If you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan, all you really want is a Super Bowl. The past few years that’s seemed far-fetched. The team hasn’t made the playoffs since Barack Obama’s first administration. And to get to the Super Bowl you do have to make the playoffs first.
The Cowboys have been a big ol’ tease the last two years. Going 8-8, having a shot to win the division in Week 17 only to have that guy who passes the football turn it over. Okay, it’s not all him. But it’s a good place to start.
If you have visions of the Cowboys winning the NFC East, or at the last, reaching the playoffs as a Wild Card team, then these are five absolute keys in 2013.
1. Limit Tony Romo's mistakes. We’re not just talking about interceptions, although, he threw 19 of them last year. It’s also about completing more passes, being more efficient on third down and avoiding the soul-crushing mistakes that ballgames seem to turn on.
Romo's lack of elite status isn't because he can’t play. Romo isn’t elite because he doesn’t make the right decisions often enough. He starts making better decisions in the clutch and the offense’s margin for error gets better.
2. Run the ball, boys. The Cowboys were the second-worst rushing offense in the NFL last year and had the worst rushing season in team history. This from a head coach that preaches balance? This is the sole reason Bill Callahan is now calling plays. He has a history of balance as a coordinator and, as an offensive line coach by trade, he has a healthy appreciation for the running game.
It’s not just on him, though. The offensive line has to be healthy, play better and DeMarco Murray must be on the field for 16 games. The early returns are promising.
3. Force turnovers. The Cowboys forced 16 turnovers last year. In NFL terms, that’s pathetic. It’s surprising they won eight games given that number. Enter Tampa 2 guru Monte Kiffin. The Tampa 2 sounds like a zone on paper, but not the way Kiffin coaches it. The defense is aggressive and built to create mistakes.
Look at those Buccaneers defenses he coordinated under Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden and you get the idea. If the Cowboys can emulate two-thirds of what Kiffin wants, turnovers — and wins — go up in a hurry. By the way, the Cowboys have forced four turnovers in two preseason games.
4. Let the youth movement take hold. The three drafts immediately after the departure of Bill Parcells (2007-09) yielded nothing. None of those players are still with the team. This next batch looks a little more promising. Players drafted or signed out of college the past three years are starting to look like comers. Guys like guard Ron Leary, guard David Arkin, running back Lance Dunbar, wide receiver Cole Beasley, tight end James Hanna and defensive tackle Sean Lissemore are all starting to challenge established veterans for playing time.
All seven members of this draft class are on target to make the 53-man roster. If these players continue their ascension, the depth issues of last year will dissipate.
5. Start strong. Not just to the season, but to games, too. The Cowboys were 3-5 at the midpoint last year and easily could have been 5-3. They were constantly behind at halftime and didn’t seem to get moving, especially on offense, until the fourth quarter. It’s time to ditch the furious comebacks and play with a lead more often.
If those five things come to pass, the Cowboys may have something in 2013.