PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 14: Dallas Cowboys


Since Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989, the franchise has never gone more than three consecutive seasons without making the playoffs.

The Cowboys have endured two such streaks in Jones’ ownership. The first was in 2000 through 2002, when Dallas slumped to 5-11 marks in three straight seasons under coach Dave Campo.

The second such streak is now.

The Cowboys haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, when they became the last team to ever lose to Brett Favre in the postseason. Since then, the Cowboys have been undone by one slow start (2010) and two poor finishes (2011, 2012).

The 2013 campaign could set up as an up-or-out season for head coach Jason Garrett, who has two years left on his contract. If the Cowboys turn it around, he could earn the opportunity to lead Tony Romo and Co. for a few more seasons. But if Dallas again falls short of the playoffs, it could be an interesting offseason considering the Cowboys’ famously engaged and demanding owner — and an NFL job climate where sideline bosses get less and less time to prove their worth.

Here’s our assessment of the Cowboys entering 2013:


The Cowboys’ passing game is a major asset. Wide receiver Dez Bryant was brilliant in the second half of 2012, catching 50 passes for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns. Tight end Jason Witten is an exceptionally dependable short- and intermediate-area target for quarterback Tony Romo, who looks for him when the Cowboys need to move the chains. Miles Austin isn’t the big-play threat he was earlier in his career, but he’s a fine third option. The presence of Bryant, Witten and Austin will only help whoever emerges as the fourth target in the offense. Dallas has gotten some good mileage out of complementary receivers the last two seasons, with Laurent Robinson and Kevin Ogletree each doing their share in some big spots.

We would be remiss not to mention Romo’s play as one of the Cowboys’ strengths, too. He was asked to do more than ever in 2012, and he fared well, completing 425-of-648 passes for 4,903 yards — all career-highs. His career-high 22 turnovers should be viewed in context; mistakes are mistakes, and there’s no doubting he’s made some big ones in key spots over the years, but Dallas is better with him than without him. If you are buying into Dallas in 2013, he has to be one of the reasons.

Another reason to like the Cowboys: they have some real top-end defensive talent. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware is a perennial Pro Bowler, and middle linebacker Sean Lee has that sort of ability, too. Defensive end Anthony Spencer, outside linebacker Bruce Carter and cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are other skilled performers.


The Cowboys have the front-line players necessary to be contenders, but Dallas’ overall depth is not a strength. Wide receiver, offensive tackle, running back, defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback and safety are all positions where Dallas is little thinner than preferred.

Of all of their depth issues, the Cowboys’ defensive line bears closest watch. Ware and defensive tackles Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher will all be 31 or older when the season begins. In a curious move, the Cowboys did not draft a single defensive lineman. They desperately need their four starters upfront to stay healthy.

The Cowboys also need more out of their rushing attack, which was 31st in yards gained per game and 30th in yards per carry. Skilled tailback DeMarco Murray has missed time with injuries in each of his first two NFL campaigns, and the reserves behind him are unproven.


The Cowboys have switched defensive coordinators and defensive schemes. Gone are Rob Ryan and the 3-4, replaced by Monte Kiffin and a 4-3 base front. Another key staff addition is defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who spent the last three seasons as Chicago’s defensive coordinator.

Kiffin’s defense works best when a team can rush just four and devote the other seven players to other duties. With Ware and Spencer crashing the edges and Ratliff and Hatcher capable of creating pressure up the middle, the Cowboys would seem to have the personnel to make this switch work.

The big change on offense comes in the play-calling department. Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, not Garrett, will have those duties. In theory, this should free up Garrett to focus on the big-picture and game-management aspects of his job. If the offense performs well, Jones will be lauded for the move. If the offense sputters, this will be a storyline that will be continually discussed, considering Garrett’s offensive background.

With little salary-cap room, the Cowboys were quiet in free agency, though they did add two potential starters in outside linebacker Justin Durant (ex-Detroit) and Will Allen (ex-Pittsburgh).

Position battles.

The Cowboys enter training camp unsettled at safety and along the offensive line.

At safety, fourth-year pro Barry Church figures to hold down one starting spot, but there’s uncertainty thereafter, with Allen, rookie J.J. Wilcox, second-year pro Matt Johnson and fourth-year pro Danny McCray among the Cowboys’ options.

The Cowboys will also have competition at right tackle, with Doug Free and Jermey Parnell vying for the job.

The Cowboys’ interior line situation should be monitored, too. The Cowboys didn’t draft Travis Frederick in Round One to sit, and he seems likely to be the starting center. However, the club’s website suggests that Frederick could potentially be an option at guard. The Cowboys’ starting center from a season ago, Phil Costa, remains on the roster.

Finally, let’s see who emerges as the third receiver. Rookie Terrance Williams is a player to watch, but veterans Dwayne Harris, Anthony Armstrong and Cole Beasley could also be in the mix.


