Cowboys give us reason for fear (the lines) and hope (play-calling)

Posted Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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engel OXNARD, Calif. Blame the idyllic 70-degree weather, the walks on the beach or being stupid enough to swim in the frigid Pacific Ocean, but optimism is bountiful here. The Cowboys can finish 10-6, and make the playoffs.

It should be noted, however, I remain committed to a 10-6 record until it actually happens; law of averages.

Departing SoCal’s perfect temperatures for the pizza oven that is FW/d, I leave you with these keen observations that are a healthy combination of hope, respect, fear, disgust and loathing.

• Disgust: The offensive and defensive lines

The Cowboys did not draft a single defensive linemen to an area that desperately needs an upgrade.

“I like our numbers on the defensive line,” Jerry Jones said.

Yes — the defensive linemen all have jerseys with numbers.

DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer should be fine at ends, but the interior of this group needs major improvement. And that’s even if Jay Ratliff is healthy.

Meanwhile, the offensive line may only be marginally better over last season’s group that was, on its best day, erratic.

Tyron Smith better be making the big jump in his third year, and Travis Frederick has to be the starting center. On Doug Free’s best days, he is average. The guards are a guess.

Both lines should make you worried, and in football, shaky lines aren’t a great place to start.

• Hope: Play-calling

The delegation of this responsibility to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan may not result in more points, but it should lend itself to more balance between the run and the pass.

“We have to run it,” Jason Garrett said.

Balanced play-calling was not Garrett’s strength.

Even if the Cowboys can’t run the ball effectively, expect them to try more under Callahan. Running the ball will give them longer possessions, potentially shorten games and at least allow the defense to catch its breath.

You can’t keep hanging a defense out to dry with a three-and-out on nothing but passes.

In this NFL, you don’t have to have a dominant ground game to win, but you can’t not try.

• Fear: Injuries

Miles Austin, Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are vital to this team’s success, and to count on any of them to play a full 16 games seems downright stupid.

We forget in our love for Jason Witten and now Dez Bryant that there was a time when Austin was the best receiver on this team. He has battled leg injuries and, even though he is just 29 and had a solid statistical season in 2012, to bet that this man will ever play a full 16-game schedule again is too much.

I asked him if there was anything he could do to possibly prevent the types of injuries that have slowed him.

“Not play football,” he said. “I don’t know. Injuries happen, not only on our team but every team. Sometimes you get injured doing something and sometimes you don’t.”

Ratliff would not even be here had Josh Brent not had his accident. He was great in his prime, but injuries are winning. And he’s 32, which is never a good number in the NFL.

All of these guys can play, but they’re useless if they aren’t healthy.

• Faith: DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant

This team may have driven you to drink over the past few seasons, but it has never been because of a lack of effort or desire on the players’ part. They may play stupid, and commit some mind-numbing, self-inflicted errors, but they don’t quit. They won’t under Jason Garrett.

Romo may drive you to drink, but he never gives up on a play. The same should be said of Ware and Witten, each of whom could be Ring of Honor inductees down the road.

• Fact: Jason Garrett is coaching for his job

Even if his boss pledged that this is not an “Armageddon” type of year for his head coach, Coach Process’ job is at stake on the playoffs.

An 8-8 record and no playoffs are a good ticket to unemployment. An 8-8 and the playoffs will keep him around.

This is not a Super Bowl team, but the Cowboys should be “around it” regarding the playoffs, thus continuing their string of entertaining, providing hope and aggravation, for another year.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof

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