Division Winner? For the third year in a row, the Cowboys were on the verge of a playoff berth, playing against an NFC East foe in the last game of the season. And, for the third year in a row, they blew it, and in the process coming one game shy of actually sweeping their division in 2013. It never seemed like a lack of trying this year; more like a lack of healthy bodies, including not having Tony Romo for the last game (some might actually say that was a benefit, but I recall backup Kyle Orton throwing the interception that sealed the Cowboys’ playoff-less fate this time around).
Milestones Of 2013: No Cowboys fan wants to even look for a silver lining after another heartbreaking season, but underneath it all there remains a glimmer of hope. Tony Romo had another fine season, and statistically has been one of the best QBs in the NFL for several years now. Head Coach Jason Garrett has another year of experience under his belt, but the utter confusion surrounding his staff (who is calling the plays? What happened to Monte Kiffin’s defense? What happened to Monte Kiffin?) makes it hard to lay too much of the blame (or applause) on Garrett.
Instead, I think fans are more convinced than ever that Jerry Jones is going to continue to tease them with teams that appear capable of great things, but due to injury histories or any number of bizarre snafus (playcalling, execution, etc), never even reach the summit of good things. Again, a silver lining; Demarco Murray, when used adequately, was a thorn in the side of every defense he faced. The offensive line is starting to take shape, with Pro Bowl talent Tyron Smith at left tackle and rookie Travis Frederick having a solid season at center. The evolution of Dez Bryant continues, and despite his lapses in production (a testament to bad playcalling more often than not), he remains one of the five best at his position. Jason Witten is a year older but seems to be as effective as ever, even if his stats are on a slight decline.
Milestones for the defense? Just one: getting through 2013 without completely falling apart. By a thread is about right.
The Season In Review
The first month of the season seemed a perfect encapsulation of the Cowboys’ last decade; a win, a loss (against an eventual playoff team), a win, a loss (against an eventual playoff team). It wasn’t until week 5 that the team gave their fans something to truly rally behind. They lost to the Broncos.
But the now-infamous Jerry Jones quote of it being a “moral victory”, however ridiculous, actually spoke to something far more true; this 2013 Cowboys team could hang with anyone if they wanted to. Hang, but eventually find a way to let go at the last second. After the 51-48 monster of a game against Denver, the Cowboys bounced back to win divisional games against the already-deflated Redskins and the inexperienced Eagles, who were still in the midst of a QB ‘situation’. Losing by one point to the Lions put a cap on October.
November? More of the same. In between barely beating two lesser teams in Minnesota and New York (Giants), the Cowboys were thrashed by the New Orleans Saints like most teams were in the Superdome in 2013. Their week 11 bye apparently geared them up to beat the Giants, but consecutive losses to the lowly Raiders and the better Bears seemed to take most of the air out of the team. But wait! The NFC East as a whole was still up for grabs. Even after a heartbreaking loss to the Packers in early December, it was still in reach. Dallas managed to eke out a one point win over the Redskins before, once again, finishing in dramatically depressing fashion by losing their division in the last game of the regular season; this time to the much more experienced and prepared Eagles.
In a nutshell: up, down, up and then finally finishing down. A trend that the Cowboys have perfected.
Who can tell? Jason Garrett has another year to get things going, but again, how much can he do? Do any of us really know? Jerry Jones is the overseer without a real clue about overseeing his football team, and he apparently is standing in the way of this decent team taking the next step.
A middle of the pack draft number (17th) doesn’t necessarily hurt the Cowboys, but what they use it on is pivotal; their defense was an absolute mess in 2013, and they need real help at all three levels. DeMarcus Ware is aging and nobody on the team seems adequate to even come close to replacing his production and ability to harass the pocket. The secondary was decent on the edges, but the safety positions were poor at best. Sean Lee is seemingly a game away from being on IR every time he suits up, which is a shame because he is the heart and soul of this defense when healthy.
So, what has to happen? An influx of defensive talent for new coordinator Rod Marinelli to work with, for one. Letting Miles Austin walk is also vital; he’s eating up cap space and lacks the ability to change games like he did only a couple of years ago. Developing an actual offensive philosophy instead of only hearing Jason Garrett say they have one will be pivotal despite the team scoring the 5th most points in the league in 2013; all those points meant nothing when the Cowboys couldn’t sustain time-killing drives, or didn’t even bother trying to kill time, most of the time. 8-8 doesn’t seem like a big hurdle to overcome; but in Dallas, it is apparently the biggest hurdle on their track.
QB – B+
RB – C+
WR – B
TE – B
OL – C+
DL – D
LB – D+
CB – C
FS/SS – C
K/P – B-
KR/PR – B
Team MVP: Dez Bryant, WR
Offensive MVP: DeMarco Murray, RB
Defensive MVP: Barry Church, FS
Rookie Of The Year: Travis Frederick, C
Biggest Disappointment: Losing the division in the same fashion for a third straight year.
Very Early 2014 Projection: 9-7, No Postseason Berth