After dropping their opening game, the Cowboys reeled off 5 straight wins, finishing 10-6 and in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Parcells is a no-nonsense coach and over the offseason rid himself of players who did not fit into his system.
Gone are WR Joey Galloway, RB Troy Hambrick, DE Ebenezer Ekuban, and CB Mario Edwards. In are QB Vinny Testaverde, WR’s Keyshawn Johnson and Dedric Ward, and DE Marcellus Wiley.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer finally made the “D” in Dallas stand for defense again, by taking virtually the same unit that ranked 18th in the NFL in 2002, throwing in a couple rookies and free agents, and ranking number one in overall defense in 2003.
Offensively the Cowboys still are working to find their way, but with some solid veteran leadership and a good draft, that saw the team bring RB Julius Jones into the fold, Parcells has the offense on the right track as well.
Offense: If this unit could produce 20 points per game, they would be virtually unbeatable. As it was, 2003 saw the Cowboys rank 21st in the league at 18.1 points per game.
At QB will likely be three-year veteran Quincy Carter. Carter is a great athlete who has a strong arm and good feet in the pocket. Carter struggled some during the season with his accuracy, but still finished completing 57.8% of his passes for 3302 yards and 17 TD’s. The Cowboys could live with his lack of production, but not with his mistakes. 21 INT’s are evidence that his decision-making still has a ways to go and the fact that someone with his mobility got sacked 32 times are evidence that he still is struggling to grasp the position totally.
Backing up Carter will be grey-beard Vinny Testaverde, who at the age of 40 can still lead a team when called upon. Another player in the mix will be QB Drew Henson, whom the Cowboys acquired from the Houston Texans for a 2005 3rd round draft choice. Henson will spend a year holding the clipboard (he hasn’t played football since the Rose Bowl in 2001) and prepare to challenge Carter for the starting spot in 2005.
At RB, the Cowboys think they have solved their running woes by drafting Jones early in the second round. Jones is explosive and runs with good leverage. He struggled some with off-the-field issues at Notre Dame, but by all accounts, he has straightened up his act and is ready to produce.
The top returning runner for Dallas is Richie Anderson. Anderson is at his best seeing limited carries and catching the ball out of the backfield. In 2003, Anderson rushed for 306 yards and 1 TD, while catching 69 passes for 493 yards and 4 TD’s.
The WR corps got a boost when they traded away oft-injured and underachieving wideout Joey Galloway to the Tampa Buccaneers in exchange for WR Keyshawn Johnson. Johnson seems happy to be back with Parcells, and offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon is glad to have a big strong receiver who can go across the middle and who blocks well downfield. In 2003, Johnson was suspended with 5 games left but still caught 45 passes for 600 yards and 3 TDs.
Opposite Johnson will be WR Terry Glenn, another Parcells player, who accounted for 52 catches 754 yards and 5 TDs. Glenn’s number should climb with a threat like Johnson on the other side. At the 3rd WR spot, moody Antonio Bryant is the likely player. Bryant caught 39 passes for 550 yards and 2 TDs. As of this writing, his status is still up in the air after an altercation with Parcells and Johnson during a mini-camp practice.
The TE for the Cowboys used to be synonymous with clutch catches and touchdowns, but the new Dallas offense does not use the TE in the same way. Jason Whitten is a solid player who can catch and block well. Last season he caught 35 passes for 347 yards and 1 TD. Dan Campbell is a better blocker than receiver and he sees lots of time in the two TE sets.
The Cowboy offensive line is currently a work in progress. At one point, LG Larry Allen was a fixture in Hawaii, but due to injuries and age, he is not the same player he once was. However, Allen isn’t their biggest worry. LT Flozell Adams is huge, but may be a better RT since he lacks the footwork to keep up with quicker edge-rushers. At RT will likely be rookie Jacob Rogers from USC. Rogers has quick feet and is good in pass-protection, but he needs to work on his run-blocking. The other two spots are manned by Matt Lehr at RG and Gennaro DiNapoli at C.
Defense: As stated above, the Cowboy defense was the best in the league in 2003. However, the Cowboys think they can get even better this season. With a young defensive backfield, Parcells thought the 2003 defense gave up too many big plays. The coaching staff is hoping an improved pass rush, along with the experience gained by the young DB’s will be an equation for success.
Heading up the deep-patrol are two future All Pros in S Roy Williams and CB Terence Newman. Williams is an intimidator who plays with abandon and supports the run like a linebacker. While he is solid in coverage, as he continues to mature, he will be even better. Newman started every game of his rookie season and expectations are for him to be a great one. In addition to being a standout cover-guy he comes up and plays the run just as well. Newman finished fourth on the team in tackles with 76 and led the team in passes defensed with 20 and interceptions with four.
The old man in the secondary is 12-year veteran Darren Woodson, and his leadership is crucial. He makes sure that the players are lined up right and he makes the calls for the secondary. He also still has some gas left in the tank, finishing third on the team with 79 tackles, one sack, one INT and 16 passes defensed. The other corner spot is expected to be manned by Pete Hunter who is big (6’2”, 212 lbs) and can ably match up against the bigger receivers in the league. He was injured for part of the season but came on late in the year to boost expectations for 2004.
At linebacker the Cowboys use smaller players who are able to out-quick their opponents and pursue plays from the backside. MLB Dat Nguyen is quick and plays the run very well. He led the team in tackles with 121, had two sacks, 12 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and 11 passes defensed. He was all over the place and he is a leader on and off the field.
WLB Dexter Coakley is a flat-out playmaker. He is always around the ball and makes plays against the run and in coverage. Coakley finished with 96 tackles, one INT, and 4 passes defensed. Al Singleton was signed away from the Buccaneers in 2003 and played well, but the Cowboys are hoping to get more production out of their strong-side linebacker spot this season.
The defensive line play in 2003 was not up to par and the Cowboys expect better results in 2004. Greg Ellis had one of his best seasons, recording eight sacks (a career high), four forced fumbles, and batted down eight passes with his long arms. He is good at the point of attack and plays tough against the run as well.
The acquisition of Marcellus Wiley in free agency from San Diego isn’t as risky as some might think. Wiley is still very good at rushing the passer. He struggled because the Charger defense was horrible in 2003 and teams focused on containing Wiley. Look for him to return to his sack-happy ways, when he consistently recorded 12 sacks, with this defense.
La’Roi Glover and Willie Blade are the starters at the DT spots and while each gets good penetration when the QB goes back to pass, their main job is to keep blockers busy so that the linebackers can make plays.
The Cowboys have a very good mix of youth and veteran leadership on the defensive unit and they have good fundamentals while still flying to the ball. They finished 14th in takeaways, with 29, but look for that stat to improve in 2004.
Special Teams: K Billy Cundiff had a solid season in 2003. He recorded 99 points, while hitting 23 of 29 kicks and 30/31 extra points. He has a strong leg, hitting 3 of 5 from 50 plus yards, with a long of 52. P Toby Gowin was allowed to leave in free agency, and the job is going to be an open competition between youngsters Mat McBriar and Ryan Flinn. Look for the Cowboys to sign a veteran punter before the start of the regular season.
The last time the Seahawks and Cowboys met: It was a late October afternoon in 2002 and Emitt Smith was approaching history. The Seahawks were 1-5 and on the brink of a total collapse.
In 2002, the common theme of the Hawks’ defense was that they could not stop the run. They would end up the worst in the NFL that season, but this game proved to be a turning point for the franchise.
QB Trent Dilfer went down with a torn Achilles tendon and fourth-year QB Matt Hasselbeck came off the bench to lead the Hawks to a thrilling victory.
Smith got his carries and the career rushing record on that day, running for 109 on 24 carries, but it was Hasselbeck who stole the show.
He completed 12 of 19 passes for 131 yards but it was his final drive that saved the day for the Seahawks. After WR Darrell Jackson was knocked unconscious on a brutal hit by S Darren Woodson, Hasselbeck drove the team down to the Cowboy 13-yard line and kicker Rian Lindell hit a 20-yarder that put the Seahawks up 17-14 with :25 seconds left.
On the day WR Bobby Engram caught 6 passes for 69 yards and RB Shaun Alexander, while being stuffed for only 58 yards on 23 carries, scored both Seahawk TD’s.
Former Seahawk WR Joey Galloway made an appearance, burning CB Shawn Springs on a 39 yard TD reception from Hutchinson in the third quarter.
Drama ensued in the Seahawks’ locker room when Jackson, who was diagnosed with a concussion following Woodson’s hit, collapsed and went into convulsions shortly after the game. He was taken to a local hospital, but eventually recovered enough to finish out the season, playing in the final six games.
2004 Projection: Parcells is a winner and proved it by taking an underachieving team and motivating them into winners. The Cowboys surprised everyone by finishing 10-6 before losing to Carolina in the wildcard playoff game.
While the Cowboys road schedule is tough (Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Seattle) their home schedule is light (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans).
They must get better play from their defensive line so their young secondary doesn’t have to cover all day, and their offense must be more productive. Scoring more isn’t as important as time of possession, something the team hopes they have solved with the addition of Jones.
Parcells is tough, but seems to get the best out of his players. Players love to play for him and he is a master at motivating his team.
This team might be better than they were in 2003, but their record may not show it. A 10-6 record is not out of the question if Carter continues to develop, if Jones plays up to expectations, and if Wiley can provide additional pressure on the QB. Their defense is stacked and their offense has added some key elements.
The question will be how the offensive line holds up. If they hold up, 12-4 is a real possibility, if they don’t then 9-7 may be the best the ‘Boys can hope for. I see the Cowboys with a very good shot at winning the NFC East or a playoff contender at the very least. They aren’t ready for the Super Bowl yet, but just give Parcells one more year…and they will be among the league’s elite.
.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.