America's Team: Cowboys Must-Go-Right Needs

The Cowboys can't be accused of being on the lucky side of things these past few years. They'll need a little help to escape the .500 malaise. What needs to go right so America's Team can celebrate, Fourth of July style? A whole lot, by the looks of things.

Everyone needs a little luck in their lives. You can't depend on it, you can't plan for it, but one would be foolish not to realize that luck plays a vital role in the making of a successful NFL season. Of course, it's often said luck is simply the marriage of preparation and opportunity. Well, the opportunity will certainly present itself over the course of training camp, preseason, the regular season and hopefully the NFL Playoffs. The question is, will the Cowboys be prepared to take advantage?

Part of the concern for the 2014 season, the loss of ultimate optimism some normally enter a season with, is the fact that so many unknown things have to work out in order for the season to be a success. There is often a line drawn in the sand amongst Cowboys followers; the optimists and the pessimists. Pessimists will tell you that they are realists, which is comically an attack on optimists because they don't exist in the "real" world. That's code for, "I know we suck, you're delusional if you think otherwise. That toss-up is no doubt ending badly." Of course, neither is right, but as a fan; it sure seems like it would be a more enjoyable existence being on the side of hope than it is the side of despair.

Unfortunately, even the most optimistic fan has had their will tested with the way the last three seasons have ended under Jason Garrett. We know that he has transformed this team from the over-the-hill, privileged roster he inherited. Teams grow old quickly in the NFL, and they did that under Wade Phillips. Jason put everyone to work, and went about changing the culture of the franchise. Despite what his shortcomings in game management might be, Garrett deserves an immense amount of credit for those things that have not yet resulted in a winning team.

Whether or not the results of the 2014 season decide Garrett's future (there is plenty of evidence the front office will tie his tenure to that of franchise QB Tony Romo), his job is to get the most out of this roster. For that to happen, it's going to have to be more than just the team falling in line with Scott Linehan's offense or Rod Marinelli's defense.

Here's a list of many of the 50/50 question marks that face this version of the team. The optimists assume these things will happen. The realists know they won't. The season depends on just how many of these things end up on the positive side of the ledger; a split down the middle will probably result in another 8-8 season.

  • Can Tony Romo and his back survive full-contact from people that want to do him harm? – A dislocated shoulder, a punctured lung and now a multi-year back situation with two surgeries. Good thing they have Kyle Orton, err, Brandon Weeden. Le Sigh.
  • Travis Frederick has to continue developing and not regress. It's not a forgone conclusion that a solid rookie season means more of the same out of a guy. The assumption is that he'll have more games like he did against St. Louis than he did against Kansas City. Frederick was a mauler in the run game but needs improvement in pass pro.
  • Doug Free to play like 2013 first half Doug Free and not 2013 second half Doug Free. It's a contract year for the right tackle who has had one of the most up and down careers of recent memory. Then Free had stinkers in four of his next six games, giving up 24 QB pressures over that stretch according to Pro Football Focus.
  • Zack Martin has to have a rookie season similar to what Travis Frederick had. Nuff said.
  • Jason Witten has to continue to let the call go to voicemail when Father Time tries to get him on the line. Witten has been remarkably consistent, bouncing back every time it appears he's slowing down. A consistent drop in performance puts a lot of guys in a position they've never been in before.
  • Henry Melton's return from ACL surgery. Not only does Melton have to actually return healthy, which is strangely assumed by so many, he also has a lot to live up to based on Jason Hatcher's career year performance of 2013.
  • Demarcus Lawrence has to play at a level above a normal rookie DE. Considering how most of the best pass rushers of this generation fared in their first years, that is a tall order indeed. However, the Cowboys need someone on the defense to make the offense gameplan for. That means that Lawrence's sack total might not be high, but his impact must be.
  • Sean Lee has to avoid the injury bug. Dammit!
  • Dallas has to find a suitable replacement at middle linebacker. The replacement, whether it be Holloman, Durant, Hitchens or McClain, not only has to be able to cover the deep middle, but has to be able to command the front seven adequately. Although the latter role might be fulfilled by…
  • Bruce Carter has to act like he wants to be here. Whether it was because he was unsure what to do in a new system, a personal life situation or something we haven't thought of, Bruce Carter was benched for Ernie Sims because of a lack of effort. Ernie freaking Sims… #Stahpit. We need more, Bruce.
  • There has to be a second professional-level safety emerge from the muck that is currently J.J. Wilcox, Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton, Jeff Heath and Ahmad Dixon. One of these guys has to be able to play at a respectable level; preferably as the single-high so Barry Church can remain the in-the-box option.
  • Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne can't be out here selling wolf tickets about they are better in press coverage. They better prove it quick and in a hurry. Marinelli has said he will utilize the technique more to play to their strengths, but at this point it's still a 50/50 proposition that the play will improve. Hopefully a more consistent pass rush will help.
  • The injury bug has to say it's done f'ing around with at least 60 percent of the following: Lance Dunbar, Ryan Williams, Tyrone Crawford, Anthony Spencer, Ben Bass. Sean Lee was on this list originally and it was supposed to be 50%; but what do we do when we get roadblocked? We adjust! I need three of these guys.

So there you have it; 13 things where the Cowboys must have a decent return on investment. I didn't even include things like Dez Bryant continuing to grow, or Tyron Smith being a Top 3 tackle, or Gavin Escobar being sent out on routes. There's so much hinging on these toss-ups working out for the best, only the staunchest optimist could enter this training camp with high hopes.

Ah, screw it. I can't help myself. Sign me up for some of that.

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