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To rebuild, you really need a foundation first

Tim's picture

Since the season is effectively over, I thought I'd jot down a few post-mortem thoughts. No comments here on coaching – that's a subject for another time. All I want to look at now is the players, and where the team needs improvement.

Positions of need that we thought were already filled:

Inside Linebacker. We are missing our top two guys at the position. Again. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, both drafted with durability concerns seem to be proving those concerns well-founded. If you can't count on your stars to play a whole season, maybe they aren't your stars.

Running Back. For DeMarco Murray and the gimpy Felix Jones, it has to be said again: if you can't count on your stars to play a whole season, maybe they aren't your stars. And Felix is probably gone next year anyway. Behind them, what? I thought it was Phillip Tanner, but now it's Lance Dunbar. Or is it Troy Hambrick? Who knows? But one more sprain and it'll be like the good old Dave Campo days in the Cowboys backfield again.

Quarterback. I fear we have already wasted Romo's best years.* This year I don't know if he's losing his arm or his marbles, but it reminds me a lot of the 2000 season, where Troy Aikman threw seven touchdowns and fourteen interceptions before getting knocked out for good by LaVar Arrington in his 11th game. I don't care who you are – sometimes there's just too much to overcome. Dallas has drafted only four quarterbacks since Aikman (only two in the last twenty-one drafts,) and Romo wasn't one of them. That is idiotic. And I fear it is about to bite us in the ass big-time in the near future. Again.

Wide Receiver. Miles Austin goes in that injury bucket with the linebackers and running backs, but all too often, he can't get open even when he is on the field. Next on the depth chart is Kevin Ogletree, who is just not reliable enough – certainly not to step into Austin's spot. Yet there we were on Thanksgiving, playing without either of them. It may well be that Harris and Holmes can step into those roles, and the rest of this year we need to find that out, regardless of Austin and Ogletree's health. Beasley, while a fun story, is still a long shot to be a regular contributor. (Stop with the Wes Welker and Julian Edelman comparisons. He is smaller than either of them, and yes, it does matter.)

Outside Linebacker. DeMarcus Ware is playing his eighth NFL season. He is thirty years old. He is by no means finished, but history and medical science tell us that his best years are not likely to be ahead of him. Spencer is putting together a really nice season, but Dallas, with all its other problems, probably cannot afford to keep him. Victor Butler has some nice highlights rushing the passer from time to time, but he does not look like a starter to me. You need more than one OLB in a 3-4. You need a lot of them. To be an effective 3-4, you need a lot of quality linebackers at all four positions. Dallas hasn't got them.

Positions that we knew were problems that haven't gotten better:

Offensive line. What more can we say? Tyron Smith is very good. Not great (at this point,) but very good. And young. Every other position is a question mark with no back-up. How does this happen when even the most casual fans identify this as the team's biggest problem year after year after year? The team has selected six offensive linemen in the last six drafts, five of them Tackles. Three of those tackles were picked in the first three rounds. Did you know that? Only three of those linemen are still on the team: Doug Free (4th round) and Tyron Smith (1st round.) The other, David Arkin, a 4th rounder just last year, can't even make the active roster on game day. Why can't this team evaluate or develop offensive line talent? (And let's underline "develop," because 2004 draft pick Stephen Peterman has been Detroit's starting Right Guard for six seasons.) The GM needs to have a long talk with his scouts. And the owner needs to reconsider his GM.

Defensive line. Ratliff is 31. He is not getting stronger or faster, and the injury bug is starting to bite him, too. That won't get better with age. Hopefully Josh Brent will fill that spot, but he will also change the way Dallas plays its 3-4. Out at defensive end, Marcus Spears may be in his last year here, and he is currently a back-up. There is not a lot of quality at the position, and no depth at all.

And then there is everything else.

Can John Phillips and James Hannah replace Jason Witten in the long term? I think maybe so. Is the secondary maybe okay now? I'm not sure, but there are some positive signs that this staff can find safeties who can play and that's a big improvement over recent years. Out at corner, the team probably needs more depth, with the expected loss of Jenkins, but Claiborne and Carr are solid starters.

So, is it rebuilding time? I think it would be really tough to call it that. Rebuilding requires a foundation.

A few years ago, Jerry Jones said they would build a "Romo-friendly" offense. When you have a quarterback who has shown throughout his career that he can throw successfully to just about anybody who lines up at receiver, wouldn't you think protection and a running game would both rank well ahead of wide receivers for Romo-friendliness? And don't both of those things come down to a quality offensive line? I am the first to defend Jerry against unfair criticism. He didn't fire Jimmy, Jimmy quit Even Jimmy says so. He is a "football guy." he played in college and he has now been an NFL GM for 24 seasons. He is a "football guy." He just isn't a very good one.

He and Jimmy made a great team, and if he'd built Jerryworld twenty years earlier, it might've been big enough to contain both their egos. Now, the only way to save this team is for Jerry the GM to ride off into the sunset. But that, I'm afraid, is not going to happen in Jerry's lifetime.

* Before you start harping on "December," here are Romo's numbers from his last two Decembers (includes season finales played in January): He completed 70% of his passes with an 8.1 average for 19 TDs and 3 INTs, a passer rating of 109.3, and four 300 yards games. He threw TD passes to seven different receivers despite being sacked 25 times. He ran for another touchdown (the team's only rushing TD in December 2011.) The team's record in those games? 4-5. Yeah, that's all on Romo. He can't play in December.

philyew3
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http://sportsblogs.star-telegram.com/cowboys/2012/11/jerry-jones-says-he...
 
Am I being picky, or is this the proof we've been looking for that this guy is certifiably insane? 

philyew3
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 Oh my...When you put it like that, it's even more dis-spiriting than my thoughts when I wrote my "crossroads" post.
 
What are the arguments for a brighter conclusion?
 
I think at this point in time, we can't be totally disillusioned about Lee, Carter or Murray for that matter. You could well be right, but they may get a little more lucky. Austin, I think, is probably never going to be a full time contributor, but I'm sure he would be able to get more open, if (a) Bryant could consistently demand more than single cover and (b) the OL could buy a crucial extra second allowing Romo to look downfield without having to duck and dive.
 
That's maybe it.
 
Despite Ware being a dominant individual player, the pass rush is actually more disappointing than the OL play because the talent assembled is supposedly much greater. While Ware has sat at or close to the top of the pile for years, the overall pressure has always seemed to me much less than the sum of its parts. We always said that the lack of cover in the secondary diminished the potential pressure. Well, you are right that Carr and Claiborne are the solid pieces that we previously dreamed of, but still Dallas sits a mediocre 15th in the sack tally and an abysmal 29th in INTs (likely to worsen after today's games are completed.) 
 
I do, however, come back to my "crossroads" post and can't find any encouragement for the idea that an improvement is possible, as long as the current management regime remains unchanged. Like you, I won't delve into the coaching situation and will await your next post, which presumably will address that, to vent my feelings about the current and future prospects. 
 
Still, in the end, the coaches, players and fans are all tied irrevocably to Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys. That is and will continue to be the most depressing thing about the Cowboys that I have ever had to contemplate. It signifies no hope. How much more depressing could it get?