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Under The Microscope - Dallas Cowboys

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Observations
After starting his tenure with a promising 10-6 campaign, Bill Parcells' troops flipped their record to a disappointing 6-10 last year. The team showed some disturbing characteristics that were very uncommon for a Parcells-led team: turnovers, bad penalties, mental mistakes, and a weak running game. This year, the Cowboys brought in veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe to play behind a rebuilt offensive line, and added explosive rookie DeMarcus Ware to an already stingy defense. This year's team is starting to resemble a classic Parcells squad by blocking well, running the ball with authority, and stopping the run in a classic 3-4 defensive alignment. The positive results showed on Monday night, as they held the Redskins scoreless and frustrated through 55 minutes of play. Unfortunately, it was the last 5 minutes that did them in. A good look under the microscope should show us what to expect in the coming weeks.

Team Stats (numbers in parentheses are NFL Ranking)
NOTE: Until week 5, we will be using 2004 season stats.


Stat Analysis
Last year's stats show that turnovers were a killer for the Cowboys. This year, they need to improve in three areas - running the ball, stopping the run, and eliminating mistakes. Julius Jones is running well behind a powerful offensive line. Adding new personnel that allow them to run a 3-4 will make it difficult for opposing teams to sustain drives. But mental mistakes on two crucial plays lost a game for the 'Boys on Monday night. You can bet that the Cowboys practice field was not a fun place to be this week. It would appear that this team has all the right pieces in place to be successful, but they are going to be in a lot of close games this year. If they continue to have the same kind of mental mistakes we have seen in the past, it could be another frustrating season.


Schedule Analysis
This schedule is a bit of a rollercoaster. Upcoming road games against the 49ers and Raiders should both go into the win column for Dallas, and they should provide nice scores for fantasy owners. The next two against Philly and the Giants won't be so easy. Then comes another pair of softies in Seattle and Arizona, leading into the bye week. Julius Jones is a must-start, and expect him to have good games even against the better rushing defenses, as Dallas tries to control the clock and keep the score low. The passing game is more hit-and-miss. So far Bledsoe has had great stats, but he tends to break down and make mistakes against defenses who get in his face all day. He's a risky play against the Eagles, Giants, and Broncos.

Depth Chart

Player Notes
The starters are well-established on this team at quarterback and running back. Jones is young and has fresh legs, so don't expect to see much of Anthony Thomas this year. It's difficult to start receivers on this team - Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Patrick Crayton, and Peerless Price could all have big games at some point this year, but it's almost impossible to tell when. Keep an eye on the situation - Bledsoe may develop a favorite target as the season wears on. The defense will be disruptive and cause turnovers, they are a threat to score. Pick them up if they're still available in your league.

Next Week... The Patriots-Steelers game will have my attention all afternoon. I'll give it a good watch and choose one of these elite AFC teams to put under the microscope.