For a third successive season, America’s team came into the last game of the season with a winner takes all scenario on the table. And for the third successive season Jerry Jones’ men were found wanting. An 8-8 record was good enough for second place in the division, but ultimately Chip Kelly’s Eagles were too strong for the inconsistent Cowboys. Much maligned Tony Romo was once again criticised by many, but it is defensively that the Cowboys must look when apportioning blame for their disappointing year. Changes are needed to return to the dominance of the 1990s, but with Jones at the helm it is by no means certain that any of these will be made in the near future. A run of three defeats in the last four games, including giving up 26-3 half time lead to the Packers, ultimately proved far too costly.
When looking at just his statistics, the criticism of Romo appears very unfair. A rating of 96.7 thanks to 3828 yards and a 31-10 touchdown to interception ratio is by no means a poor effort. He has earned a reputation as being someone unable to deliver at ‘clutch’ times, but there are many other teams in the NFL who would gladly take his services if they ever became available. DeMarco Murray missed game time through injury yet still racked up 1121 yards on the ground (at an average of 5.2 per carry), chipping in with 9 scores, earning him a trip to Hawaii. Fellow Pro Bowler Dez Bryant was the outstanding receiver for Romo; his 1233 yards and 13 scores came from 93 receptions. Tight end Jason Witten again proved reliable, with 73 catches for 851 yards and 8 scores. Miles Austin disappointed following injury, but the slack was taken up by rookie wideout Terrance Williams. He displayed great promise for the future in hauling in 44 catches for 736 yards and 5 scores in his debut year. First round pick Travis Frederick also did a solid job in solidifying the centre of the Cowboys’ offensive line.
The 2013 Cowboys’ defence will go down amongst one of the worst of all time, as Jerry Jones’ decision to fire coordinator Rob Ryan and replace him with Monte Kiffen backfired in spectacular fashion. The team suffered badly from injuries, especially on the defensive line, but still ranked dead last in allowing 415.3 yards per game. They managed to allow 27 points per game, which placed them above six other outfits, but losses in games in which they scored 48 points (to Denver) and 36 points (to Green Bay) were tough to swallow. Barry Church recorded 135 tackles, whilst Sean Lee’s 99 tackles and 4 picks saw him being the undisputed number one player on the unit. Brandon Carr also recorded 3 picks and defended 12 passes. On the line, Jason Hatcher recorded 11 sacks and DeMarcus Ware chipped in with six despite being hampered with injury. With both players lost to Free Agency (Ware to Denver and Hatcher to rivals Washington), George Selvie may need to improve on his 7 sacks from 2013. Restructuring is badly needed on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys to compete with the Eagles in 2014.
Dwayne Harris excelled in averaging 30.6 yards per kick-off return and 12.8 per punt return, including an 86 yard touchdown. Kicker Dan Bailey missed just two of 30 Field Goals, only one of which was under 50 yards. Chris Jones averaged a net of 39.1 yards per punt.
That Jason Garrett is still in a job is seen as a surprise to many. Not just because of the results that the Cowboys achieved under his stewardship, but also because of Jerry Jones’ hands on ownership style. Jones exerts much more influence on his team than other owners in the league and his position as General manager means that he must take as much of the blame for under performance as anyone else in the organisation. Garrett and his team did come under heavy criticism for their play calling in the game that was ‘thrown away’ against the Packers down the stretch and, unless on field performance improves markedly in 2014, it would be a surprise to see the current Head Coach make it through another unsuccessful year unscathed. Monte Kiffen has some work to do to restore his reputation too, after presiding over that defence and being demoted to ‘Assistant Head Coach/Defense’ on his official job title.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Even before the loss of Ware and Hatcher, the defence was the priority in Dallas. That these two players were lost as salary cap casualties says much about Jones’ cap management skills; other GMs around the league may have tried to work harder to restructure contracts to keep these players. With little cap room to work with, the Cowboys have not been overly active in the market so far; although the addition of Henry Melton from Chicago could prove to be a good move if he can recover his form after injury ruled him out of much of last season.
Expect further defensive additions to dominate the draft, with more help needed across the line and at safety. A new wide receiver may also be added to the ranks to replace the departed Austin via the draft.