There are a few things that stand out about the Cowboys’ schedule. First, four of their first six games are at home, but there isn’t an opponent who could be considered a pushover in the bunch. In those first six games, the Cowboys host the Giants (Week One), the Rams (Week Three), the Broncos (Week Five) and the Redskins (Week Six).

This is a key stretch for the Cowboys, who then play three of their next four on the road, with trips to Philadelphia, Detroit and New Orleans leading into the Week 11 bye. That’s another schedule wrinkle that jumps off the page: that’s a late bye for a club without a lot of depth, and that’s a lot of traveling to do before that bye.

After the week of rest comes a very interesting three-game sequence. The Cowboys travel to the Giants on Nov. 24 in a potentially key division game. Then, four days later, they play the Raiders at home on Thanksgiving — a game Dallas should win. After a 10-day break, the Cowboys visit Chicago on Dec. 9, a meeting that could be very important if both clubs are competing for wild-card spots.

The Cowboys close the slate with games vs. Green Bay (Week 15), at Washington (Week 16) and vs. Philadelphia (Week 17).

There have been easier schedules, but the Cowboys have enough talent to handle it. Yes, we have pegged them third in the division in our power rankings, but who would be surprised if this was the Cowboys’ year to recapture the East?

Then again, with Dallas, the surprises have too often been of the unpleasant variety in recent seasons –and at the most inopportune times, it seems.

53 responses to “PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 14: Dallas Cowboys

  1. I still can’t believe the Steelers’ ranking.



  2. In 4 years each team in the NFC East has won the division once. Is there a 4 way coin that could be flipped? One if the few divisions in the NFL where if every team was 8-8, 9-7, 10-6… I don’t think anyone would be surprised. In 2012, 2 weeks out, there were still 3 teams in the hunt for the division title. I can see that happening again in 2013

  3. I would contend it is the NON existent running game that is most important to watch. Otherwise they will be relying on acrobatic plays from Tony Romo tracking down flying shotgun snaps all over again this year.

  4. I didn’t read the article and I don’t need to. I am a PACKER fan, and even I know that putting the Cowboys over the Vikings and Bears is ridiculous.

    The Cowboys will not be competitive until Jerry Jones gives up the team. Period. So please STOP with this annual summer circus.

  5. Lifelong Cowboy fan, and I still think 14 is a bit too high, though I’m hoping they can contend. With both Austin and Witten slowing down, I’m surprised you didn’t mention the rookie TE Gavin Escobar who was taken with the 47th pick. If he’s not a difference-maker immediately, it’ll be a long year for the silver and blue.

  6. This ranking has to be the worst overrating thus far. The team has no depth with players that have injury histories.

  7. Cowboys actialy should be ranked higher. Romo is coming off of a great year. Considring he was running for his life, he did great. He had no help from running game and the defense gave up too many big plays.

    This year the running game will better and so will be the offensive line. Defense is changing to take advantage of Ware and Spencer as pass rushers and the defense inherently is designed to make you go the whole field with minimal big plays.

    Add Romo playing at high level with these changes on OL and D, Cowboys will win the division and make a deep run into the playoffs.

  8. you know what,

    I actually agree with this ranking.
    Furthermore, i believe this is right around where they will end up finishing as well.

    they have some serious firepower on offense,

    its just that the gun at QB misfires when it counts.

  9. Get sick of hearing they have no Depth They have it its just they have unproven players at key positions mainly cause they are either rookies or second to third yr players give those guys a chance before u go saying they have no depth!!!

  10. w0rkh0lic1
    how anyone disliked that is beyond me.
    apparently they dont watch football

    i don’t think Toni will survive behind that offensive line. The divisions defenses all have either bulked up or have returning vets like orakpo and JPP.


  11. Shocking that there’s so many people hating on the Cowboys! But this is where they should be until they prove themselves otherwise. But to everyone whining about it being too high of a rank……you do realize that this means absolutely nothing right? This doesn’t give them bonus points going into the season so even if they ranked them #1 at the end of the day, who cares?

  12. When the rankings are all done.

    Can you rank the Cheerleaders?

    Surely, Dallas fans would be happy with their rankings…

  13. If anyone really thinks McCray is an option at safety (unless he starts due to everyone else being hurt), they are not paying attention.

    Right in the middle is about where they belong for now, they were 8-8 last year so it makes sense. I expect a better record and finish this season

  14. So the Bears have consistently whooped Dallas in recent years yet somehow they’re ranked lower?

    What is it with the media’s obsession in overrating the Cowgirls year after year?

  15. Oh look another year the media pundits thinking dallas is a good team. And every year they suck.

    In 16 YEARS they have won a TOTAL of 1 playoff game, and that was a wild card game. Yet every year they get over rated.

