A big man with a big name blows in to fire up a soft defense

The Cowboys use words like humbling and embarrassing to describe the 2010 season, which began with owner Jerry Jones saying that he hoped his team would play in Super Bowl XLV at his new $1.15 billion stadium but ended with the franchise's first losing record in six years. The Dallas offense sputtered without quarterback Tony Romo, who missed the last 10 games with a broken collarbone, while the defense surrendered a club-record 436 points and 5,628 yards of total offense. The only bright spot came last November when, with his team in last place in the NFC East with a 1--7 record, Jones fired coach Wade Phillips and replaced him with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who sparked the team to a 5--3 finish.

It's no surprise, then, that Jones, buoyed by that success, made another coaching change in the off-season. To light a fire beneath his underachieving defense, he went out in search of a Rex Ryan clone and found just that. On Jan. 19, Jones hired veteran NFL defensive guru Rob Ryan, the twin brother of the brash Jets coach, away from the Browns. Ryan naturally opened his first training camp in Big D by taking an implied shot at the Eagles, saying he didn't think Dallas qualified as "the all-hype team. That might have gone to someone else, but we're going to beat their ass when we play them." Asked to whom he was referring, Ryan said, "I don't know" and stalked off.

The fiery Ryan, a graduate of Southwestern Oklahoma State, could hardly be more different from the Princeton-educated Garrett. Ryan is large, long-haired and loud. The Cowboys' coach, who will continue to call offensive plays, is slender, clean-cut and polished. When Garrett speaks, he frames his comments with hand gestures that indicate precision. When Ryan talks, he puts his entire body into the effort, projecting power.

But the contrast is fitting, because it's not the offense that must be drastically overhauled. Gone are running back Marion Barber and wideout Roy Williams—two underperforming big-name veterans who were cut to make room under the new salary cap. With Felix Jones, who caught 48 passes last year, now the clear No. 1 at running back, there's a chance to open up the attack. Dallas already has a corps of talented receivers, led by wideouts Miles Austin and Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, who led the team with 94 receptions and nine TD catches in 2010.

A more open game should suit the mobile, improvisational Romo, who's entering his sixth year as the starter and says he's ready to begin "the second phase" of his career by reaching out to "guys at other positions about what needs to be done." The Cowboys could use some leadership. Tyron Smith, a 6'5", 307-pound first-round pick, will be starting at right tackle. And Bryant dazzled last year as a rookie, but his season was cut short by a broken right ankle and marred by a handful of off-field incidents.

But defense is the overriding concern. The Cowboys return 10 of 11 defensive starters—including a trio of Pro Bowlers in cornerback Terence Newman, linebacker DeMarcus Ware and nosetackle Jay Ratliff—and they're counting on Ryan to rejuvenate them. Before dropping to 23rd in total defense last season, Dallas finished eighth in '08 and ninth a year later. The Cowboys had the second-best scoring defense in '09, and the second worst last year (27.25 points per game).

Ryan's mission is to take that same defense—which had become predictable, stale and uninspired—and make it better. "There's a whole different attitude," says Ware, who led the NFL with 15½ sacks. "We're going to attack teams. We're going to dictate the game. Offenses won't know where we're coming from."

The Ryan brothers, who both use a 3--4 scheme, may share a defensive philosophy—Ratliff describes it as organized chaos—but their success hasn't been identical. In six years with the Ravens and the Jets, Rex's defenses haven't finished outside of the league's top six. In Rob's seven seasons with the Raiders and the Browns, his units were among the NFL's bottom six on four occasions. Dallas insists it knew exactly whom it was getting. "He's a fun guy to play for," says Garrett. "His players love him."

"[Ryan] brings a swagger and a confidence. You want to play better for him—it's contagious," Witten says. "Then you have Jason [Garrett] being calm, cool and collected, keeping everything in order. It's a great marriage."

Being in harmony with Garrett is of less concern to Ryan than wins and losses. "When you come into someplace new, you don't give a s--- about how anything went before," Ryan says. "We want to be a great defense, one of the best in the league. We're here to win games and a championship."

He may not be Rex, but there's no doubt he's a Ryan.

