The Dallas Cowboys had numerous flaws and issues that resulted in a second consecutive season finishing at 8-8. This also was the team’s third straight season of missing the playoffs. After a period of reflection by Jerry Jones and the brain trust of the organization, a plan of action was put into place by Jones. During this offseason, the organization has made attempts to correct these flaws and erase the issues that have been causing the team to have a lack of success.
A brief recap of this plan is the following: The team changed and hired a new defensive coaching staff and switched the scheme from a 3-4 to 4-3 attack. A new special teams coordinator was brought in to improve the play of this unit. Doug Free’s lucrative contract was restructured to be more in line with his level of play. The team addressed the some of the holes on the roster in April’s draft. The team entered the draft with six selections that were turned into seven with a trade down in round 1. They selected an OL (Travis Frederick), TE (Gavin Escobar), WR (Terrance Williams), S (J.J. Wilcox), CB (B.W. Webb), RB (Joseph Randle), and LB (DeVonte Holloman). The team decided to use a selection to address each position’s depth on the roster except QB and DL. The team brought back Anthony Spencer on the franchise tag to use as a speed rusher off the edge. And lastly, the team changed who would be the offensive play caller on game day.
In looking at the plan that Jones and company rolled out, I’m in agreement for the most part. I think the switch to a 4-3 will be very beneficial for the team. With more than half of the league’s teams now running 3-4 defenses, finding optimal players to play in this scheme is proving more and more difficult to find. Defensive ends in 4-3 are much easier to find than OLB in a 3-4 scheme in today’s NFL. Should the team implement a good rotation on the defensive line (keeping Ware and Spencer fresh), it will be interesting to see how ferocious this pass rush could be. Relieving Garrett of his play calling responsibilities was a masterstroke by Jones, but I think there were better candidates than Callahan. However, this change is better than staying with the status quo.
The main problem I find with the organization’s offseason plan was the addressing of the offensive line. Selecting a lineman in round 1 was great, yet why stop there. This unit was terrible, couldn’t get a push in the running game, and had Romo running for his life most of the time. The only reason why the line didn’t grade out even worse than it did, was that Romo was mobile enough and had enough pocket awareness to avoid some major negative plays. To this day, I still don’t get the selection of a TE in round 2 (the 3rd time in 8 drafts, (37.5%)) when the team has future hall of famer Jason Witten on the roster and the team’s offensive line is still a mess. TE and RB are the two positions NFL teams should not address high in the draft unless a truly generational talent is on the board at the time of selection.
The line for the 2013 season will have the following players competing for starting spots:
Tyron Smith (LT)
Phil Costa, Travis Frederick, MacKenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings, Ron Leary (LG, C, RG)
Doug Free, Jermey Parnell (RT)
Smith will hold down the LT spot, and Frederick is ticketed for the starting center position. If the line is strengthened with Frederick at one of the guard spots and Costa and center, the team is reportedly open to that. Leary has shown growth this offseason from his rookie campaign of 2012. The best three man combo will open the season as the starters, and this situation will play out over the next two months. Free is in a competition with Parnell, and this will also have to play out if the spot will go to one, or if a rotation will be used as it was down the stretch last season.
There is no doubt that there has been improvement overall for the 2013 team as compared to the 2012 version. With the team finishing 6-10 (2010), 8-8 (2011), 8-8 (2012), this year’s team should get anywhere from 7 to 11 wins and fight for the division title or wild card spot in the playoffs. While the team should be stingier on defense, and has more weapons on the offensive side of the ball, this team is not built for success in the postseason. The team will have to win 3 (if a one or two seed) or 4 games in the playoffs to be the champions. Unfortunately, this offensive line will not be able to hold up against the quality of defenses (49ers, Seahawks, Giants, etc.) it will have to get past in the postseason to have the type of success that Jerry Jones and company are hoping for. Fans will enjoy this season, it’s just a little sad the team came up a little short on making it truly a title contender.
Follow Craig Cortemeglia on Twitter at @ccortemegliaTLH