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2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC East: Dallas Cowboys - 2nd

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 24, 2013

 

2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC East: Dallas Cowboys - 2nd  

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

Tony Romo has received a lot of flak for failing to lead the Cowboys deep into the playoffs. The reality is, his production as well as the team’s results were right in line with his talent level. Romo is a smart, very accurate quarterback who lacks an elite arm, elite size and makes some bad decisions. Nonetheless, Romo threw for over 4900 yards and was, ultimately, not anywhere close to the reason the Cowboys were largely inconsistent in 2012. As he ages, his time may soon be up. But for now, Dallas has the quarterback play to compete to win the NFC East.

 

Running Back:

As prolific as the passing game seemed last year, the Cowboys roundly struggled to sustain any semblance of a rushing attack, averaging 3.6 yards per rush as a team. Talented but seemingly injury-prone DeMarco Murray led the team with 663 yards. When Murray is on the field, he is a balanced back with very good size, speed, explosiveness and ball skills. Unfortunately, Murray has missed nine games in his two years in the league. Gone is former first round pick Felix Jones as the backup, but the Cowboys are comfortable the remaining cast of backs. 5'8” Lance Dunbar has flashed as an extremely fast and shifty weapon out of the backfield. Phillip Tanner is a no-nonsense, downhill bruiser who should see much more action here in his third year. Finally, the team drafted Joseph Randle, a smooth, super effective and productive college runner with underrated overall movement skills and polish.

 

Wide Receiver:

Dallas may not have the receiver depth of other teams around the league. But few teams can boast a player of the supreme caliber of Dez Bryant. Bryant, only 24 years old, put on a show, dominating opponents with excellent speed, burst, suddenness and physicality in the open field after the catch, and the terrific hands and body control to make nearly impossible catches. Bryant maintained this down the stretch, even as he dealt with a badly broken index finger that required offseason surgery. Bryant has the talent to be the most dangerous receiver in the league going forward. Opposite him, it would seem as though 6'3” 214-pound Miles Austin has all the physical tools to be a premier receiver as well. He is big, physical and fast with the skills to be effective out of the slot as well. However, Austin has failed to gain 1000 yards in either of the past couple seasons and has struggled some with untimely drops. His lack of elite play may be due to nagging injuries he has had to overcome. The Cowboys will no longer have Kevin Ogletree as a third guy. They will depend on a group including the improving, high-effort Dwayne Harris, diminutive and polished Cole Beasley, and big, fast rookie Terrance Williams.

 

Tight End:

Veteran leader Jason Witten continues his bid to be a Hall of Famer, again leading the Cowboys in targets and catching 110 balls in 2012. Witten lacks field-stretching ability but he is as dependable and polished as it gets. He has excellent size and some of the most impressive ball skills in the game. He is also very physical and a great blocker. Athletic, pass catching James Hanna should also see more opportunities in his second year as the Cowboys offense will use more two-tight end sets in 2013. Veteran journeyman Dante Rosario has started sparingly over his career and would be adequate should injuries create a chance. Long rookie Gavin Escobar brings some more intermediate receiving talent.

 

Offensive Line:

The weakest link on the offense was the line. The Cowboys struggled to facilitate any kind of running game while also failing to be consistently sound in protection. The specific issues arose from the interior. Last year, center Phil Costa's injuries forced inadequate replacements like Ryan Cook into action. Dallas drafted large center Travis Frederick, providing more bulk and execution to the position. Guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau were utterly mediocre. The drafting of Frederick could allow Phil Costa to move over to guard, upgrading at least one spot. Further, second-year guard Ronald Leary is a powerful option who impressed in offseason efforts. Right tackle Doug Free had a difficult time containing edge rushers, and has put his job at right tackle in jeopardy this offseason. The lone bright spot was Tyron Smith at left tackle. While it is certain that Smith will be the left tackle, and Frederick should start at center, the Cowboys will have some competition along their line.

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Best Offensive Rookie – RB Joseph Randle

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – TE James Hanna

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Guard

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – G Cyril Richardson, Baylor

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive End:

After a long and inconsistent experiment with the 3-4, the Cowboys are shifting to a 4-3 defensive front under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The key to the success of the shift is clearly the play of elite pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, who combined for 22.5 sacks in 2012. Rushing full time, they should be a terror off the edge, especially if Spencer can stay healthy after undergoing a knee surgery in July. Tyrone Crawford was expected to play a big role as a high-motor, run stopping rotational piece but suffered a torn Achilles' in camp. Providing limited depth are George Selvie, Kyle Wilber and Ben Bass. Selvie, in particular, has flashed as a rusher in preseason action.

 

Defensive Tackle:

Inside, the Cowboys have the potential to have a disruptive interior rushing attack with the duo of Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher. Ratliff, a former Pro Bowl-caliber player, could excel on a four-man line but will need to get healthy after missing ten games in 2012 and failing to get a sack. Hatcher has steadily made a name for himself as a Cowboy starter, grabbing four sacks last year. Dallas, however, does need to beef up the depth at defensive tackle. Nick Hayden and Sean Lissemore have been unproductive as NFL players, with Hayden failing to make a difference when he had a chance to start in the past in Carolina.

 

Linebacker:

The Cowboys are strong in the heart of their defense with two potentially elite players in middle linebacker Sean Lee and outside linebacker Bruce Carter. Lee's 2012 season-ending injury went underrated as a substantial downgrade in talent. He is fast, instinctive, a great tackler and dangerous playmaker. Carter is one of the few most athletic linebackers in the NFL and will be playing a position best suited for his skill set. At the other starting spot, experienced veteran Justin Durant enters as another athletic player who finds himself consistently around the ball. Once again, the team lacks great depth but rookie DeVonte Holloman is big, athletic and comfortable in coverage.

 

Cornerback:

Last year, Dallas greatly upgraded their cornerback position and returns Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. The three are physically capable of sticking to guys in man coverage and will now be asked to be instinctive and make plays in zone coverage. The Cowboys had trouble getting interceptions and hope to do more as their eyes will be more honed in on the quarterback's. Quick-twitch rookie B.W. Webb and scrappy Sterling Moore are newcomers. 

 

Safety:

The Cowboys were extremely disappointed in the play of their safeties last year. Now, the group should see a significant amount of competition among Barry Church, Will Allen, Matt Johnson and J.J. Wilcox. None of them have gained much, if any, starting experience in the league. Matt Johnson provides the best combination of size, speed and playmaking ability. Wilcox is a raw, physical and impressive athlete with quick-twitch skills. Allen hasn't notched an interception since 2005.

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Best Defensive Rookie – CB B.W. Webb

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – CB Morris Claiborne

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Safety 

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – S Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State