Another year, another Cowboys December meltdown. This year the script was a little bit different. Entering the month of December at 5-6, it didn’t look like there would be anything for the team to choke away, but three straight wins put them in control of their own destiny with two games to go. Even with a week 16 loss, the Giants’ late season struggles allowed the Cowboys to still control their own destiny heading into a “win and you’re in” week 17 clash with the Redskins. However, at the end of the day, the Cowboys strong start to December only served to get their fans hopes up, as the team missed the playoffs for the 3rd straight season and for the 4th time in 5 years.
Tony Romo was much better than he normally was in December this year, playing very well in the three wins, including two upset wins over the Steelers and Bengals, to get them to 8-6. Even their week 16 loss to the Saints was way more on the defense than Romo, who led them back from down two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to send it to overtime, where the defense gave it right back. Through the first 4 games of the month, Romo was 103 of 155 for 1328 yards, 10 touchdowns, and an interception, but he completely melted down against Washington, going 20 of 37 for 218 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 awful, crushing interceptions. Romo is now 16-22 in the months of December and January and 39-16 in all other months of the season.
Still, calls for Romo to be benched are ridiculous. He’s led the team to at least 8 wins in every season as a starter, except for 2010, when he missed 10 games with injuries. He’s still a top-15 NFL quarterback and fans of teams like Arizona, Kansas City, and Jacksonville would kill to have him rather than the rotating door of crap they’ve had in recent memory. I still think he could win a Super Bowl if everything around him were right, but right now it’s not.
That can be blamed on Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ owner/GM who has made numerous mistakes in building this team over the past few years. He even admitted himself that if the GM were anyone other than himself, he would have fired him by now. He should take some of his own advice and at least hire someone to do the day to day work of a GM. He could still allow himself the final call on decisions, but he’s not qualified to hold the kind of power he currently holds. 71 in October, Jerry Jones is on the path to becoming the next Al Davis.
The Cowboys made two head scratching decisions at guard last off-season, signing Nate Livings to a 5 year deal to play left guard and signing Mackenzy Bernadeau to a 4 year deal to play right guard. Livings was one of the worst guards in the league in 2011, while Bernadeau was an inexperienced former 7th round pick that no one else saw as a starter. Livings actually played very well this season, but Bernadeau played as expected. There’s been some talk of him moving to center, though I don’t know how much that will help. Either way, they need a new starter at right guard.
Here’s why Bernadeau could move to center. Phil Costa was one of the worst starting centers in the NFL in 2011 and in 2012 he barely played thanks to injuries. They could use a new starter here as well. They really need to shore up the interior of their offensive line. Ryan Cook played alright this season in Costa’s absence, but I don’t know if he can be counted on.
Yeah, they need help in this part of the offensive line too. After a strong 2010 season, the Cowboys rewarded left tackle Doug Free with a 4 year, 32 million dollar contract with 17 million guaranteed, even though he was only a one year starter. He proved to be a one year wonder. He struggled at left tackle in 2011 and was moved to right tackle this year, in hopes of turning things around.
He didn’t turn things around. In fact, he was worse. He was one of the worst tackles in the league, allowing 6 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 42 quarterback hurries, while committing a league leading 15 penalties. He split time with Jeremy Parnell down the stretch, who didn’t impress either. Free ranked 66th out of 80 eligible tackles on ProFootballFocus. Owed a non-guaranteed 7 million in 2013, he could easily be cut and replaced with another right tackle.
The Cowboys have hired Monte Kiffin to coach their defense, which is a stupid move. They spent big resources on Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne last off-season, but both fit a man press scheme better than Kiffin’s signature Cover 2. Kiffin says he won’t force the scheme on the cornerbacks, but why hire Kiffin if you aren’t going to run the Tampa 2? Kiffin is a good coordinator, but this is a terrible fit and it looks like Jerry Jones only did it for the attention and his big name.
That being said, Kiffin will move their front 7 to a 4-3 alignment, which fits their personnel much better. Jay Ratliff is a much better fit at 4-3 defensive tackle than 3-4 nose. All 3 of their talented non-rush linebackers, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, and Dan Connor, will be able to be on the field at the same time, while Lee and Carter will be able to play in space more often. DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher will shift to defensive end and defensive tackle respectively just fine.
That just leaves the Cowboys needing another end opposite Ware. Anthony Spencer is a candidate, after a breakout 2012, but he’s a free agent and the Cowboys don’t have the cap space to get into a bidding war for him. Many in the know don’t think he’ll be back. Talented rotational edge rusher Victor Butler is also an option, but also a free agent. They could use an early pick on a young bookend for Ware.
DeMarco Murray has suffered a major injury in each of his first two seasons in the NFL. This is no surprise. Injuries were the reason he fell to the 3rd round despite his talent. Backup Felix Jones is also injury prone and very inconsistent as well. He can’t be relied on as anything more than a sparingly used change of pace back and he’s a free agent this off-season anyway. Neither Phillip Tanner nor Lance Dunbar showed much in limited action this season. They could use a mid-round pick on some depth here.
The Cowboys entered 2012 with the proven Barry Church as one of their starting safeties. He barely played this year after tearing his Achilles, but Jerry Jones still thought it would be a good time to give him a 4 year contract even though he wasn’t a pending free agent. He’ll obviously go into 2013 as a starter, but I question if that’s wise. At the very least, they need to add some depth because Danny McCray and others who stepped in for Church this year were awful.
Miles Austin has really struggled with injuries over the past two years. He’s owed 6.7 million next year and the cap crunched Cowboys can save 5 million on the cap by cutting him early in the off-season. If they do that, they should add another receiver in the mix. Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, and Cole Beasley had some good moments this season, but it’s unclear if any of them are starter material. Ogletree will probably get the first crack, but more competition wouldn’t hurt.
The Cowboys were 29th in the NFL, averaging just 20.6 yards per kickoff return.