Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 6/11/12
If this were Madden ’13, the Dallas Cowboys would be a serious contender. With weapons all over the field, Big D has video game talent at nearly every skill position.

They have, arguably, the most consistent tight end in football, three big-time playmakers at wide receiver, a running back who averaged 5.5 yards per carry and a quarterback with a 102.4 QB rating.

The Cowboys look stocked on paper – ah, if only games were played between the lines of a piece of college-ruled loose leaf.

Seemingly every season, analysts look up and down this lineup and have no choice but to pick Dallas as a contender for the title, but like clockwork, something goes wrong and turns a can’t miss Super Bowl run in another Texas-sized failure. The 2012 season will see the Cowboys 17 seasons removed from their last Super Bowl title.

In that span, Big D has gone 2-8 in the playoffs. It seems “America’s Team” has been playing more like “Canada’s Team” recently. While there are definitely a lot more than three questions Dallas needs to answer to return to primetime dominance, here are the top burning issues facing the Cowboys in 2012.


3. Can The Jolly Old Fat Guy Start Bringing The Cowboys Wins Instead of Coal This December?

If you checked in with the Cowboys last Thanksgiving, you would have seen a 7-4 team in control of the division and thinking about the playoffs, but then that unforgiving calendar flips and brings the Cowboys’ mortal enemy to their doorstep – the month of December.

Since Tony Romo took over full-time as the Cowboys’ signal caller, Dallas is 9-15 in the last month of the year, and last season was no different. Dallas went 1-3 in their Grinch-month, and what once was a promising playoff run turned into an 8-8 early vacation.

The December portion of the Boys’ 2012 season sees them playing the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins – definitely not a rollover last quarter of the schedule by any means.

With the Giants coming off a Super Bowl win and the Philadelphia Eagles determined to line up to all their talent, Dallas will surely need a good showing this December if they have any hopes of sniffing the postseason. They need to lay off the eggnog, get their Christmas shopping done early and just focus on football, because December will be their make or break four-game stretch again in 2012.


2. Can Tony Romo Go From Whipping Boy to Golden Boy?

Say what you want, the hardest job in the NFL is being the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback. No position in the league is scrutinized more. Tony Romo threw for 4,184 yards, 31 touchdowns and had a completion percentage of 66.3 in 2011. Yet, the Cowboys’ losses are all his fault.

Fair or not, the blame will always be levied on Romo’s shoulders until Dallas finally makes it over that hump. He can throw for more touchdowns that Eli Manning, fewer interceptions than Tom Brady and have a higher QB rating that Matthew Stafford all he wants, but as long as the Cowboys are losing, he will be the reason.

The Cowboys have a 1-3 record in the playoffs with Romo under center. Will that trend continue, or is Tony Romo ready to translate all this Cowboy talent into wins?

The biggest question for Romo will be whether or not he can cut down on his game-changing mistakes. Playing with broken ribs and leading Dallas to an overtime win against the 49ers is easily forgotten when hitting Darrelle Revis with an interception right between the numbers or collapsing in the 2nd half of a game the Cowboys had won in Detroit is all people remember.

The Cowboys went 8-8 last season, yet in five of those eight losses, Dallas had the lead in the 4th quarter but was unable to hold it. Clearly this is a team right on the cusp of being a contender, now we just have to wait and see if Tony Romo is the guy who can lead them there.

1. Will The Dallas Secondary Resemble A Real Defense or a Block of Swiss Cheese?

Bringing in Rob Ryan to lead the Dallas defense did improve that side of the ball immensely in 2011. The Cowboys’ D moved from the 23rd ranked defense in 2010 to the 14th ranked defense in 2011, as well as giving up nearly 6 points less per contest.

With a solid pass rush and run defense being lead by a group of athletic linebacker/defensive linemen hybrids, Dallas has the pieces upfront – it’s the last line of defense that killed the Cowboys in 2011.
 
It’s hard to expect your secondary to play well if none of them are allowed to tie their shoes – or at least that was how it looked watching this group of underachievers last season. From afar it seemed as if each player in the Dallas secondary got in too deep with the mob and were then forced to play with their feet encased in blocks of cement.

The Dallas pass defense ranked 23rd in the NFL last season, giving up 244 yards per game through the air and allowing opposing QBs to complete nearly 62 percent of their passes. Still, the Cowboys had a chance at the end of the season, all they had to do was beat the New York Giants one out of two tries and they would have made it to the postseason over the G-men. But in those two contests, the Cowboys’ secondary allowed Eli Manning to throw for 746 yards (400 and 346).
 
But never fear, as Jerry Jones has proved time and time again with his face, he is not opposed to a complete overhaul. The Cowboys parted ways with Terence Newman and brought in Brandon Carr from Kansas City, as well as trading up to take Morris Claiborne is last April’s Draft. In fact, Dallas has seven rookie defensive backs vying for spots on the roster. Say what you will, the Dallas Cowboys know what the problem is and are trying to address it.

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