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NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - INSIDE SLANT
It is groundhog day for the Dallas Cowboys as they head into the offseason after a fourth straight season out of the playoffs, a third straight season with an 8-8 record and a third straight season losing a winner-take-all battle for the NFC East title and the playoffs.
From the looks of things, nothing major is going to change.
Owner Jerry Jones remains committed to coach Jason Garrett despite a 29-27 record since taking over for Wade Phillips midway through the 2010 season.
He also remains committed to himself as general manager despite one playoff win and a 236-236 record since 1997.
Jones said he understands the criticism of the fans and will continue to work toward getting the Cowboys back competing for a Super Bowl and that everything is under evaluation -- save for his job and that of Garrett.
Regarding Garrett, Jones said he made the decision to keep him during the season and never wavered.
"I made that decision several weeks ago. What is important here is that I haven't given it a consideration. What happened was I was answering questions, 'Was I going to keep him?' several weeks ago, and I answered, 'Yes,' then. Yes, we are going forward."
Asked how he justified that decision, Jones said the Cowboys have been "in it."
"We have been in it the last three years," he said. "We have been in it during his time as head coach. We have been in it right there, playing for it in the last game the last three years. I'm in complete step with our fans that want more than 8-8."
Jones continued, "All you have to do is win a couple more. We have won some games that were hard-fought to get those eight wins. So having said that, I think there is a positive to have the team right there in a position to win the East, fighting for it, certainly prepared. That was a bearing on my decision with Jason. But the bottom line is I understand the criticism and we are going to continue to work and try to take this team where we all want to go and that is competing for a Super Bowl."
Said Garrett: "I am certainly grateful for the opportunity, and the way we show that gratitude is to give everything we've got and put it all out there every single day to try to bring home a winner for the Dallas Cowboys. We've worked very hard this year to put ourselves in position to do that. We didn't get it done. We're going to go back and we're going to try to do it again with everything we've got."
Garrett believes they are laying the right foundation and doing things the right way. He just says they need a little more time to get things done.
"You have to keep banging away; you have to keep fighting," Garrett said. "When that doesn't happen, you have to keep believing. There are great stories in all sports, really in all walks of life, with people who continue to persist and keep battling and scratching and clawing and fighting, and they break through and they have success.
"We believe that's going to happen here."
However, while Jones said there would be fewer changes on the coaching staff than last year when 73-year-old Monte Kiffin replaced the fired Rob Ryan and Bill Callahan was promoted to play-caller, he also didn't get a guarantee of their return.
He just said the Cowboys would not be in a hurry making any decisions.
"Well, I'm pleased that we have them," Jones said. "I know that when we got them, I've never had as many talk about well you have really upgraded, or you have really not upgraded, but you have really added a plus to your coaching staff. Now, we had a rough year, but we didn't necessarily have a rough year because of coaching in terms of our defense. So all of that will be considered as we look ahead. I haven't really sat down and discussed it, looked it and I don't know how much thought Jason (Garrett) has given to it here in this latter part of this season. But ... there's no hurry on that."
The only thing certain is that Callahan and Kiffin remain under contract for now.
Callahan, who was hired before the 2012 season, took over play-calling duties from Garrett this season. The Cowboys ranked 16th in total offense, and their 5,461 yards were the fewest by the franchise since 2005.
There was clearly something amiss with the offense, especially on third downs where the Cowboys struggled all season.
Callahan doesn't deserve all the blame but he is calling the plays in what has been Garrett's offensive system. Callahan has roots in the West Coast offense
"We believe strongly in our system," Garrett said. "It's been a good system for us. There are other good systems. Bill has been in our system in a couple of different spots. He's been in other systems at different spots. So he's a really smart guy, and I thought he handled that part of it really well."
Kiffin was hired during the offseason to change the Cowboys from the 3-4 to the Tampa 2. Injuries forced the Cowboys to play 19 defensive linemen; middle linebacker Sean Lee missed five games; and cornerback Morris Claiborne missed six games.
The Cowboys gave up the most yards, most passing yards and most first downs in team history. They finished last in the league in total defense.
The 6,645 total yards the Cowboys allowed was the third-most in NFL history behind only the 2012 New Orleans Saints (7,042) and the 1981 Baltimore Colts (6,793). The 388 total first downs they allowed ranks second-worst all time behind only the 406 that the '81 Colts allowed.
