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July 17, 2015

10 reasons the Cowboys will be a dumpster fire this season

Eagles NFL
071615JerryJonesChrisChristie Brandon Wade/AP

At least the Cowboys' late season success last year led to Chris Christie dry-humping Jerry Jones, which is something everyone enjoyed.

This week we're taking a look at each of the Eagles' divisional enemies, in detail. Earlier in the week, we blasted the Redskins, and then busted on the Giants. Today's target will be the Dallas Cowboys. To note, we will not be talking about the positives of any of the Eagles' NFC East rivals, because, well, that's no fun. This will be 100 percent vitriolic. Also to note, this will be published in the Eagles Almanac, which you can pre-order here.

Disclaimer: OK, so the Cowboys aren't going to be a "dumpster fire" this season unless Tony Romo gets hurt, but they are far from the juggernaut many are making them out to be. Let's get to it...

1) The Cowboys' offensive line is massively overrated

Google "Cowboys offensive line." Here are some of the headlines you'll find:

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OMG BEST EVERRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!

The Cowboys certainly have an offensive line that can run block. You will not get an argument from me on that one. In 2014, as every Eagles fan knows, DeMarco Murray won the rushing title by a margin of almost 500 yards. You simply don't do that without a strong offensive line opening up some holes along the way.

However, the Cowboys' offensive line is far from a great pass blocking group. Including the playoffs last year, the Cowboys gave up 40 sacks. Here's a sampling of some egregious examples:















I figured 15 egregious examples were enough to make the point that maybe the Cowboys don't have the best OL in the history of the Universe. Apparently not. The reaction on Twitter was largely this:

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Except...

In 2014, the Cowboys gave up a sack on 7.07% of their pass plays. That was good for 21st in the NFL:

 RankTeam QB sacked percentage 
 1Broncos 2.83% 
 2Ravens 3.08% 
 3Colts 3.70% 
 4Patriots 4.01% 
 5Raiders 4.26% 
 6Saints 4.35% 
 7Bengals 4.60% 
 8Falcons 4.68% 
 9Giants 4.71% 
 10Eagles 4.89% 
 11Texans 5.09% 
 12Cardinals 5.10% 
 13Packers 5.17% 
 14Steelers 5.44% 
 15Browns 5.81% 
 16Chargers 6.06% 
 17Bears 6.31% 
 18Bills 6.31% 
 19Lions 6.92% 
 20Panthers 6.98% 
 21Cowboys 7.07% 
 22Dolphins 7.18% 
 23Rams 8.36% 
 24Jets 8.62% 
 25Seahawks 8.83% 
 26Titans 8.88% 
 27Buccaneers 8.92% 
 28Vikings 8.98% 
 29Chiefs 9.04% 
 30Redskins 9.59% 
 3149ers 9.65% 
 32Jaguars 11.31% 


And who knows how many other sacks Tony Romo saved the Cowboys OL with that little Houdini spin he does.

• Great run blocking offensive line? Yes.

• Young, with a boatload of potential? Sure.

• Complete, elite unit that does everything well? No freaking way.

Pass protection is kind of an important thing, and the Dallas offensive line is only average in that regard. Somewhere along the way, the Cowboys OL hype train became thought of unanimously as the best line in the NFL. I'd be a liar if I said I've studied every offensive line in the NFL in great detail, but this is most definitely not an elite unit. Not until they improve their pass protection, anyway.

2) The Cowboys are indeed going to miss DeMarco Murray

DeMarco Murray is blinder than a bat, or slow, or something. Or so I've been told by Cowboys fans ever since the Eagles signed him during free agency this past offseason. He doesn't see holes, he doesn't make the most the of his opportunities when he gets into the second level of the defense, he should have had 4000 yards instead of 1800+, blah blah blah.

That rhetoric was further emphasized by Murray's backup, Joseph Randle, who said during OTAs that Murray left "a lot of meat on the bone," which means he didn't gain as many yards as he should have.

Randle is so good that the Cowboys let him touch the football during the playoffs. Twice.

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Oh, and the Cowboys have Darren McFadden too, who has averaged 3.3, 3.3, and 3.4 yards per carry the last three years. So there's that.

3) The Cowboys haven't been able to get to the quarterback

The Cowboys sack totals and NFL rankings the last three seasons:

Year Sacks NFL Rank 
 201234 20 
 201334 25 
 201428 28 


The Cowboys made two key additions to bolster their pass rush this offseason. 

First they signed obsessive gun enthusiast and woman beater Greg Hardy.

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Hardy had 15 sacks in 2013, but he missed 15 games in 2014 for his off-the-field issues, and will miss the first four games of the 2015 season as well.

