For a period of time, the Dallas Cowboys couldn't seem to get away from the 8-8 record, until finally in 2014 they finished with a 12-4 winning season. Unfortunately, the numbers 12 and 4 would pop up again in 2015, but this time the numbers flip-flopped which resulted in the Cowboys finishing with a 4-12 record and having one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
The 2014 blueprint that the Cowboys used should once again work for the organization in 2016. There are number reasons why you can take comfort in the fact that this is the direction that head coach Jason Garrett and the rest of the coaching staff believe that this is the best course of action to take.
The Cowboys offense carried the entire team in 2014 and helped them go undefeated on the road (8-0). Running back DeMarco Murray, quarterback Tony Romo, and wide receiver Dez Bryant all had career years and it's not so far-fetched that they should be able to use that blueprint in 2016 and have the same type of success.
The blueprint that was used a few seasons ago started and ended with the success of the running game. DeMarco Murray was used heavily and had 392 rushing attempts for 1845 rushing yards and scored 13 rushing touchdowns. Murray also had 57 receptions for 416 receiving yards.
Tony Romo also enjoyed one of the best years of his career because of the 2014 blueprint. He had the best completion percentage of his career (69.9) and passer rating (113.2). Romo also threw for 3705 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, and just nine interceptions. He might have benefited from a strong rushing attack more than anybody, but you could make an argument that Dez Bryant benefited just as much.
16 touchdowns!? Are you kidding? That is an incredible number for any receiver and I think it can all be attributed to the blueprint I keep mentioning.
A strong running game is the key ingredient for this blueprint to work and probably the main reason why the Cowboys decided to draft Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Elliott is heavily utilized in his rookie season, with the hope of re-creating the blueprint that worked so well in 2014.
In fact, I personally think that 1400 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns from Elliott wouldn't be an unreasonable task for him to complete in his rookie season. I mean, Darren McFadden rushed for over 1000 yards despite not being the starter until later in the season and Elliott is a much better fit for the zone blocking scheme than McFadden could ever dream of being.
The blueprint used in 2014 is really similar to what the Dallas Cowboys used back in the early 90s when they last hoisted the Lombardi trophy. It actually makes a lot of sense that this is the way head coach Jason Garrett wants his team to emulate that early 1990s Cowboys team, especially considering Garrett was front row and center during that time as Troy Aikman's backup QB.
The offense is going to commit to the running game and use play action to improve the passing game. It really puts opposing defenses in a bind because they have to make sure they are covering the entire field and not committing an extra defender in the box to stop the running game.
This blueprint also helps out the Cowboys defense because the offense will be able to control the clock, which in turn should help the defense by allowing them more rest in between defensive series. The fact that the 2015 defense performed admirably despite very little help from the offense, should give fans hope that they can do just as well in 2016.
Of course, all of this really depends on whether or not Ezekiel Elliott is the type of running back that we all believe he is and whether or not Tony Romo and Dez Bryant can return 100% healthy and stay that way throughout the 2016 season.
So, do you think the Cowboys will be closer to 12-4 if they return to the 2014 blueprint that worked so well for them or 4-12?
Personally, I have them finishing closer to 12-4 in 2016 and think they finish the season with a 10-6 record and winning the NFC East division.