"We did some good things on defense over the course of the season, primarily taking the ball away, better than we ever have around here," Garrett said of the team's 28 takeaways, which was the most for the franchise since 2010. "But having said that, we have to play better run defense; we have to play better pass defense; we have to play better situational defense."
There is a thought they could ask Kiffin to retire and promote defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator or they could look outside at a guy like fired Lions coach Jim Schwartz.
NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - NOTES, QUOTES
--Cowboys offensive coordinator Bill Callahan will continue calling plays in 2014, according to CBS Sports.
The Cowboys took much criticism this season and failed to make the playoffs. Despite that, owner Jerry Jones decided to retain his coaching staff and make no changes.
Coach Jason Garrett relinquished offensive play-calling to Callahan in 2013 and the team changed the way it relays plays to quarterback Tony Romo late in the season.
The Cowboys were 16th in offensive yards (341.1 per game) and fifth in points (27.4).
--Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has no intention of firing Jerry Jones the general manager.
Never mind that the Cowboys have gone four straight years without making the playoffs and have had an 8-8 record in each of the past three years.
The Cowboys have just one playoff win since 1997 and have a 136-136 during that span yet Jones said the general manager is not the problem. He also said people make too big of a deal about the general manager because the owner makes all the tough decisions.
In the Cowboys case, he is both.
"I think, for whatever the reason, in the NFL, we make a lot of the GM title, when in fact, it ought to be said, 'Look, who is it that ultimately makes the decisions regarding a coach or ultimately, ultimately makes the decision regarding a player?'," Jones said. "Well, if you look at it, this is pro football and that's a financial decision. And as it would turn out, we're in a system that causes you to ultimately have to answer financially because it's called the salary cap, so somebody has got to make that decision. If you really wanted to say, whose being the biggest influence, it might not even be the general manager, it might be the person allocating the salary cap. Just that alone is more of an ownership function -- the dollar -- than probably most things on the team.
"Now, that's more than you want to hear, but the bottom line is that I understand the criticism and we're going to continue to work and try to take this team to where we all want to go, and that is competing for a Super Bowl."
--QB Tony Romo should be recovered from back surgery and ready to go when the Cowboys begin OTAs in May, per owner Jerry Jones.
"He got the kind of immediate relief that you would want him to get," Jones said. "And as I've said, the nature of his injury and the nature of what it took to repair it, if you will, was not dramatic. It was not something that would give you concern on a going forward basis, so all thumbs are up on Tony."
Romo missed the final game of the 2013 season because of back surgery to repair a herniated disk. It was his second back surgery in eight months as he had a procedure to remove a cyst from his back last April, causing him to miss in the entire offseason program.
The Cowboys are optimistic that he will be as good as new and it won't be a debilitating injury to starts the decline of his career, though Romo will be 34 in April.
"We feel really good about the procedure he went through, and we feel really good about the rehabilitation program that he's going to be on," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We feel like there's a great history of players coming back from this kind of a surgery. So Tony's going to work very hard at it. It's really important to him to come back and be better than ever, and he'll start that process -- he's really started that process already."
Said tight end Jason Witten: "Obviously, it's been a tough eight months for him physically But I feel confident in him. I know what he's made of. I know how he works, I know how he competes, I know how he trains. He'll bounce back and be even better next year.He'll use this time to evaluate and get healthy and provide perspective and be a better quarterback because of it. I'm confident he'll come back. I know what he's made of. I've seen it for a long time, how he goes about it, and he'll bounce back and be better than he's ever been. I believe that to the bottom of my heart."
NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March:
--G Ryan Cook
--DT Jason Hatcher
--DE Edgar Jones
--QB Jon Kitna
--S Danny McCray
--LB Ernie Sims
--DE Anthony Spencer
--G Brian Waters
--DE Jarius Wynn
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Tony Romo. Backup -- Kyle Orton.
Romo had a solid and efficient season, finishing eighth in passing with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Don't let the numbers fool you. It wasn't the type of whirlwind season expected following an offseason when he was given a $108 million contract extension and Peyton Manning-type influence in game planning and personnel. Something was amiss with the passing game as Romo took fewer chances, thus his yards per attempt were down and as well as his success throwing the deep ball. The Cowboys also struggled on third down. The bigger problem going forward is Romo will be coming off his second back surgery in as many years. Orton was forced to start the season finale and showed that he is as good a backup as there is in the league. He is under contract for one more season.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- DeMarco Murray, FB Tyler Clutts. Backups -- Joseph Randle, Phillip Tanner, Lance Dunbar.
