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Fixing the Dallas Cowboys

Last week, the Dallas Cowboys’ season was declared dead at the hands of the Giants. On All Hallow’s Eve, the Cowboys were raised from the dead for the express purpose of being bludgeoned again by the Jaguars. This week, we perform the autopsy on the 2010 Dallas Cowboys. 

The first thing to do is to determine cause of death. In this case, it is very difficult because there are so many contributing causes. The removal of Romo was definitely the noticeable acute cause, as he was masking some of the underlying issues and apparently also controlled the keys to the defense’s heart and focus. However, we have failure of multiple systems, and there is some question whether the Cowboys were brain dead before the Romo removal.

Coaching: Wade Phillips has not inspired confidence, and the response in the game and a half since Romo left with the shoulder injury confirms that this team lacks focus and discipline. Some teams rally around key injuries and focus more in other areas, the Cowboys have gone the opposite direction. Ultimately, accountability and focus fall back on the coach. Is Phillips the only problem? Absolutely not, but he’s also not part of the solution.

Jerry Jones could go one of two ways. He could go after the big name coach and try to attract someone like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden, and I’m sure we will hear plenty of talk about Cowher heating up as the season winds down. Can Jones give up enough control to appease a coach like Cowher or Gruden, though? The other option, as many successful teams have done, is go with a young coordinator with no head coaching experience. If I were Dallas, I would look at the offensive side of the ball for the young coordinator, and try to attract an established defensive coordinator with coaching experience to go with it, of the Gregg Williams or Mike Nolan mold. For example, one guy I think you will see get multiple opportunities to interview is 45 year old Hue Jackson of Oakland, a high energy guy who is the opposite of Phillips. Jackson is in his first year in Oakland after being on Harbaugh’s staff as the quarterback coach in Baltimore.

Offensive Line: This is problem 1a and 1b personnel wise for this organization. They let their offensive line get old without infusing new talent in the draft. Last year, Doug Free (7 starts in place of Colombo at RT) was the only lineman under age 30 to start a game. I saw this in Kansas City a few years ago, and in San Francisco at the end of the 90′s. You can have one or two old veterans on the line, but if your entire line is built on guys past 30, it can fall off a cliff as a unit quickly.

Romo was masking this by his quick release of the ball.  Dallas has been able to do nothing on the ground all year, and the offensive line has been a unit with nothing but mediocrity at best. Doug Free is a little mismatched at left tackle, but he would be acceptable if the interior line was better. Given his age, he’s got to be part of the short term solution and would be fine back at RT. Leonard Davis has been overrated anyway, and is now too slow to be effective in running the ball.  Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo have been hurt and aren’t playing well.  Andre Gurode is still a guy you can keep around, and has versatility to play G or C.

You probably can’t blow the whole thing up overnight.  Keep Free, Gurode, and put Davis, Kosier and Montrae Holland in competition for one spot.  Find replacements at a guard spot and tackle in the draft and free agency.  The problem for Dallas fans, who are eyeing a top draft pick, is that there are no elite tackle prospects in this year’s draft.  You don’t want to reach in the top 10 for a tackle who cannot handle the left side and may not move Free over.  Dallas may be better targeting a guard, which is arguably the bigger need based on the ineptness in getting anything going up the middle.  Someone like Marcus Cannon of TCU projects as a good player at guard who would upgrade the position late in the first round, when the top guards tend to start going off the board.  It may be a situation where, rather than use the top pick on the line, the Cowboys either trade down or throw numbers at the position in rounds 2-4.

Defensive Back Seven: Defenses can fall apart if one player misses an assignment or does not follow the play.  The pass defense has repeatedly blown coverages and made errors, and it is compounded by the linebacking group not being good enough in coverage.  Keith Brooking has been a good player for a long time, but he is at his end.  He is 35 years old and it is showing.  With this year gone, the team needs to find out what they have in rookie Sean Lee.  Gerald Sensabaugh needs to be replaced at safety, as he is a liability in coverage.  The 2009 draft has contributed next to nothing, and the team just released LB Jason Williams.  Mike Jenkins has been frustratingly inconsistent at cornerback in his third year, and that draft hasn’t panned out yet either.  The amazing 2005 draft is getting further and further away.

Cowboys fans may not want to hear this, but the position where the Cowboys’ needs will likely meet up with top prospects is at cornerback, where both Patrick Peterson of LSU and Prince Amukamara of Nebraska are going to project as top 10 guys.  You need three cornerbacks, or a good cover safety who can play the slot these days, so it’s not a waste of a pick that throws in the towel on Jenkins.  The Cowboys will probably address the safety position through free agency, which many teams have shown is possible in short order.

Overview: Can the Cowboys turn it around in one offseason?  Sure, the talent is there at the offensive skill positions and quarterback, and DeMarcus Ware is a major bonus.  Many guys aren’t playing with the discipline and focus they need, but there is plenty to build on up front and on the edges of the defense.  Turn the offensive line into serviceable with a few good parts, and shore up the issues in the secondary and with speed at the inside linebacker positions, and this team can be starting the hype train up with a new coach in 2011, or whenever we play football again.

[photo via Getty]

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