Playoffs Depend on the Offense

The Dallas Cowboys sit pirched, ready to surprise not only the NFC East, but the rest of the NFL in 2002. Could this team become the New England Patriots of this season? Has that much progress been made in just one offseason? Maybe, but only if the offense continues to improve.

Through the course of just one preseason game, it might be safe to go ahead and make several assumptions in regards to this year's version of the Dallas Cowboys. One, the defense still needs time to gel with the addition of so many new personalities. Two, the offense, under the direction of new offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet, appears to be poised to turn some heads this year.

That being said, where does that leave the playoff hopes of the Dallas Cowboys in 2002? Good question, and here is an early look at some of the possible answers.

If you examine the last two seasons for the Cowboys, all you can really come away with is a sputtering offense and a defense good enough to keep you in the game. A combined 10-22 record has left many fans scratching their heads wondering if a return to the playoffs is even remotely possible. The offense lacked any continuity and rhythm, while the defense generally performed well enough to keep the game respectable for 3 quarters.

This season, Bruce Coslet has been added to the equation, and it goes without saying that his arrival at Valley Ranch might prove to be more beneficial to the team than any other offseason acquisition. Coslet has brought in an offense composed of a strong running game and a vertical passing attack set to take advantage of the Cowboys excellent team speed.

All he has done is take a simplified version of his west coast playbook and introduce it in a way that makes sense to everyone. "I don't believe in teaching quarterbacks to read coverages," Coslet said in an interview earlier in training camp.

"In this offense, they have to recognize certain looks, not read specific coverages, because modern defenses have far too many different looks that they disguise so well. If you start guessing with the defensive coordinator as a quarterback, you are going to get in trouble."

The results for a quarterback like Quincy Carter have been through the roof. Carter finished his first preseason game 10-of-13 passing for almost 100 yards and a touchdown. A far cry from what we saw just one year ago.

"We have a progression passing game — first receiver, second receiver, third receiver, one, two three. And basically you hit the first guy that is open out of those three," said Coslet. The Cowboys went on to win their first exhibition game by a score of 20-6. More importantly, the team moved up the ball up and down the field with regularity, exploiting the Raiders' defense in a variety of ways.

"I'm not taking too much credit. I didn't make a single yard. I didn't catch a pass," Coslet said afterwards. "The guys executed. Your offense is always more exciting when guys execute. When you are running for your life and the run game is not working, it all falls apart and I'm sure we'll have our times when that happens, but Friday we executed fairly well."

The ability for the offense to sustain long drives and put points on the board this season might be the most important factor for the Cowboys in terms of wins and losses. Unlike a lot of teams in the National Football League, Dallas actually has a playoff caliber defense, it's the offense that needs to rise to the occasion.

"There's no question, we would like for our offense to start to feel good about itself," coach Dave Campo said. "That's why it will be important for us to try to win these preseason games."

Campo is right; it will be extremely important for the Cowboys' offense to continue to establish an identity this preseason. Certainly, a two-touchdown win over a veteran team like the Oakland Raiders is a good start, but it will be even more imperative to show improvement when the team begins to focus on the regular season in the upcoming weeks.

Make no mistake about it, the ability to put 24-28 points on the board this year will do wonders for this team in terms of wins and losses. "We need more production downfield," Campo said. "We need more big plays. You win with big plays in the passing game. If you're not making plays down the field you're not scoring points."

With the addition of all the playmakers on defense, there should be an ample number of opportunities for the offense to march less than 50-yards to the end zone. The end result of those short-field possessions may very well determine whether or not this team makes a playoff run in 2002.

With only one preseason game in books, the jury is still out, but the results look promising. The addition of rookie Antonio Bryant and the emergance of Reggie Swinton and Ken-Yon Rambo give the Cowboys a different look at wide receiver. A nice compliment of size and speed should only present more problems to the opposing defenses this season.

With Emmitt Smith poised to make NFL history, and a strong armed, mobile quarterback calling the shots, the offense has the tools, and the coordinator to do some positive things in 2002. How positive will ultimately deterimine the fate of this team in terms of wins and losses.

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