This is the first in a series that addresses a few the reasons Cowboys fans should be optimistic and pessimistic going into each week's upcoming game.
There are reasons for optimism, but we'll start with three reasons Cowboys fans shouldn't get their hopes up before Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers.
1. Tony Romo’s Back
Tony Romo has been one of the most productive QBs in the NFL during his time as a starter, but there have to be a few concerns about his surgically repaired back heading into Game 1.
Considering his age and the severity of the injury, the idea of another injury has to be at least in the back of Romo’s mind. Athletes often say that the mental hurdle is the most difficult to overcome, and a tentative Tony Romo is bad news for the offense.
How susceptible is Romo to another back injury? San Francisco blitzes less frequently than most NFL teams, but they ranked No. 2 in the NFL last year in generating pressure when blitzing, according to Football Outsiders. If they decide to blitz and test Romo's back, it might be a long day for Romo and the offense.
2. 49ers Offensive Return
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Defense is obviously not the Cowboys’ strong suit, and San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said he thinks his offense is poised for a breakout.
Having wide receiver Michael Crabtree and fullback Bruce Miller back from injury, plus the emergence of tight end Vance McDonald, provides the Niners with a lot of flexibility on offense. If I were the Niners, I'd line up mainly in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) and the diamond formation (image below), which allows them to switch between power run plays and four deep routes out of the same formation.
Last season the Niners offense didn't have the players to operate out of those formations and gained 5.4 yards per play -- 12th best in the NFL. In 2012, they did and averaged 6 yards per play -- 3rd best in the NFL.
Reason No. 2 becomes even more glaring because of ...
3. The Loss of Sean Lee
Not many linebackers in the NFL have Sean Lee's coverage ability, and losing that limits the team defensively.
Without Lee, Rod Marinelli might have to pick his poison: Stay in a heavy front to defend the run and let San Francisco send four receivers downfield or switch to nickel and risk the Niners giving them a steady dose of running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde.
A healthy Lee lets the defense remain in its base 4-3 front, which would counter San Francisco’s dynamic offensive personnel. Lee could cover any opposing receivers down the seam and stay in the box against the run.
If the Cowboys lose this Sunday, Sean Lee's injury might be the biggest reason.