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Improving Pass Defense, Health On Offense Key For Cowboys

By Clark Judge | Senior NFL Columnist CBSSPORTS.COM
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DALLAS (CBS SPORTS.COM) – Once the Dallas Cowboys were loaded with playmakers. Now, they’re not. In fact, there’s a chance they open the season next week without their three best receivers, wideouts Miles Austin and Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.

No, I don’t think it happens, either — Austin and Bryant look as if they’ll be ready — but, still, it points to a hole in the offensive fabric of a team that could have … maybe should have … won the NFC East a year ago, but failed when it lost four of its last five games.

These Cowboys are supposed to be better because these Cowboys seem to have shored up leaks in the league’s 23rd-ranked pass defense. Nevertheless, there are still questions that must be addressed — and let’s start with the offense.

Where is the wide receiver to replace Laurent Robinson? How complete will a revamped offensive line be? Can the club keep DeMarco Murray healthy? And what happens if it can’t? Can it keep Dez Bryant out of trouble? And what happens if it can’t?

Then, of course, there’s the usual Tony Romo question, and it has to do with consistency and winning big games — both areas where he comes up short. If Dallas is to squeeze defending Super Bowl champion New York and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, Romo must improve on a 12-18 record in starts from Dec. 1 on.

Having a healthy Murray is a bonus. But having someone to take Robinson’s place would be nice, too. I have no doubt the Cowboys will score … and maybe score in bunches. But I do wonder what happens if Austin’s hamstring issues are a lingering problem, or what happens if Bryant is handicapped by knee problems.

“You’ve heard me talk about this before,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We have a next-man-up philosophy. Injuries create opportunities, so backup players need to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities if they do get them.”

But that’s my point: What backups? Felix Jones? He hasn’t lived up to his promise and lacks the explosion that was once there. Kevin Ogletree? In three years, he hasn’t done much of anything. Dallas has a new offensive line to protect its quarterback, and that’s smart. The old one wasn’t so good. But it better have some luck to keep its playmakers on the field.

Because if they’re not, the Cowboys are doomed.

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