the top five among tight ends in both receptions and receiving yards in every season since then, and has led the Cowboys in receptions in each of the past five seasons. Witten is also an indispensable safety valve for Tony Romo when defenses send extra pass rushers. Since 2009, Witten’s 98 receptions against five or more pass rushers is the second-most among all receivers in the NFL behind Roddy White’s 116.