Cowboys' Must-Go-Right Needs Of 2015

No one predicted the Cowboys run game would explode like it did in 2014; there are always surprises. There are also things we hold firm. Now that Dallas has established itself, we take on the task of predicting which things must go right on order for the club not to regress from it's new-found contender status.

Earlier this month, CowboysHQ took a look back at the 2014 version of “Must-Go-Right” needs for the Cowboys to have success. We doubted enough of the 50/50 coin flips would end up positively, and thus predicted a 7-9 record for the team. To Cowboys fans’ delight, the combination of things thought necessary and things never dreamed of led to a 12-4 season and a couple playoff games. Now, the focus shifts to “Must-Go-Right” needs for the Cowboys to maintain this success and compete for a championship.

  • The run game must produce over 1,920 yards and over a 4.5 ypc average. That’s 120 yards per game, and 26-27 carries per. In 2014, they averaged 4.6 ypc, and just under 32 carries a game. The Cowboys do not have to be as dedicated to the run as they were last year, but they do need to clear league average with room to spare. The league average has been steadily declining every year since 2011, but Dallas bucked that trend with a phenomenal 2014 that was only surpassed by a team with a running QB (Seattle). It doesn’t matter whether it’s 3 backs with 700 yards each or a bell cow, Dallas just needs to run the ball enough to keep defenses from triple-teaming Dez Bryant.
  • Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Devin Street have to combine for 100 catches on the season. Last year, the three combined for 76; but that was the running backs totaling 80 on their own. With Murray gone, it can’t be assumed the replacements will be a similar threat in the passing game. Possible yes, but not to be assumed. The three receivers not named Bryant have to continue to be a growing force, as it should be assumed that Jason Witten’s receptions continue on a downward trend from 110 in 2012, to 73 to just 64 last year.
  • Byron Jones has to be a better player than Brandon Carr. Dallas must get a better performance out of their secondary in 2015 and that starts with the cornerback rotation. The Cowboys will need an immediate impact from Jones for that to be a certainty, and if reports from the workouts are any indication he is ready to assume the role. If Carr is good enough, and this means Jones plays Free Safety, even better for Dallas if J.J. Wilcox can go home to in-the-box safety.
  • 2015 Darrion Weems has to be better than 2014 Jermey Parnell. Parnell acquitted himself well enough to earn a fat contract with Jacksonville, but the run game suffered when Free was lost for the year. With third-rounder Chaz Green looking injury-iffy, Weems will be the swing tackle and must be ready to keep things moving smoothly should he enter ball games.
  • Someone must emerge with double-digit sacks, or three guys must get at least 7 each. Dallas’ leading sack artist last year had a paltry six. That’s embarrassing. Between Demarcus Lawrence, Greg Hardy, Randy Gregory, Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford, a pass rush must emerge.
  • Sean Lee and Rolando McClain must combine for 25 or more starts. Seeing how McClain is already maxed out at 12, you know what this is really about. You can’t get two more talented linebackers than Lee and McClain. They rival any recent duo of LBs on talent alone. Too bad talent doesn’t automatically get you on the field above and beyond injury and knuckleheadedness. Yes, that is a made-up word. Anthony Hitchens showed a lot of promise, and Jasper Brinkley seems capable of at least being replacement-level competent. Even as the importance of linebackers wanes, having these two for the majority of games is imperative for defensive success.
  • Speaking of which, the depth at linebacker has to prove to be quality depth and not a collection of jags. Between Brinkley, Rivers and fourth-round pick Damien Wilson, someone needs to emerge at the level of where Justin Durant played in 2014, not Ernie Sims in 2013.
  • It can be two different players, but Dallas must find someone to replace Dwayne Harris on Special Teams. Harris had 11 tackles on teams, leading Dallas and earning a +6.5 Pro Football Focus rating on coverage. On returns, Harris looked lost often times during the first half of the season, but found his usual stride down the stretch. The Cowboys didn’t have any return touchdowns, however, with the lone one being called back on a penalty. Someone in this mix of young receivers will need to at least match Harris’ 9.2 yard per punt and 24.7 yards per kickoff. Hidden yardage is a key ingredient for successful teams in the playoffs and Dallas will need this.
  • Tony Romo must play all 16 games. Last year, an injured Tony Romo led to four losses; the opening game against San Francisco, the Washington game where two transverse processes were broken, the following week against Arizona and the short-week Thanksgiving game to Philly where he couldn’t take his weekly pain injection. The Cowboys only lost four game during the regular season. Dallas’ scheduling will be daunting, despite how it measures up currently using last year’s records. The Cowboys will need a full complement of top notch quarterbacking to achieve greatness, which will be measured by a home playoff game in, at the least, the divisional round.
  • One of the Cowboys redshirt freshman defensive linemen needs to become a rotational player. Both Ben Gardner (Stanford) and Chris Whaley (Texas) have plus characteristics, but neither was able to play last season as injuries kept both on the shelf. While Dallas has remarkably improved their depth at DE, DT is still a bit of a question mark. Gardner getting in the rotation at DE gives coordinator Rod Marinelli the ultimate freedom to rotate Mincey and Hardy inside at his convenience. Whaley could compete with Nick Hayden and oft-injured Terrell McClain for snaps and give that rotation youth and depth.

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