Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 3/8/12

The Dallas Cowboys finished like I thought they would, 8-8. This is a time when I hate being right. Of the six winnable games for Dallas they lost only one, Arizona. I said for them to be successful they needed to win 4 of their 6 divisional games and beat the Jets. They did neither of these and so they ended up with only 8 wins. The only team they defeated with more than 8 wins is San Francisco. Regardless of any successful victory, losing within their division is the killer and it hurt them the most. If you cannot beat the teams in your division then you might as well not count on the playoffs. Dallas had their chances to win this season, but chose not to and this decision came long before the season began.

Many fans have had their say in why Dallas missed the playoffs, pointing to everything from Tony Romo to the coaching staff, to the ownership. While it would be easy to attack why the Cowboys failed, I would like to look at what made them a success. Handing out season awards per group.

Special teams:

This is an easy group to assess. Dan Bailey came on as a rookie and was thrust into full time duty when David Beuhler left with an injury. He finished the season 21st best in touchback percentage, and 10th best with an 86% completion percentage in field goals. Bailey and the Cowboys were also 5th fewest in kickoff return average yards allowed. Bailey was helped out by improved kickoff coverage. That is why the best player, and the one who helped Dallas the most to win, from special teams is Danny McCray. Bailey put points on the board, but with his lack of leg strength it gave opposing teams greater chances to return the ball. That is where McCray came in. McCray also helped Dallas rank in the top 4 teams on yards allowed on punt returns. Danny McCray gets my vote for key player on Special Teams.

Offense:

Romo had the best season of his career, but it was not enough.

There are many that could be placed on this list and this one will be most difficult to choose. Laurent Robinson is the first name that comes to mind. Robinson was third on the team in receiving yards and first in touchdowns. He played a key role in the offense and was always open when Romo needed him. Another key contributor was DeMarco Murray. Murray burst onto the scene and lead the Cowboys in rushing yards and touchdowns until an injury shortened his season. There are two stats that are important to me when evaluating running backs, yards after contact and mean yards per carry. Median carry would be what you would most likely get from a running back every time they touch the ball.

As an example, let’s say running back number 1 had rushes of 80, 5, 5, 5, and 5 and running back number 2 had carries of 20, 20, 20, 20, and 20. Both running backs would have an average of 20 yards per carry, but that is not telling the whole story. The definition of median is if you ranked all the numbers from lowest to highest and picked the middle number, that would be the number you would most likely get. In this example when looking at the average both running backs would be the same, but in reality running back number 2 would give you the best production. Every time you give him the ball you could expect him to carry closer to 20 yards than running back number 1 who would be closer to 5. Felix Jones has a median carry of 3 for the season while Murray has a median of 4 for the season. Murray clearly helped Dallas win some games as teams had to respect his ability to get 4 yards every time he touched the ball.

Finally is Tony Romo. Many will point to Romo’s poor performances at the beginning of the season would exclude him right away. However well all should look at a few things; Romo did not play a competitive football game for about 9 months. Then there was the lockout, no training camp, and little work to get back up to speed. It also hurt him that a key receiver, Dez Bryant, needed training camp even more than he did. Couple in the rib injury he sustained in week two and you have to be impressed with Romo’s overall season. Romo finished with the 4th best passer rating in the league. I don’t see how anyone cannot give the award to Romo. The offensive line that at times could not block wind, injured running backs, injured receivers, receivers that can only run a handful of routes, and a defense that consistently gave up leads in the 4th quarter and I don’t see how you can give the award to anyone else.

The defense:

There were few bright spots on the defense. Looking at the stats this comes down to two players. Gerald Sensabaugh was second on the team in tackles, and Orlando Scandrick played really well, but neither of them were the stars. DeMarcus Ware capped off another season where he was near the top of the league in sacks. He had almost half the tackles of the key player this season on defense, Sean Lee. Lee led the team in tackles and interceptions. Also when he went down with a wrist injury it changed the Dallas defense. Lee had troubles tackling and especially in the 4th quarter when he tired is when he struggled the most in the end if Lee was not on the defense then Dallas would have lost several more games.

The Coaching Staff and Front Office:

The best thing they did was draft and develop players like Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter, DeMarco Murray, and Bill Nagy. In addition developing and utilizing free agent pickups like Barry Church, Dan Bailey and Alex Albright was great work. The rest I won’t comment on right now. The star of the front office has to go to Chris Boniol. I know this may seem hypocritical since I did not name Bailey as the key player on special teams, but Boniol got a rookie ready and he performed amazingly.

Now for the low lights of the season.

Special teams:

The biggest low light has to be David Beuhler. Not only did Beuhler lose his job to Bailey he ticked off the owner buy not rehabbing properly. If he is on the roster next season it will shock me. Because of his injury and lack of commitment it lead to Dallas having reduced touchbacks and maybe some field goals. I think there is a chance that some of the blocked field goals at the end of the season could have been avoided by a fresh leg from Bailey not having to kick so much or Beuhler having the stronger leg and getting the ball higher. Yeah, asking Beuhler to make a field goal is like asking your kid to quit playing the Wii and do homework, but I think his impact to the team was the most damaging.

The Offense:

Dez will be the difference in the offensive success next season.

Rushing touchdowns were third worst in the league, which is worse than 10th worst in 2010 and 2008, and 16th worst in 2009. Dallas should have fixed this as they knew it was an issue but only really addressed it this season. The guards and center are to blame in this part. The interior of the line quality has diminished and really is the biggest lowlight of the season. That or Dez’s lack of second half production and being beaten in total touchdowns by a guy they found on the street.