The Cowboys also drafted Nebraska edge rusher Randy Gregory in the second round of the 2015 draft. If Cowboys fans are expecting big production from Gregory, they should know that edge rushers rarely make an impact their rookie seasons. Below is a list of first round edge rushers selected in the last three drafts and the number of sacks they had their rookie seasons:

 PlayerTeam Drafted overall Sacks 
 Ezekiel AnsahLions 
 Bruce IrvinSeahawks 15 
 Chandler JonesPatriots 21 
 Whitney MercilusTexans 26 
 Barkevious MingoBrowns 
 Khalil MackRaiders 
 Anthony BarrVikings 
 Dont'a HightowerPatriots 25 
 Bjoern WernerColts 24 2.5 
 Shea McClellinBears 19 2.5 
 Dion JordanDolphins 
 Nick PerryPackers 28 
 Dee FordChiefs 23 1.5 
 Jarvis JonesSteelers 17 
 Melvin IngramChargers 18 
 Jadeveon ClowneyTexans 
 Marcus SmithEagles 26 


That would be 3.38 sacks per player. The Cowboys could get increased production from Tyrone Crawford and Demarcus Lawrence, but there isn't exactly a lot to be excited about on the Cowboys defensive line unless Hardy returns to the form he showed in 2013.

4) Sean Lee's soft tissue is made out of dandelions and papier-mâché

The Cowboys are getting Sean Lee back from injury this season, as they do every year. Lee's injury history going back to his time at Penn State:

• 2008 (Penn State) - Torn ACL.  Missed the entire season.

• 2009 (Penn State) - Sprained knee.  Missed 3 games.

• 2010 (Dallas) - Strained hamstring.  Missed 2 games.

• 2011 (Dallas) - Dislocated wrist.  Missed 1 game.

• 2012 (Dallas) - Toe. IR. Missed 10 games.

• 2013 (Dallas) - Hamstring. Missed 5 games, including Week 17 finale vs Eagles.

• 2014 (Dallas) - Torn ACL. Missed the entire season.

Lee doesn't just have to prove that he's healthy. He has to show that he's still good.

As long as we're talking about Cowboys linebackers, we should also note here that MLB Rolando McClain will miss the first four games of the season with a suspension. If Lee's ligaments are made of dandelions, McClain's brain is made of a different type of weed.

5) Tony Romo DID have a pair of back surgeries in 2013

Just a reminder.

6) The Cowboys don't have a competent backup quarterback

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Yes, that drawing is my official analysis of Brandon Weeden, for the record.

7) The Cowboys have to play the Seahawks and Packers, and the rest of the NFC East doesn't.

As the NFC East champs a year ago, the Cowboys have to face the NFC North and NFC West champs. Those two teams (the Seahawks and Packers, as noted above) are the two best teams in the NFC.

In 2014, the Cowboys beat the Seahawks, which #CowboysNation hailed as the greatest achievement of modern mankind. However, they lost to the Lions Packers in the playoffs:

8) Jason Witten is old

...and his numbers are in decline:

Year Rec Yards YPC TD 
 2012110 1039 9.4 
 201373 851 11.7 
 201464 703 11.0 


Witten turned 33 in May.

9) The Cowboys pay their corners a lot for very little

The Cowboys are on the hook for $27,856,663 against the cap for the corners in 2014, per overthecap.com. That's the second highest dollar figure in the NFL at CB. For that money, the Cowboys had the 26th ranked pass defense a year ago. The Cowboys don't exactly have awesome safeties either, although you can say that for 90% of the league.

10) The Cowboys' defense still isn't good.

In 2013, the Cowboys defense was historically bad. In 2014 it was just "regular bad."

 Stat2013 Cowboys 2014 Cowboys 
 Total yards415.3 (32) 355.1 (19) 
 Yards per play6.1 (30)  5.8 (26)
 First downs per game24.2 (32)  19.7 (17)
 3rd down %43.3 (28)  43.6 (29)
 Pass yards286.8 (30)  251.9 (26)
 Pass yards per play7.8 (27)  7.5 (21)
 Pass TDs allowed33 (T-30)  22 (T-6)
 Opp QB rating96.0 (26) 88.5 (13) 
 Sacks34 (25) 28 (28) 
 Rush yards128.5 (27)  103.1 (8)
 Rush yards per attempt4.7 (30)  4.2 (16)
 Rush TDs allowed17 (26)  18 (31)


Credit the Dallas coaching staff for recognizing what the Cowboys were a year ago. They knew they had to keep their garbage defense off the field, so they successfully pounded the run with DeMarco Murray, stayed on schedule, and the offense converted third down conversions at a very impressive rate (47%), which was second in the NFL. They were able to sustain long drives, convert those drives into points, and make life easier on the defense.

It seems simple, but it worked. But it all started with the run game.

However, if the run game falters without DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys could experience a domino effect.

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Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski