IRVING, Texas -- In order to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, the Dallas Cowboys will need a lot to go right in 2014.
This week we take a best-case, worst-case look at five offensive and defensive players who will go a long way toward shaping the Cowboys’ season.
Best case: He clicks with Scott Linehan
Romo will be on his third play-caller in as many years with Linehan taking over for Bill Callahan. Jason Garrett handled the job from 2007-12. Though Callahan called the plays last season, Garrett did not completely step aside. This season he will for Linehan. Their offseason together was limited as Romo rehabbed his back, sitting out 11-on-11 drills in the organized team activities and minicamp. Linehan likes to attack down the field, which is something the Cowboys did not do much of last season. Romo averaged a career-low 7.2 yards per attempt in 2013 and had just 44 pass plays of 20 yards or more in his 15 starts. Romo was intercepted only 10 times. Was that a product of being too careful or finding the balance between risk and too careful? Matthew Stafford was unafraid to take chances with Linehan as his coordinator in Detroit, which was at times to the team’s detriment. When Romo is at his best he is part risk-taker, part manager. With a defense that could be as leaky as it was a year ago, the Romo-Linehan partnership will have to work better than the Romo-Callahan partnership and look more like the 2007 version of Romo-Garrett.
Worst case: He can’t stay healthy
Romo expresses no worries about his twice surgically repaired back. The Cowboys express no worry about it either and passed on the chance to take Johnny Manziel in the first round. But Romo has had two surgeries on his back in less than a year and turned 34. Before the back surgeries, the Cowboys believed Romo was younger than his age because he did not play his first three years and was not subject to the pounding of the position. He was sacked 35 times in 15 starts, which was one off the most he had been sacked in his career. The Cowboys open the season against one of the most physical defenses in the league in the San Francisco 49ers. The last time Romo played against the Niners in 2011, he suffered a fractured rib and punctured lung, but he managed to return to that game and led the Cowboys to an overtime win. Romo’s toughness is without question -- he won his final start with his back so bad he needed surgery five days later -- but the Cowboys invested another first-round pick in the offensive line (Zack Martin) to make sure he can make it through a 16-game season.