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2007 Season Previews
Dallas Cowboys (Last Year: 9-7)
Veteran Additions:
QB Brad Johnson, OT Leonard Davis, S Ken Hamlin.
Draft Picks:
QB Isaiah Stanback, FB Deon Anderson, OT James Marten, OT Doug Free, DE/OLB Anthony Spencer, CB Courtney Brown, CB Alan Ball, K Nick Folk.
Major Subtractions:
QB Drew Bledsoe, OT Jason Fabini (WAS), OT Ross Tucker (WAS), G Marco Rivera, C Al Johnson (ARZ), DE Kenyon Coleman (NYJ), OLB Al Singleton, ILB Ryan Fowler (TEN), S Tony Parrish.

Offense This Year: I've never seen average football fans become so bipolar about a single player before. I'm talking about Tony Romo, of course. Romo busted onto the scene and won five of his first six starts, compiling 10 touchdowns to just four interceptions, and averaging 275 yards in those contests. Everyone went gaga over him - the public voted him into the Pro Bowl, Cowboys fans attempted to enshrine him in the Ring of Honor, and even Michael Irvin went as far to incoherently suggest that one of Romo's ancestors mated with someone of African American descent.

Following a 23-20 victory over the Giants, Romo finished the 2006 campaign with a 1-4 record, tossing as many picks (6) as touchdowns, completing less than 50 percent of his passes twice, taking more sacks than ever before, and of course botching a game-tying extra point in the playoffs against Seattle. The same people who went nuts over Romo were calling him a bust, and even predicted that Jerry Jones was going to draft Brady Quinn with his first-round pick.

Newsflash: Romo was essentially a rookie. Like most first-year quarterbacks, he went through a slump. He still completed 65 percent of his passes, registered more than 2,900 yards despite only playing 11 games, and became a leader in Dallas' locker room, calming the nerves of Terrell Owens in the process. I expect Romo to continue making strides in 2007.

With Bill Parcells gone, I think the majority of the public believes Owens will present a problem like he did with the Eagles in 2005. I disagree with that mindset; Romo makes it a point to feed Owens the ball as often as possible. If T.O. receives a fair amount of attention on offense, and the Cowboys keep winning, he won't be a distraction. Along with Owens, Terry Glenn and Jason Witten comprise one of the top three-headed receiving options in the NFC. Glenn caught 70 passes for 1,047 yards and six touchdowns last year, while Witten had 64 receptions and 754 yards - impressive numbers for almost any tight end.

As for the running game, it appears as though Marion Barber will be featured more in Dallas' offense. Barber had a higher yards-per-carry average (4.8) than Julius Jones (4.1) and way more touchdowns (14) than his counterpart (4). Plus, there were rumors that the Cowboys attempted to deal Jones prior to the 2007 NFL Draft. If that's true, they clearly believe that Barber can be their feature back.

Barber should be able to maintain his 4.8 clip; the offensive line was improved this offseason. Dallas signed Leonard Davis, a 365-pound former tackle who will take Marco Rivera's place at right guard. The team also drafted two highly regarded tackles for depth (James Marten and Doug Free). The left side of the line has remained intact; Flozell Adams, Kyle Kosier and Andre Gurode are a huge reason why Barber nearly gained five yards per rush. As for pass protection, if you look at the stats, it'll say that the Cowboys yielded 37 sacks in 2006. However, that statistic is flawed because Bledsoe took too many unnecessary sacks when he was under center. Once Romo stepped in, that total decreased significantly.

Defense This Year: The Cowboys' defense has the potential to be downright scary in 2007. What everyone remembers is Sean Payton and the Saints drilling them for 42 points, providing a blueprint for the rest of the league's offensive coordinators. Dallas surrendered 33 points per game the final four weeks of the season. Pretty pathetic, right? More like unfortunate - the Cowboys' defensive downfall coincided with the injury to outside linebacker Greg Ellis.

With Ellis in the lineup, Dallas yielded just 19.3 points per contest. That's not a surprise, as Ellis and second-year linebacker DeMarcus Ware (11.5 sacks) provided relentless pressure on opposing signal callers. When Ellis went down, the Cowboys' pass rush was shot, which placed much more stress on an aging secondary. To ensure that wouldn't happen again, Jerry Jones utilized his first-round selection on linebacker Anthony Spencer, who will join Ware and a healthy Ellis in an extremely potent pass-rushing rotation.

