QB: By now, we pretty much know what Tony Romo’s ceiling is. He could certainly play better if Jerry Jones actually put a half-decent offensive line in front of him, but in terms of skill-set, nobody is going to argue at this point in his career that his arrow is pointing up.
OK. With that caveat out of the way, I understand that Cowboys fans are frustrated my Romo’s penchant for blowing games in spectacular fashion, and I also understand that opposing fans love to revel in Romo’s worst moments. However, without Romo this past season, the Cowboys wouldn’t have even been competitive.
Let’s consider a few things:
• The Cowboys finished 31st in rushing yards this season.
Here were their rushing totals, by game:
The league average for rushing yards per game in 2012 was 115.9. The Cowboys failed to reach that mark 13 times. They failed to break 100 rushing yards 11 times. They failed to even reach 50 yards 7 times.
• Opposing teams knew the Cowboys were going to throw.
At times the Cowboys abandoned the run completely. That helped contribute to the meager rushing numbers in the chart above, but it should also be noted that when the Cowboys ran the ball, they averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, which tied them for second worst in the NFL. And so, I don’t want this to sound like I’m blaming Jason Garrett for not running the ball enough, because frankly, they couldn’t run it. Still, the Cowboys had a pass-run ratio of 65-35:
|Team||Rushing attempts||Passing attempts||Total plays||Pass %|
Playing QB is already hard enough in the NFL, but when you become as one-dimensional as the Cowboys were last season, the ante is upped.
• The Cowboys were 2nd in the NFL in penalties last season.
They had 138 penalties, or 8.6 per game. Doug Free led the league with 15, while Tyron Smith had 11, which tied him for 10th in the league. When you’re passing as much as the Cowboys were last season, this is what can happen. 2nd and 8 becomes either 2nd and 13, or worse, 2nd and 18. That’s added pressure on the QB.
• The right side of the offensive line was very bad.
I’m looking at you, Doug Free and Mackenzy Bernadeau.
If you can’t run it, you have to pass. When you pass too much, opposing defenses pin their ears back and attack the QB. When opposing defenses can pin their ears back and attack the QB, you commit penalties and the weak links along your OL are exposed. This typically leads to bad QB play.
However, in Romo’s case, he was great for the better part of 2012, with the exception of a few rare clunkers (Bears, Skins, etc).
But this is how Romo’s 2012 season will be remembered, which is fair.
Just know that Tony Romo carried the Cowboys on his back the entire season, without a lot of help from some of the circumstances around him.
Could the Cowboys draft a QB project? Sure, I can see that. I just wouldn’t expect the Cowboys to use a high a pick on a QB this season, unless one that the Cowboys really like falls in their laps, which is unlikely considering QBs are so wildly over-drafted these days.
RB: Most of my blame for the Cowboys inept run game goes to the OL, who simply didn’t open up enough holes this season, and were generally beaten at the point of attack week in and week out. DeMarco Murray is, in my opinion, a perfectly fine feature back. He has speed, he runs hard, breaks tackles, and is a weapon in the passing game. The Cowboys are fine there. They will, however, need to bring in a competent #2. That doesn’t mean that I would be opposed to bringing back Felix Jones, but I would only do so with Felix as my #3. If Felix can find “#2 RB money” (whatever that is) on the open market, then best of luck, my China doll friend.
WR: Dez Bryant has become a fantastic player (see his numbers below in the TE section), and while Miles Austin can be a tease, he is still at the very least a great #2. Meanwhile, Dwayne Harris is emerging as a a really nice #3. It couldn’t hurt to bring in some athletes late in the draft, but I don’t see much of a need here.
TE: In doing research for this breakdown, I found something very interesting about Jason Witten in comparison to the other weapons in the Cowboys’ passing game.
On the one hand, he caught 110 passes this season for 1039 yards. He did so on 150 targets. The Cowboys had 5 players this season with at least 30 targets. Among that group, Witten had the highest completion percentage, with a whopping 73.3%.
However, among that same group, Witten had the lowest YPA:
Why? Well, that answer is pretty obvious. He only managed 9.4 yards per catch, which was almost 2 yards less than his career average. He has also only managed 8 TDs over the last 2 years. In today’s NFL, so many teams are finding success making opposing offenses dink and dunk their way down the field. They either capitalize on mistakes by forcing turnovers, or they’re tightening up in the red zone. And so, a player like Witten, who is no longer stretching the field the way he used to or producing in the red zone, is not going to put much fear into many teams.
