Fresh Air in Dallas

Upon hiring Wade Phillips as the seventh coach in Cowboys history, owner Jerry Jones declared "we got it right."

Phillips was seemingly a breath of fresh air for the Cowboys franchise following the last four years under legendary coach Bill Parcells.

Certainly Parcells had an impact in Dallas. He made the Cowboys relevant again after three consecutive 5-11 seasons under Dave Campo.

But ultimately Parcells was a failure in Dallas. He made the playoffs just twice in his four years and the team still has not won a playoff game since 1996.

It's one thing to put up with Parcells' gruff and demanding ways when he is winning. It is worth it. But with him failing, his attitude sucked the life out of the organization.

No one enjoyed going to work -- not the players, the coaches or the members of the front office.

Jones felt Phillips' laid back attitude was the perfect option following Parcells.

The talent was in place to make a run. And with Phillips allowing the players to breathe again, the Cowboys could take the next step and become a Super Bowl contender.

Jones went about his work in the offseason with the intention of the Cowboys making a long run into the playoffs.

The keys were improving the offensive line, continuing the maturation of quarterback Tony Romo and improving a defense with Phillips' attacking 3-4 philosophy.

They added free agent guard Leonard Davis and re-signed center Andre Gurode and tackle Marc Colombo.

Romo has been great in training camp and the preseason.

But the defense looks shaky heading into the Sept. 9 season opener against the Giants because of injuries to linebacker Greg Ellis (Achilles) and cornerback Terence Newman (plantar fascia).

Because Newman and Ellis are questionable for the season opener and could likely be hobbled all season, it's a situation that will severely impact the Cowboys' ability to have a successful season.

Newman has an acute tear in the plantar fascia near his right heel. Currently, he can't plant on the foot, a skill that is very important to a cornerback. His presence and ability to play at a high level is important to the Cowboys' defense. Newman's man-to-man coverage skills are key to a blitz-happy defensive scheme. On top of that, the Cowboys have no capable replacements on the roster.

Ellis' potential absence affects the team's ability to rush the passer and since he was being counted on by Phillips to help his blitz happy scheme go, this could be a severe setback because rookie Anthony Spencer remains a work in progress.

The Cowboys are hopeful that Ellis will be ready for the season opener. But he hasn't practiced since suffering a rehab setback July 25. And the bottom line is they don't know when he will return.

The Cowboys have as good a chance as any in the NFC to make a Super Bowl run, but these injury concerns have clouded their optimism.

The Cowboys could easily finish 8-8 or 9-7. They better hope it's good enough to make the playoffs.

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