    Until the do something about the Owner/GM/talent evaluator/ Coach/play caller and head cheerleader for tony “color blind” romo, this streak will continue.

  16. How dare you rank the Dallas cowboys cheerleaders this low. WTF PFT???? This is what were ranking right.??????

  17. Is someone sipping on Grandpa’s cough medicine already this morning?? 14th? That’s laughable.

  18. No way the Cowboys end up higher than 8-8 so this ranking is a bit optimistic.

    But the Cowboys do have their center position fixed for the next 10 years. Not.

  19. As a Cowboys fan for 25 years, I have accepted that Dallas will always be a 9-7 team at best as long as Jerry Jones is alive. I don’t like it, but it’s true. How can they be ranked this high with the depth they have in correlation to the inability for anyone to stay healthy? One or two major injuries at ANY position and this team is done. I will keep hoping that Jerry Jones wises up and hires a real GM like Dan Snyder did in Washington but I have a feeling that day will never come.

  20. Every single year at the end of the season people wonder why the cowboys were ever considered a top competitor, and yet every single start of the season, you guys just bend over for them. Nothing about this team shows they are a serious contender.

    Did you watch romo last year in that final game? Good lord.

  21. I love the comments that begin with, “as a Packer fan”, or “even a Cowboys fan like me knows”, and they say some really nasty stuff about that team, ’cause you know they are anything but what they say they are. As a Texans fan, even I know!

  22. Ever notice how overrated the Cowboys are year after year, then the season starts and they are horrible. And since not much has changed from last year (same jack*** owner, same dorky coach, same terrible QB…etc…) how can anyone expect them not to have a top 10 draft pick next year.

  23. Crap….was hoping that the Cowboys would outrank my G-Men. There goes that shoulder chip.

  24. you did not mention pretty boy ivy leaguer Garrett as a weakness, he is their biggest one! Well, after Jerrah of course…

  25. This Pre-Season Ranking is probably one of the worst in history. The Cowboys shouldn’t even be ranked above 20. What a joke! It gets worse by the hour…

  26. The love affair with Dallas is the same as it is for the Yankees and Lakers, big media is shocked when those teams fail.

    I do feel the ranking seems suspect because talent is fine but coaching is so eradict and Jerrah seems to have a hand in the process too much for the teams good. I do love Monte Kiffin, but doubt he can turn the defense over that quickly to his scheme. Also, Bill Callahan, the guy who let the Raiders get rocked by the Bucs in a superbowl…suspect highly suspect

  27. Bears > Cowboys. EASILY.

    As it’s been over the past several years.

    As it will be again this year.

    As with so many other media outlets, the lemmings here at PFT are just suffering from an obvious case of classic east-coast bias.

    And yes, I realize Dallas is not on the east coast, but they play in the NFC East, where every other perpetually overrated team resides, so they get the benefit of the bias, too.

    Except for the Giants, what has any team from the NFC East accomplished in the past 5+ years? And yet they are CONSTANTLY regarded as the “toughest” or most fiercely-contested division.

    Screw that noise. Both the NFC North and South have been more competitive and more accomplished in recent years.

  28. Eagles are going to roll this team twice next season. Even if the Eagles started Barkley. They’ll probably be last in the division. Their defense sucks and they have no offensive line.

  29. As for them being ranked above the Bears, the Bears lost their defensive coordinator (to the Cowboys, incidentally)… Chicago’s defense has been the key to their success in recent seasons.

    I don’t see how it’s so unreasonable to have the Bears lower until Trestman proves himself as an NFL head coach and Mel Tucker proves he can keep this defense ranked top 5 (he’s only lead 1 defense to a ranking higher than 23rd in his 5 seasons as a DC).

    People disregard facts and instead fuel their posts on their Cowboys hatred. Nothing new here, though.

  30. The Cowboys will win the dreaded NFC East. They’ll have a running game this year. Having a play-making safety is an important component in Kiffin’s defense, yet the team passed on Florida safety Matt Elam in the first-round to select Travis Frederick. Bernard Pollard? I can’t wait to see this guy play for the Ravens. The Cowboys are one-and-done. Just like the Redskins.

  31. Face the truth, some teams can survive injuries, and some cannot. Last year, the Cowboys could not. If they stay healthy, they will be in the tournament…and anything can happen then. Packers are perfect example a few years ago. Pre-season rankings are a joke. Where will the Bronco’s rank, if Payton is curtailed after week 1? Or any other QB…Brees, Brady, Cutler, Eli, etc. Generally speaking, and I know there have been exceptions, but there are no less than 15-20 teams in the NFL where the separation of talent is miniscule. Who stays the healthiest or who has the better subs and/or scheme, that can survive a 16 game regular season, and then get lucky in the playoffs (e.g.) Giants) will win. So forget about these power rankings, they mean nothing right now.

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