Witten is going to be 31 in May. I’d begin my search for his replacement before it’s too late.
OL: I don’t know if there’s a Cowboys writer on the planet that has written more about the Cowboys’ need to fix their OL over the last 3 years than me. I’m kind of burnt out on the subject, but here we go again. The Cowboys continue to experience the nuclear fallout from ignoring their aging, declining OL dating back to 2008. A timeline:
With an aging OL in place, the Cowboys had a total of 18 draft picks in 2008 and 2009. With those 18 picks, they selected one offensive lineman, Robert Brewster. Brewster is no longer with the team.
In 2010, the Cowboys drafted one offensive lineman, Sam Young, in the 6th round. Young, like Brewster, is no longer with the team. They headed into the 2010 season with the oldest offensive line in the NFL. Leonard Davis celebrated his 32nd birthday just before the start of the season, with Marc Colombo and Kyle Kosier celebrating their 32nd birthdays shortly thereafter. Andre Gurode was 31. The one player that was still relatively young was the 26 year old Doug Free, who was taking over at LT for the departed Flozell Adams, who was 35.
The Cowboys were the overwhelming favorites to win the NFC East that season, but in what should have been a fairly predictable outcome, the offensive line went into a sharp decline and the the offense sputtered. It didn’t help that the defense was surprisingly bad. They finished that season 6-10.
The following offseason, Jerry Jones made the obvious decision to cut bait with Colombo, Davis and Gurode, three players that were playing poorly and making far too much money. The Cowboys were, in a way, forced into “going young” along their OL. For the first time in 20+ years as the Cowboys’ GM, Jones spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman, scoring the extremely talented Tyron Smith out of USC. They would take a couple more offensive linemen in the 4th and 7th rounds, grabbing David Arkin and Bill Nagy, respectively. They also locked up Free to a long term deal, paying him $32 million over 4 years. It appeared that after years of ignoring the OL, it was finally becoming a priority, albeit way too late.
To begin the season, the Cowboys started two rookies: Nagy at LG, and Tyron Smith at RT. They also plugged in 2nd year player Phil Costa at center. Kosier was moved from LG over to the right side to be sort of an “offensive tackle whisperer” for Smith. In one offseason, they went from the oldest offensive line in the league to one of the youngest.
With so many new and unproven players inserted into the lineup, the Cowboys’ offensive line once again sputtered all season, this time even more predictably than in 2010. Smith had a great rookie year, but the two other new pieces, Costa and Nagy, both had brutal seasons. Costa’s poor play lasted 16 games, while Nagy’s bad season was cut short in Week 6, when he was lost for the season with a broken ankle. Kosier’s decline and health issues continued. Free, meanwhile, was a major disappointment, having a surprisingly bad season. The Cowboys were learning that turning over a full offensive line in a short amount of time isn’t exactly easy. They hit with one player, missed with two, and were heading into the 2012 once again needing to scramble to find answers.
The Cowboys’ plan of attack for the OL in 2012, as usual, puzzled me. First, they signed OG Mackenzy Bernadeau, a player that had a couple bad seasons in 2009 and 2010 in Carolina, who then lost his job in 2011. The Cowboys then went out and signed 30 year old Nate Livings, a player that Bengals fans by and large were more than happy to see leave. With Livings and Bernadeau in place, the team felt comfortable cutting Kosier. On the outside, the Cowboys flip-flopped Smith and Free, with Smith moving from RT to LT, and vice versa. No offensive linemen were drafted.
Heading into 2012, the Cowboys had an almost complete lack of continuity along the Cowboys OL:
Costa was lost for the season early on, Livings played surprisingly well, Mackenzy Bernadeau did not, and Doug Free’s contract now looks like a horrible mistake, as he was bad for the second straight year.
The team still has next to no depth along the OL, and one of the worst RG-RT combos in all of football.
I say it every year, and I’ll say it again: PUT SOME REAL RESOURCES INTO FIXING YOUR OFFENSIVE LINE, JERRY JONES.
Probably won’t happen.