Another solid move Jones made this offseason was signing free safety Ken Hamlin to fill a huge void in the secondary. Hamlin, along with strong safety Roy Williams, and cornerbacks Terence Newman and Anthony Henry will form one of the top starting secondaries in the conference. I'm concerned with Dallas' depth at corner, as all they have is Jacques Reeves, a fossilized Aaron Glenn and a couple of seventh-round rookies.

The rest of the defense is solid. The Cowboys possess an excellent three-man line in Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and Jason Ferguson, though the latter turns 33 in November. They're a huge reason why Dallas was ranked sixth against the run in 2006, as was inside linebacker Bradie James, who led the team in tackles. I'm not a fan of Akin Ayodele, who plays right next to James. Apparently the Cowboys aren't either because they drafted Bobby Carpenter with their No. 1 pick a year ago. Unfortunately, Carpenter has yet to crack the starting lineup.

Schedule and Intangibles: Parcells is gone, so the Cowboys won't be cutting kickers every week. Instead, they'll have an interesting competition in training camp. Martin Gramatica (7-of-9; 3-of-5 from 40-plus) will be kicking against sixth-round rookie Nick Folk. I expect Folk to win the job. ... Dallas had a special-teams touchdown for the first time in three years, as Newman took a punt back 56 yards for a score. Unfortunately, the Cowboys surrendered a kickoff touchdown. ... Dallas seems to have a balanced schedule on its hands. The team will undoubtedly squash Miami, Minnesota, Detroit, and perhaps Green Bay and St. Louis. The Cowboys will also have the unfortunate task of battling New England, Carolina and the Jets.

Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.

Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


Divisional Rival History:
New York Giants: The two teams have split the past couple of years, although that may change now that Tiki Barber has retired.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles usually dominate their divisional opponents. They've won 11 of the past 14 matchups against the Cowboys, including a sweep in 2006.
Washington Redskins: Remember when the Redskins could never beat the Cowboys? Well, they've somehow won three of the past four battles. Go figure.

Fantasy Football:
Tony Romo: Tony Romo threw for 2,900 yards and 19 touchdowns in just 11 full games of action. Even when he was "struggling," he compiled 249 yards versus New Orleans, 278 at Atlanta and 321 against Detroit.
Projected Stats: 4,150 passing yards. 25 passing TDs. 130 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 377.

Marion Barber: As I mentioned in the offensive portion of my season preview, I believe Marion Barber will be featured more in Dallas' offense. I don't know if he'll get most of the carries, but he should receive at least half.
Projected Stats: 940 rushing yards. 225 receiving yards. 13 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 194.

Julius Jones: If the rumors about the Cowboys attempting to trade Julius Jones this offseason are true, Jones will be featured less in Dallas' offense.
Projected Stats: 800 rushing yards. 100 receiving yards. 6 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 126.

Jason Witten: Jason Witten had 754 yards but only one touchdown. He should be able to bounce back in 2007.
Projected Stats: 800 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 110.

Terrell Owens: Terrell Owens' numbers peaked with Tony Romo at quarterback; he averaged 73 receiving yards per contest with Romo, as opposed to 55.4 with Drew Bledsoe. Keep in mind that Owens was nursing an injury the entire 2006 season.
Projected Stats: 1,200 receiving yards. 15 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 210.

Terry Glenn: With Tony Romo busy making Terrell Owens happy, Terry Glenn's touchdown ratio dipped the latter stages of the 2006 season. Still a decent fantasy receiver, however.
Projected Stats: 1,100 receiving yards. 4 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 134.

Patrick Crayton: Nothing to get excited about in terms of fantasy football.
Projected Stats: 600 receiving yards. 2 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 72.

Nick Folk: Likely to beat out Martin Gramatica as Dallas' starting kicker. Not really sure what to expect.
Projected Stats: 18-25 FG (1-2 50+). 44 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 105.

Dallas Defense: With Greg Ellis healthy and Anthony Spencer joining the linebacking corps, expect many more sacks and turnovers from Dallas' defense.
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Top 10 Defense.

Analysis: Like Philadelphia, the Cowboys have a great shot at reaching the Super Bowl. How far they really go will depend on how much Tony Romo matures as a quarterback.

Projection: 10-6 (2nd in the NFC East)


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