With training camp getting ready to start in just over a week I find myself filled with optomism for the upcoming season. Now admittedly, I usually find a silver lining in just about anything I can related to the Cowboys. But this year I'm not forced to come up with forced justification and statements that start with "if" too many times to convince myself that the Cowboys could win the Super Bowl this year.
Here are the top five reasons I believe the Cowboys are poised for a Super Bowl run this season.
1. The core of the team has reached its prime. This will be season #6 for Demarcus Ware. This will be Tony Romo's 4th season as the full time starter and you could count 2006 if you want and say this will be his 5th season as the starter. Jay Ratliff is entering season #6. Miles Austin is playing season #5 even if this will only be his 2nd as a starter. The offensive line is experienced across the board even if you count Doug Free since he got on the field so much last year. And Doug Free is playing his 4th season this year so it isn't like he is a wide-eyed rookie manning the left tackle spot. All of the running backs are at least in their 3rd season. Ditto for the top 3 cornerbacks and both safeties. So we aren't talking about a team who will be in over its head like it was in 2008. There is experience across the board on the roster.
2. Tony Romo has figured out how to make big plays while limiting turnovers. Last season was a huge step forward for Tony. He entered the season with a lot of question marks about whether he could ever learn to control his bad impulsive plays. Just 13 turnovers in 16 games showed he has become much better at protecting the ball. At age 30 he is in the middle of what are considered the prime years for a quarterback.
3. Wide receiver depth is no longer a question mark. In fact, the Cowboys seem to be loaded at wide receiver. How can the defense double Jason Witten and Miles Austin every play if Dez Bryant and Roy Williams are there to make them pay? Even if you don't believe in Roy Williams like I do, what about Patrick Crayton and Kevin Ogletree? The Cowboys could sustain an injury or two at wideout and still have a very potent passing game.
4. There is depth on the defense this season. Last year the Cowboys were extremely thin at outside and inside linebacker as well as defensive tackle. That should be different this season barring any major training camp injuries. The #4 cornerback position is a big question mark but the Cowboys have three starting caliber corners manning the top 3 positions on the depth chart. With Mike Hamlin, Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball, and Patrick Watkins the Cowboys have a lot of depth at safety. And I didn't even throw in Akwasi Owusu-Ansah or Jamar Wall into the mix at safety yet because they have to show something at training camp first. Both of those rookies look to be following in Alan Ball's footsteps by providing depth at safety and cornerback.
5. The players finally learned how to win big games at the end of the season. Sure, some will point to the Minnesota playoff game and say I'm crazy. But I remember a team on the brink that won 4 big games in a row in December and January against the Saints, Redskins, Eagles, and then the Eagles again last season. The Cowboys may have been destroyed in Minnesota but it was a valuable learning experience. One of the lessons learned involves the importance of home field advantage in the playoffs. The offensive line was horrible against the Vikings primarily due to the fact that the defensive line was off the ball faster than the offensive linemen due to the crowd noise.
The bottom line is that the Cowboys have reached the prime years for the roster as it is currently constructed. The players have battled through adversity and learned how hard it is to win big games. They've finally taken the step of winning a playoff game and now it is time for the team to set its sights on the ultimate prize. Do I think the Cowboys are a shoe-in for the Super Bowl? No, but I believe they have as good a shot as anyone else in the NFC.