Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/20/12

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 7: Retired football player Troy Aikman attends the opening of The Zone, a therapeutic play and education environment at Mount Sinai Hospital February 7, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)
It's been a very long 16 years for Dallas Cowboys' fans everywhere.  Almost two decades have passed since the 'Boys have been champions in the NFL, with only one playoff win to since 1996.  The days of Troy Aikman and Emmit Smith are long gone, but the expectations for America's team have never changed.

In order for the Cowboys to reach the promised land, the defensive unit needs to produce in a major way.  The offense has been solid for a number of seasons under Tony Romo, with the ability to be explosive when necessary.

The Cowboys ranked in the top 14 in points per game, and the top 10 in yards per game.  Unfortunately the team defense was No. 16 in the league in points surrendered and especially bad against the pass, giving up 244.1 yards per contest.

The most glaring problem last year was the inability to close out games.  Not only did the Cowboys squander four different fourth quarter leads, but against the Detroit Lions, they gave up a 24 point third quarter lead.

This offseason, Dallas owner/general manager Jerry Jones has made moves to shore up the defense.  In March, the Cowboys signed Brandon Carr a legitimate shut down corner from the Kansas City Chiefs.  The team then followed that up by trading up in the draft to get the highest rated corner Morris Claiborne from LSU.  This gives the defense a strong secondary to match their excellent pass rush.

Third year linebacker Sean Lee leads the line backing core with DeMarcus Ware terrorizing opposing offenses. The addition of veteran Dan Connor from Carolina give the cowboys one of the strongest line backing units in the NFL.  Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff anchor the front line with a stout defense against the run.  Combine that with Marcus Spears and DeMarcus Ware's pass rushing ability and the new look Cowboys defense is formidable indeed.  Barring injuries, Dallas could very well be playing in New Orleans in February.

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