PROJECTED LINEUP

WITH 2010 STATS

OFFENSE

2010 Rank: 7

QB TONY ROMO

ATT 213

COMP 148

PCT 69.5

YARDS 1,605

YD/ATT 7.54

TD 11

INT 7

RATING 94.9

RB FELIX JONES

ATT 185

YARDS 800

REC 48

TTD 2

FB CHRIS GRONKOWSKI

ATT 5

YARDS 17

REC 7

TTD 1

WR MILES AUSTIN

REC 69

YARDS 1,041

AVG 15.1

TTD 8

WR DEZ BRYANT

REC 45

YARDS 561

AVG 12.5

TTD 6

TE JASON WITTEN

REC 94

YARDS 1,002

AVG 10.7

TTD 9

LT DOUG FREE

G 16

SACKS 5

HOLD 1

FALSE 7

LG PHIL COSTA

G 4

SACKS 1½

HOLD 1

FALSE 0

C KEVIN KOWALSKI (R)

G 13

SACKS 13

RG KYLE KOSIER

G 13

SACKS 1

HOLD 2

FALSE 1

RT TYRON SMITH (R)

G 12

STARTS 12

RB TASHARD CHOICE

ATT 66

YARDS 243

REC 17

TTD 3

WR KEVIN OGLETREE

REC 3

YARDS 34

AVG 11.3

TTD 0

DEFENSE

2010 Rank: 23

DE MARCUS SPEARS

TACKLES 19

SACKS 0

INT 0

NT JAY RATLIFF

TACKLES 31

SACKS 3½

INT 0

DE IGOR OLSHANSKY

TACKLES 38

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB ANTHONY SPENCER

TACKLES 63

SACKS 5

INT 0

LB BRADIE JAMES

TACKLES 118

SACKS 0

INT 1

LB KEITH BROOKING

TACKLES 97

SACKS 1

INT 1

LB DEMARCUS WARE

TACKLES 66

SACKS 15½

INT 0

CB TERENCE NEWMAN

TACKLES 79

SACKS 0

INT 5

SS ABRAM ELAM

TACKLES 77

SACKS 2

INT 2

FS GERALD SENSABAUGH

TACKLES 69

SACKS 2

INT 5

CB MIKE JENKINS

TACKLES 55

SACKS 0

INT 1

DB ORLANDO SCANDRICK

TACKLES 45

SACKS 2½

INT 1

SPECIALISTS

K DAVID BUEHLER

FG 24

FGA 32

XP 42

PTS 114

P MAT MCBRIAR

PUNTS 65

GROSS 47.9

NET 41.7

BOLD: Projected starter

Italics: New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

SACKS: Sacks allowed

HOLD: Holding penalties

FALSE: False starts

2011 SCHEDULE

2010 RECORD: 6--10

September

11 at N.Y. Jets

18 at San Francisco

26 Washington (Mon)

October

2 Detroit

9 BYE

16 at New England

23 St. Louis

30 at Philadelphia

November

6 Seattle

13 Buffalo

20 at Washington

24 Miami (Thu)

December

4 at Arizona

11 N.Y. Giants

17 at Tampa Bay (Sat)

24 Philadelphia (Sat)

January

1 at N.Y. Giants

COACH: JASON GARRETT

AGE: 45

SECOND SEASON WITH THE COWBOYS (5--3)

By-the-book Garrett may carry himself with the bearing of an Army drill sergeant, but he was able to reestablish accountability in the Dallas locker room—instituting a dress code, running more physical practices—without turning into a despised disciplinarian. Intensely focused and always in control, Garrett often makes his press conferences feel like White House briefings.

SPOTLIGHT

FELIX JONES, RUNNING BACK

Only now will Felix Jones start to be used like a first-round draft pick.

Taken with the 22nd overall selection in 2008, Jones battled injuries and backed up Marion Barber for three years before finally getting a chance to be the feature back this fall—a role the explosive playmaker has never played—even in college. "Felix has come a long way," quarterback Tony Romo says. "He's a smart back with a lot of ability."

Coming out of Arkansas, where he shared the workload with Darren McFadden, Jones became the only Cowboys rookie to score a touchdown in each of his first three games. But injuries (hamstring, toe, knee) limited him to just six games that first year and forced him to miss two more in early '09.

Finally healthy last season, Jones played in every game, and took over the starting role from the ineffective Barber during the second half of the year, finishing with a team-high 800 rushing yards. "He's shown that he's able to be a durable, every-down back," says coach Jason Garrett.

But can Jones withstand the pounding a starter takes over the course of an entire season? The 15 NFL backs with the most carries last year averaged 104 more touches than Jones's career-high of 185. "Being the best running back in the league, that's what I want to do," he says. "I'm going to stick with my ultimate goal, which is to play in the last game and win the last game."

PHOTOROBERT BECK (WARE)ATTACK MODE Ryan will look to the dynamic, aggressive Ware—who had an NFL-best 15½ sacks last season—to lead a defensive turnaround. PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (GARRETT)
PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (JONES)
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)