Wednesday, July 3, 2013

2013 NFL Preview: Dallas Cowboys

As we enter the dog days of summer, there isn't too much to get excited about in the sports world. Wimbledon is winding down and the British Open will tee off in a couple weeks, but aside from that we are basically left with baseball and Canadian football. I tried my best to get into the CFL but I just haven't been able to fully embrace the sport.

With that said, it's time for me to focus on the upcoming 2013 NFL season. I plan on constructing a preview for each team leading up to training camp, starting with the NFC East squads.

The Cowboys had a rather mediocre 2012 campaign. Dallas finished with an 8-8 mark (those eight wins came against opponents with a combined 50-62 record) but were surprisingly just one scoring drive away from potentially stealing the division title away from the Redskins.

It appears Dallas will return the majority of their starters from last year's squad with the exception of a few but they have a new face on the sidelines running the defense in Monte Kiffin. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was relieved of his duties after an unsuccessful two-year stint in Big D. Under Ryan's guidance, the Cowboys allowed 5.6 yards per play (23rd in NFL) in 2011 and 5.8 yards per play (25th in NFL) in 2012, both which were below the league average in each respective season.

Below is a chart illustrating the Cowboys' defensive woes since Ryan took over prior to the 2011 season.

The Cowboys' defense was average or below average in almost every important defensive category during Ryan's two years as defensive coordinator. Ryan's 3-4 defense is a fairly complex scheme with tons of nomenclature and the fact that the defense actually regressed in their second season under Ryan may very well be the reason he was let go. On the other hand, Monte Kiffin's base 4-3 scheme is easier to comprehend and allows the players much more freedom on defense.

Here's an Anthony Spencer quote from OTA's (via John Machota):
I think Rob had a lot more schemes for doing things...We’re going to beat them by doing the small things better than they do the small things. We’re really not going to try to scheme too much, we’re going to do the little things and try to beat them that way.
It seems like Dallas' defensive unit, particularly the linebackers, will have less to worry about in terms of intricate coverages and will be able to focus on rushing the quarterback or stuffing the run.

Jay Kornegay and his staff at the LVH have Dallas pegged for 8.5 wins shaded towards the 'under' ( -140) at the moment. However, when the win totals were initially released on May 19, Dallas  'under 8.5 wins' was listed at -155, so it appears the Las Vegas Hotel has taken some action on the 'over.'

Aside from getting the Raiders at home, Dallas doesn't have any particularly "easy" games. According to Cantor Gaming's 2013 NFL "look-ahead" lines, Dallas is laying seven at home versus Oakland which is the largest favorite they will be all season. On the flip side, Dallas is getting no more than four points in any game on the schedule (+4 at New Orleans), so they are definitely capable of stringing together a winning season. Fortunately for Dallas they get to play their two toughest opponents, Denver and Green Bay, at home in Arlington.

I'm pretty bullish on the Cowboys and would only look to take them at plus money to win nine games. They simply have too much talent on that roster not to succeed and Kiffin will get more out of this unit than Rob Ryan did. Dallas has excellent cornerbacks and that is crucial in the pass-happy league that the NFL has become. Also the NFC East is wide open this year without any true juggernauts and nine wins may be enough to win the division. With that said, I'm not a Jason Garrett fan and the fact that Bill Callahan will be calling the offensive plays has got to have Nebraska fans laughing their asses off.

Check back in a few days for my breakdown of the New York Giants.

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