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Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive end Junior Galette (93) in the fourth quarter at Cowboys Stadium. The Saints beat the Cowboys 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Ten Most Important Dallas Cowboys in 2013

Who are the most important Dallas Cowboys in 2013? Which players are under the most pressure? Who is being relied on the most? And above all, who are the most irreplaceable?  For a review of the 6-10 most important Cowboys in 2013 Click here.

5. Tie: Sean Lee/Bruce Carter

Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter (54) tackles Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson (33) at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Browns 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When they are healthy, they are Pro Bowlers. Possibly All-Pros. Unfortunately they haven’t been able to consistently stay healthy. The Cowboys are transitioning to Kiffin’s 4-3 defense in 2013. This defense mixes coverages, assignments, and personnel essentially every play. As the players learn this new defense, practice reps become paramount. Starters get the bulk of the reps so when one of them goes down from injury he is not only replaced by someone with less ability, but also by someone who is much further behind in practice.

Playing the Mike LB in Monte Kiffin’s defense requires a very agile and technically sound player. The Mike plays the deep middle in the Tampa 2, shallow zone in the Cover 2, and a mixture of man and zone in the Single High Safety. It’s a very complicated defense to learn. The talent falloff from Lee to his backup (pick a player/any player) is severe. Sean Lee needs to stay healthy in 2013. The success of this defense will depend on his ability to do so.

Bruce Carter is playing the Will LB and assumes the other playmaker role of the linebacking corps. Carter needs to be conformable in man and zone coverage as they will change play to play. The Will typically has the most opportunities for interceptions in Kiffin’s defense so he must be confident and fearless in order to take full advantage. Bruce Carter is a physical marvel and can take this defense to the next level.

Even without knowing who the third LB in this trio is, the Dallas linebacking corps has a chance to be the best in the league if Lee and Carter can stay healthy.

Sep 11, 2011; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) is pressured by Dallas Cowboys defensive back Barry Church (42) during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Farrell/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

4. Barry Church

Very few players on the Dallas Cowboys are under as much pressure as Barry Church.  Church, entering just his fourth NFL season and returning from season-ending injury, is asked to step in as the starting veteran stalwart of the safety group. He is asked to return from an Achilles injury and play as good, if not better, than he did before injury. He is asked to provide the leadership and stability to an inexperienced and undecorated position group. He is asked to do all of this while learning a new defense and playing alongside new players.

The Cowboys haven’t said it yet but Church projects best as a Strong Safety. This means in Cover 3 and Single High Safety situations, which involve 1 deep safety only, Barry Church will be the hard-hitting in-the-box safety. Matt Johnson, with zero NFL experience, is penciled in as the Free Safety who will have his own set of challenges to overcome. The rest of the safety group is made up of veteran special teamers and projects (JJ Wilcox) so Barry needs to be the guy we all hope he can be. With so much unknown at FS, Church simply cannot falter at SS or this new improved pass defense could face-plant.

3. Dez Bryant

Dez Bryant is the most dynamic player on the Cowboys and possibly the league. He is physically superior to all others and proved it when he caught 72 passes for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns the final 8 weeks of the 2012 season. Dez is both a formidable deep threat and solid possession receiver. Teams are forced to double team (bracket cover) Dez at all times – even then – he’s winning matchups in a fashion similar to Randy Moss of years past. With the unreliable Miles Austin as his only proven counterpart, Dez’s importance to the offense cannot be taken lightly. The depth and potential at WR is exciting to say the least, but Dez stands so far above the rest, he is totally indispensable to this team. 2013 is the Year of Dez.

2. DeMarcus Ware

The success of the defense relies on the defensive line getting pressure on the QB. Whether you reference the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, or Tampa Bay Buccaneers (all Kiffin-like defenses), you will notice their success lies in their ability to rush the passer into making reckless decisions. Whether Kiffin decides to use Spencer or Hatcher as the second pass rusher, it’s abundantly clear Ware will be the primary pass-rusher on every down.

Ware played injured the second half of last season and it showed both in the stat column and to the naked eye. In 2013 he is healthy and ready to prove those wrong who dare doubt him. The defensive line is deep in overall talent but specifically shallow in pass rushers. Ware returning to form is a requirement for this system. His production is as irreplaceable as anyone’s on this team.

1. Tony Romo

Was there any question? Whether you love Tony Romo or you hate Tony Romo, you must admit the Cowboys have absolutely no chance in 2013 without Tony Romo.

Is Tony Romo the best player on the team? Nope. But he plays the most important position on the team and possesses an irreplaceable skill set.

As explained in this column, Making Sense of Romo’s Contract, (written shortly after Romo’s contract was extended) only 3-4 NFL QB’s could even survive behind this offensive line over the past few years.  Romo’s escapability and improvisation are keys to the offenses success. If Kyle Orton was asked to fill in for an extended period of time the Cowboys chances of making the playoffs are slim. Orton is a good backup – possibly one of the best backups in the league. But Orton is built for a run-first offense that can provide an occasional clean pocket. Romo hasn’t seen a clean pocket for years.

Tony Romo may have an affinity for the occasional late-game blunder, but at the end of the day, he gives the Cowboy’s their best chance at winning. To subtract Romo from the Cowboys equation would be to give up on the season. Until the offense line substantially improves, Tony Romo is both the most important Dallas Cowboy in 2013 AND the most at risk Dallas Cowboy in 2013. That’s a dangerous combination.

Do you have a question you’d like answered or a topic you’d like discussed?

Email Reid Hanson at [email protected]

Tags: Barry Church Dallas Cowboys DeMarcus Ware Sean Lee Tony Romo

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