2010 NFL Question Marks: Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 25:  (L-R) Alan Ball #20 and Patrick Crayton #84 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrate a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons at Cowboys Stadium on October 25, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Cowboys and their potential issues at free safety.

After the combination of Nick Folk and Shaun Suisham went 20 of 31 in field goal attempts last year, arguably the biggest weakness for the Cowboys this season is kicker.

But who wants to discuss kickers?

The second most glaring issue for the Cowboys heading into the season is at safety. After re-signing restricted free agent Gerald Sensabaugh to a one-year contract in May, the Cowboys have their strong safety spot filled, but questions still remain at free safety.

The ‘Boys were expected to add more competition to the mix at free safety this offseason but never did. Now Alan Ball is slated to start at the spot, despite the fact that he’s a liability in run defense. After making three spot starts at the position last year, the converted corner failed to impress.

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Cowboys end Saints’ run at perfection

Here are five, quick-hit observations from the Cowboys’ 24-17 upset over the Saints on Saturday night.

1. The Saints might be a team of destiny, but they’re not perfect.
There’s a reason why there have only been two undefeated teams in the history of the NFL: Because it’s freaking hard to run the table. It doesn’t matter that the Cowboys had lost two in a row or have always struggled in December under Wade Phillips; they had a great chance coming into Saturday night because the law of averages were eventually going to catch up with the Saints. And that’s exactly what happened.

2. The Saints have a problem defensively.
Three weeks ago when the Saints narrowly escaped Washington with a win, I noted that they better get healthy defensively or else they would have problems down the road. Not having DT Sedrick Ellis really hurt the Saints tonight, as Dallas churned out 145 yards on the ground and seized control of the game in the first half. New coordinator Gregg Williams has done a great job turning around the New Orleans’ defense, but this is not a unit that can overcome injuries and win a Super Bowl. They’re just not that deep.

3. Jermon Bushrod had a tough night.
Not to pile it on, but every defensive end that lined up across from Saints’ right tackle Jermon Bushrod abused him tonight. DeMarcus Ware was beating him so bad to the outside that on the final play of the game, Bushrod just fell over because he couldn’t get into his backpedal quick enough. (The play resulted in Drew Brees fumbling, which sealed the win for Dallas.) If Phillips’ defense can play with that much aggressiveness, energy and focus in the playoffs, the Cowboys are going to be a tough out.

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Cowboys minus T.O. = Perfect Harmony

…or at least that formula worked for the first week of the 2009 season, as the Cowboys defeated the Bucs 34-21 in Tampa on Sunday.

Dallas had concerns about the chemistry between quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Roy Williams entering the season. After releasing Terrell Owens in the offseason, the Cowboys were praying that Romo and Williams (whom the team acquired from Detroit in exchange for a first round pick last season) would develop a connection.

The Cowboys’ fears about the tandem were quelled early in the game on Sunday when Romo connected with Williams twice for 20 yards during a nine-play, 31-yard dive that ended with a Nick Folk 51-yard field goal. Romo also found Williams on a beautiful 66-yard touchdown pass early in the second half to give Dallas a 20-7 lead.

On the day, Romo finished with 353 yards on 16 of 27 passing and three touchdowns, while Williams caught three passes for 86 yards and a TD. Patrick Crayton had a productive day as well, as he hauled in four passes for 135 yards and also caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Romo early in the fourth.

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Top 10 active NFL field goal percentage leaders

It’s almost fantasy football time, and many of you, like me, have already been doing your research. So let’s take a look at a category that you may not pay much attention to, and many experts will tell you not to anyway. That’s field goal percentage. I realize choosing a kicker is like throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, but good references are to pick those on good offensive teams, or those that can’t score TDs and create more field goal attempts. But it’s also good to pick an accurate kicker, whether that kicker plays in a dome or not. I mean, why take your chances on someone who kicks 25 field goals but misses another 25? So here is a list of the active Top 10 in field goal percentage. You can thank me later.

1. Nick Folk, Dallas Cowboys (86.79%)—For as good as Folk’s rookie season was in 2007, he had less attempts but was even more accurate in 2008, kicking 20 of 22 field goals (90.9%). Which reminds me, what the hell ever happened to Mike Vanderjagt?

2. Nate Kaeding, San Diego Chargers (86.13%)—Sure, he kicks mostly in warm weather, but Kaeding is about as automatic as they come.

3. Robbie Gould, Chicago Bears (85.94%)—If you’re hitting better than 17 out of 20 times when your home field is in the WINDY city, you’re damn good.

4. Shayne Graham, Cincinnati Bengals (85.64%)—One of the lone bright spots on a team that is perpetually going nowhere.

5. Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots (85.56%)—No Adam Vinatieri? No problem. This kid stepped in as a rookie in 2006 and has improved each year, hitting 36 of 40 field goal attempts last season (90%) and leading the NFL in total points (148).

6. Rob Bironas, Tennessee Titans (84.50%)—Bironas is extremely dependable, but nothing topped his 2007 All-Pro campaign, when dude kicked an NFL record 8 field goals against Houston.

7. Matt Stover, free agent (83.70%)—The amazing thing about Stover is that he’s been doing it for so long. He broke in with the Browns in 1991 and moved with the team to Baltimore in 1996, where he played until last season.

8. Phil Dawson, Cleveland Browns (82.81%)—One of the original “expansion” Browns, Dawson, like his counterpart Graham in southern Ohio, has been a bright spot on a bad team for years.

9. Jeff Reed, Pittsburgh Steelers (82.65%)—Every year they seem to talk about how hard it is to kick in Heinz Field, so the fact that Jeff Reed is even on this list says a lot about his ability. I’d love to know what the guy could do playing in Minnesota for a year.

10. John Carney, free agent (82.59%)—Carney stepped in for Lawrence Tynes last season and all he did was hit 35 of 38 field goal attempts, an amazing 92.1% clip. It’s even more amazing because Carney played half his games in windy Giants Stadium, and because he did it at the age of 44.

Source: Pro Football Reference

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