O-Line & Defensive Issues Doom Cowboys Super Bowl 52 Chances

Jay Pryce

Thursday, April 6, 2017 5:11 PM UTC

Thursday, Apr. 6, 2017 5:11 PM UTC

Dallas shocked the NFL last year with a 13-win regular season behind two rookies at key skill positions. The team's odds to reach Super Bowl 52 are a bit too short all things considered. Found out why here.

Tony Romo’s abrupt retirement last week to join CBS as a color commentary did little to move the betting odds on Dallas’ 2018 Super Bowl chances. He was on his way out regardless with quarterback Dak Prescott firmly entrenched as the starter. Along with running back Ezekiel Elliott, the two rookies took the league by storm last season, posting an NFC-best 13-3 regular-season record. The duo came up short in the playoffs, however, losing 34-31 to the Packers in a thrilling divisional-round matchup. Can they get further in the upcoming campaign, or will a sophomore slump doom them and the team? Bet on the latter; the ‘Boys are way overvalued.

Dallas is the bookmakers’ favorites to win Super Bowl 52 from the NFC. They opened at +1000 odds at most shops in January, adjusting to an average +800 in April. The Packers, Seahawks, and Falcons each share the second choice in the conference at +1200 odds. Only the reigning champions Patriots have shorter odds (+450) in all the NFL. Dallas is arguably the NFL’s most public team, and a surprisingly good run last year has the number inflated.

As any astute football fan will tell you, the Cowboys’ success starts and stops with their offensive line. Explore any advanced metric measuring its rushing and pass-blocking abilities from last season, and you can guarantee it ranks in the top five across the league. Both Prescott and Elliott benefited big time. But trouble may be afoot in Jerry World; the wall may be crumbling. For the first time since 2013, the Cowboys will be forced to replace multiple linemen—an unexpected and potentially huge task.

Right tackle Doug Free, out of nowhere, announced his retirement from the NFL less than a month ago. He started every game for the Cowboys since 2010 but battled foot and ankle injuries throughout. Moreover, first-string guard Ronald Leary signed with Denver in free agency. Bad news for Dallas. This is why the personnel changes matter: three of the last four conference championship teams returned at least four starters on the O-line from the previous season according to Thomas Emerick of Sporting News. Experience, minutes, and comradery mean a lot up front.

Dallas has dominated defensive lines for four seasons, using a bevy of the first-round draft picks to craft the perfect front. Quick, unplanned fixes to the bunch usually fall short in the NFL. Guess which Dallas team gave up the most sacks per game in the last decade, the 2013 one when Dallas last played fixer upper. Also, the season was one of two in the last 10 years in which the Cowboys failed to average more than 100 rushing yards per game (94.0).

The O-line, however, is just part of the problem. The defense is the team’s glaring weakness, and draft day will be spent filling multiple holes. To win in the modern NFL, you have to own a superior pass rush. Dallas does not; its 5.5 percent sack rate ranked 20th in the NFL. Edge rushing is virtually nil since DeMarcus Ware departed a few years ago, and the end position is in dire need. The secondary is seriously lacking depth and experience, too. At safety, Barry Church signed a hefty contract with the Jaguars in free agency, and backup J.J. Wilcox went to the Bills. Also departing are corners Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. Young guys can fill the void right away, but don’t expect much in return when injuries happen.

Overall, the Cowboys should score a winning year and reach the playoffs. A double-digit win total is a tough bet, however, especially in the always-competitive NFC East. Look for a 9-7 season at best. Dallas has had some good teams recently but remember: Romo never played in a conference championship game, and won just two playoff victories. To reach the Super Bowl with a second-year quarterback and slightly patch worked O-line is a hard bet to back.

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