What is the Cowboys' biggest strength?


Playoffs hopes hinge on offense

Archer By Todd Archer

OXNARD, Calif. -- I would like to thank Tim for taking the defense in this debate.

Maybe he's trying once more to stick up for Rob Ryan, who called last year's defense the most talented he had been around as a coach, only to see it not deliver when it mattered most. And that's even before all of the injuries.

To me, just by looking at the individual talent, the offense is this team's strength. Of the seven best players on the roster, five are on offense -- Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Tyron Smith. The two on defense are DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee.

This isn't to say the offense isn't without issues. The line has questions, which has contributed to the Cowboys' willingness to play hostage for Brian Waters. There's a new playcaller in Bill Callahan, who is still getting accustomed to his role and Jason Garrett's scheme.

But this is an offensive league, even for those who still believe defenses win championships.

The Cowboys' defense has shown positive signs so far in training camp. Ware looks healthy. So does Lee. The unit has produced turnovers in both preseason games. But health remains an issue as Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer are unlikely to play in any preseason games. And it's still a new scheme that players will have to get used to when the games count.

Callahan might be new to his role, but the core of the offense understands the do's and dont's of the scheme based on experience. Romo, Witten and Austin have been in it since 2007. Bryant has been in it since 2010, and Smith has started every game he has played with the Cowboys in his two years.

When the national types talk about the talent on the Cowboys, they're talking about the offensive players, because there are more dynamic players over there. A case can be made that Bryant is among the best receivers in the game. Witten's eight Pro Bowls make him one of the best tight ends in the game. Despite his injuries last year, Austin still produced 943 yards and seven touchdowns. Romo threw for a career-high 4,903 yards a year ago, in part because of a bad running game.

So far this summer, that looks to be improved, and I've already said DeMarco Murray will have more than 1,000 yards this season.

If the Cowboys are going to end their playoff drought this year, the offense will carry the day.

New-look defense should flourish

MacMahon By Tim MacMahon

Isn't it impressive that Todd Archer can type while carrying Tony Romo's bags?

I might be the only remaining Rob Ryan apologist in the Metroplex media, but that doesn't prevent me from acknowledging that the Cowboys replaced him with two defensive coordinators who have significantly more impressive track records.

Monte Kiffin ranks among the best defensive coordinators in NFL history. Based on his less-than-impressive recent work in the college ranks, you might be able to make a case that the game has passed him by, but you certainly won't get any of the Dallas defensive players to buy that. They believe in the old man.

And there's no question that defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, Kiffin's lieutenant and the most overqualified position coach in the league, is still an elite defensive mind. Just look at his results as the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator, a job he left out of loyalty to fired head coach Lovie Smith.

It'll be exciting to see how Sean Lee and Bruce Carter flourish in a scheme that plays to one of their primary strengths, the ability to run. That's especially true with Carter, who Ryan readily admitted that he saw as a 4-3 Will linebacker more than a 3-4 inside linebacker during the pre-draft scouting process.

It'll be intriguing to see how DeMarcus Ware fares with his hand in the dirt every down. It's not like Ryan had Ware drop back in coverage very often, but you'll be able to count on one hand the times that happens all season.

But let's not get too bogged down discussing the difference in scheme. Lee, Carter and Ware would be fun to watch in any NFL defense. And they're all completely healthy now. That's good reason to be optimistic about this defense.

Lee and Carter, who landed on injured reserve because of fluke injuries last season, should put themselves on the short list of the NFL's best linebacker duos. Ware, who played most of last year with essentially one arm, has been among the elite of the elite for a long time and looks as dominant as ever during training camp.

This defense has flaws -- a lack of a traditional run-stuffing defensive tackle and a dependence on injury-ravaged Jay Ratliff stand out -- but the warts on this side of the ball aren't as glaring as the Cowboys' continued offensive line issues.

As long as the stars stay healthy, the new defensive coordinator should look awfully smart.


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