Many people in the media, football fans, and even Dallas Cowboys fans never gave the 2014 Cowboys team much of a chance to be successful. Not only were the Cowboys not given much of a chance, but they were being dubbed as one of – if not – the worst teams in the league coming into the season.
The team was horrific on defense last year; bad play calling on offense and the refusal to run the ball consistently were some of many reasons why the 2014 Cowboys were given no chance.
And on top of it all the team lost it’s best three defenders from that dreadful defense of 2013 – Jason Hatcher wasn’t resigned, DeMarcus Ware was released, and then in May, Sean Lee tore his ACL; not to mention Tony Romo was trying to come back from having his second back surgery in as many years.
No doubt about it, nothing but misery and despair were to come for America’s Team.
But looking back on it now, was that really the case? Remember last season when the Cowboys defensive line had 19 different players take snaps? Let that sink in a little bit. 19 DIFFERENT PLAYERS.
Now, also take into consideration that the majority of those players were not playing football when the Cowboys gave them the call. Some were busy opening up an ice cream shop or selling insurance and I think a couple might have worked at home depot.
Yes, the defense still had DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Nick Hayden and George Selvie. But only Selvie was able to remain mostly healthy of the four. As for the other defensive positions, linebacker Sean Lee missed a lot of time again; Justin Durant missed games as well. The cornerback position stayed healthy, but the safety position continued to struggle through injuries and inexperience.
Throw all that in with a defensive scheme that didn’t allow the players to play at their strength, and what you got next was a recipe for disaster.
Yet, after all that, through all the injuries, that revolving door on the defensive line and the coaching miscues; somehow, someway this team managed to finish with a .500 record at 8-8.
During the offseason, the team didn’t make any free agent splashes. If anything they made more noise by letting people go.
Jason Hatcher left, as did DeMarcus Ware. The team replaced them with Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Henry Melton – who was coming back from a torn ACL. The biggest move of the offseason was arguably during the summer when the Cowboys traded with the Baltimore Ravens for the linebacker Rolando McClain.
Making a return to the team was DE/DT Tyrone Crawford – who tore his Achilles tendon during the 2013 training camp – but at the time, people were saying, “Yeah, so, what’s the big deal?”
In my eyes it was huge and here’s why.
The coaches and staff were able to get players that they thought would fit the system, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The team wasn’t forced to take players who were sitting on the couch at home, like they had been for the 2013 season. The team was also going into the second year of the Kiffinelli scheme, albeit now with Rod Marinelli at the head of the table.
With the player transactions, coaching changes, the return of a few key players on defense, and the maturation and experience at the safety position, a big improvement for this team wasn’t out of the question. As a matter of fact, I expected it. I felt that if this team was able to stay healthy, they would indeed improve and fight for a playoff spot. Why the so-called “pros” in the industry couldn’t see it is beyond me.
Think about it, this team is fresh off three consecutive 8-8 seasons. In each of those years the Cowboys led the league in number of players put injured reserve or missing playing time. And yet they remained competitive and had a chance to make the playoffs.
This season, the team has still had to fight through injuries. Sean Lee was lost for the year before it even began and Justin Durant was gone midway through the season. Even Bruce Carter and Rolando McClain have missed time due to injury and illness. But the difference is they weren’t all missing at the same time. Plus, their backups were actually chosen during the offseason and those same backups were able to stay healthy.
Let’s face it folks, when you get down to your third string and fourth string players having major playing time, you’re going to experience a drop off in production. But that hasn’t happen this season, has it?
I’m not going to sit here and give all the praise to the defense and their improved play as to why this team is heading into their first playoff game in 5 years. The offense has played a major role, as most expected they would have to.
The team said they were going to run the ball this year and they have. DeMarco Murray stayed healthy and has played out of his mind. Dez Bryant continued to prove he is one of the best wide receivers in the league. The emergence of second-year wide receiver Terrance Williams, as well as Cole Beasley, has been huge. The ever consistent Jason Witten and up and coming tight ends James Hanna and Gavin Escobar have played a huge role, too.
The offensive linemen have proved to be the best unit in the league while Tony Romo fought to come back from back surgery to have a MVP type of season (which he should be in my biased opinion).
So was it really that big of a shock that this team turned things around once they stayed healthy and got back some players from injury? I don’t see it that way, and haven’t seen it that way. Even the young men on this team showed improvement throughout the season.
I can’t sit here and say I saw a top 5 team in the league, I would be lying if I did. Matter of fact, I had them winning 10 games and sneaking into the playoffs as a wild card. Heck, I was one of the people who gave them no shot to win in Seattle.
But what I can say is people were pointing at signs why the 2014 Cowboys were going to be bad, when what they should have been looking at signs of why they were going to be good in 2014.
If they had, their success this season wouldn’t really be that big of a shock.