Now outside of DeMarco Murray breaking his ankle, and Miles Austin losing a pass in the lights, the biggest disappointment has to be my favorite player Dez Bryant. That is hard to say about a player who was second on the team in almost every receiving stat and only in his second season. The disappointment was how he disappeared in the second half of games. How he can only run a few routes, rumors he is late to meetings and just general not staying up to speed. Yes he needed an offseason and the only reason he was a disappointment is because he is just that talented.

The Defense:

Newman won't be back, which will hurt the secondary more.

I could go on and on about the defense, but in reality it comes down to two issues pass defense and pressure on the QB. Dallas is 7th in QB sacks with just under half of all their sacks coming from one player. They were 29th in passes defended. While this could point to the secondary as the issue, I think that the lack of pressure on the QB is why Dallas struggled in pass defense. If you look at teams such as New York who was considered to have the worst pass defense in the league they improved on both. Now it’s kind of hard to argue that Dallas needs to be better on defense since they were ranked better than three of the four teams in the championship games this season. In addition, it was hard to find any defensive stat where Dallas was worse than New England or New York. However, Dallas did a poor job of stopping teams on third down. The Giants were better than Dallas in stopping teams on third down, but that alone did not make the Giants better.

For as much as folks want to pick on the secondary, the reality is they were not near as bad as folks say.. One thing I agree with is the secondary needs to improve, but no more or less than the pass rush, or the run defense. Before folks start lighting up the comment board keep in mind all I think about while I type this are those numerous catches that Giants receivers made INFRONT and behind the Dallas secondary.

However the key player who is at fault for the Cowboys demise is surprisingly Anthony Spencer. Yes I know those who like Spencer will point to him being the team leader in forced fumbles, second in sacks, and 4th in team tackles, but there is one key point that is left out of those stats. During the season Spencer was quoted as saying that there were several games and practices where he was not giving 100%. While I am sure he is not the only Cowboy who did that this past season, but he admitted it. That to me means he should be cut and Dallas should move on.

The coaching staff and front office:

Jason is still learning to be both Head Coach and Coordinator

I think there is a more press about Jerry Jones and his GM (or lack of) skills than necessary. The biggest issue with Jerry Jones is that he wants to win too soon. However my problems with him I will save for my draft preview. If you think that Jerry is that bad of a GM then tell me who pulled in players like Miles Austin, Tony Romo, Barry Church, Bryan McCann, Terrell Owens, Deon Sanders and Charles Haley? They are all players that had options of where to go, but chose Dallas. While one can debate their true value to the team, no one can debate that each of those players contributed to wins.

On the other hand Jerry, Jason and the boys all made a mistake with the salary cap and ignored the offensive line position so long that they had to cut three of the five starters from the season prior. Then they continue to draft developmental projects or seemingly reach for players like Josh Thomas. Granted hindsight is 20/20, but the Cowboys drafted Josh Thomas with the 143rd overall pick in the draft. If they were just trying to get a cornerback they missed on players like Richard Sherman drafted at 154 44 tackles and 3 interceptions. Also Chris L Rucker was drafted at 188 and had 33 tackles, or Jimmy Wilson drafted 235th with 17 tackles and 1 interception. When you look at the rest of the CB drafted you will see most of them contributed. So Dallas really missed on him and a position of need this past season. Jason Garrett kept Jerry from wheelin and dealin and just took players that came to them. That may have contributed to the error, but I think Dallas could have done a lot better in the draft.

Jason cost Dallas a few games as well. Play calling in the red zone was questioned in almost every close loss and even some wins. Then there was the time out where he iced his own kicker. I still chock that up to Jason being new to the dual role of Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator. However with all that the key guy who cost Dallas the most games this past season has to be Ryan. Ryan had his players confused on so many plays this past season that teams like Philly, New York, and Arizona were able to walk all over the Cowboys. I know he had to do more with less, he did not have help from the offensive running game, and that he did not have an offseason to install his defense. I think that he just really shot the Cowboys in the foot by consistently giving up 4th quarter leads and not stopping opponents on third down.

In the end Dallas finished in the middle of the pack despite some of their key players finishing at the top of the league. It is obvious that there is something key missing from the Cowboys. If you listen to Jason Hatcher it’s a leader and yep maybe that is what they need. However, Ray Lewis is probably the epitome of a leader for not just offense or defense he is the leader for a team, and he has only been to one Super Bowl in his 10+ year career. Are you really telling me that having some guy walk up and down the line holding guys accountable will change how the team plays? That is not the reason Dallas did not make the playoffs. In the pros you need self motivators. You need guys who want to compete and not guys who just want to pick up a paycheck. Outside of Jay Ratliff, DeMarcus Ware, Keith Brooking, Bradie James, and Sean Lee I don’t see any other defensive starter that comes to the game with the same attitude.

Dallas needs guys who had fight every day to get where they are. That is why I wanted Dallas to take players like JJ Watt, DeMarco Murray, and Jon Connor players with passion, talent, and fit a need on the team.

In the end Dallas has set themselves up for a series of mediocre seasons. They don’t have a solid second level or an experienced offensive line. Yes they are working on that, and improving all areas of the team. What Dallas needs to do is draft well, spend money wisely, and not take big risks. They need to select players who have developed their position as much as players with incredible talent.

All of the factors have lead to a disappointing season for Dallas fans. Regardless of who you blame for the failure or success, there is not one single position or part of the team that cannot use some help or improvement. What Dallas does this offseason will truly set the tone for the Cowboys staying at.500, making the playoffs, or falling to the bottom of the league.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

PLAYERS: Tony Romo
TEAMS: Dallas Cowboys
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