Murray had a breakthrough year of sorts, rushing 217 times for 1,124 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns. He was the first back to top the 1,000-yard mark since 2006. Murray was at his best the final half of the season. His 696 yards over the final eight games was third best in the league. But let's not confuse Murray's success with the Cowboys having a successful running attack. They had the league's 24th-ranked rushing attack even though Murray averaged 5.2 yards a carry because they didn't run it often enough. Murray's late success coincided with the team's decision to sign Clutts for the final month of the season. The Cowboys didn't have a fullback on the roster in training camp or for first 12 games of the season. Dunbar showed flashes of being a difference-maker at times but he could not stay healthy. The Cowboys expected more of an impact from Randle, a sixth-round pick, but he started behind because of offseason thumb surgery and needs to get better as a pass blocker. Tanner's role was on special teams.
TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar. Backup -- James Hanna.
What else is there to say about Witten? He is the picture of consistency and reliability. Never mind that his streak of Pro Bowls ended at eight. Witten finished with 73 catches for 851 yards. It was his eighth career and seventh consecutive season with 70 catches -- both second all-time among league tight ends. It also marked his eighth career and seventh consecutive 800-yard season -- both second all-time among league tight ends. Escobar was a disappointment with nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He was drafted in the second round not only to be Witten's future replacement but to help anchor a move to a two-tight end offense opposite Witten. The Cowboys had to scrap those plans because of his blocking woes. Hanna was serviceable at best with eight starts and 12 catches for 73 yards.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Dez Bryant, Miles Austin. Backups -- Terrance Williams, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley.
Bryant established himself among the league's best wide receivers with 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 12 touchdowns and this despite the Cowboys seemingly having problems getting him the ball at times. Austin struggled with hamstring problems again, ending with 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns for the first time since 2007. He no longer has any explosiveness and will likely be a June 1 salary dump. Williams was drafted in the third round to be Austin's future replacement. He was forced into the lineup early and responded with 44 catches for 736 yards and five touchdowns. Among rookies all-time in Dallas history, Williams' receptions are tied for fourth in a season, while his yards are fourth and touchdowns are tied for fourth. Beasley showed that he can be a suitable slot receiver with 39 receptions for 368 yards and two touchdowns. Harris was primarily a kick returner but had nine receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Tyron Smith, LG Ron Leary, C Travis Frederick, RG Mackenzy Bernadeau, RT Doug Free. Backups -- T Jermey Parnell, T Darrion Weems, C Phil Costa, G Brian Waters.
Smith was named to his first Pro Bowl and was named second team All-Pro. He is finally living up to being the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the fifth best tackle in the league. He is certainly the anchor of what is now a young and budding offensive line, especially the left side with Leary and Frederick, both first-year starters. Leary was solid at best at left guard. He has room to grow and needs to work on his technique and cut down on his penalties. Frederick was a walk-in starter as a rookie. He was the league's top run blocker at the position, according to Pro Football Focus. Needs to be better at pass blocking though he handled all the line calls like a veteran. Bernadeau began as the starter then was benched for Waters before returning to the lineup after Waters was lost for the season. Bernadeau played his best football late as he improved steadily and should have the position to himself in 2014. Free played well enough to keep his starting job for another season or at least get to compete for it. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 18th best tackle in the league. It's time for Parnell or Weems to show they are ready to take the next step. Parnells has been a three-year project. Weems has been on the roster for two years.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE George Selvie, DE DeMarcus Ware, DT Jason Hatcher, DT Nick Hayden. Backups -- DE Everett Brown, DE Martez Wilson, DE Edgar Jones, DT Jarius Wynn, DT Corvey Irvin, Frank Kearse.
This is a position that had 19 different players because of injury. Neither Selvie, Brown, Wilson, Jones, Wynn, Irvin or Kearse were on the team at the start of training camp. Only Selvie was on the team before the start of the season. He proved to be quite the find with a career-high seven sacks, good for second on the team. It was needed because Pro Bowler Anthony Spencer was lost for the season in camp and Ware, team-career sack leader, was slowed by age and injury. Ware had a career-low six sacks and they came in just four games. The bright spot was that defensive tackle Jason Hatcher was outstanding. He had a career-high 11 sacks and was the team's best defender from start to finish -- so good that he will likely leave for a big-money contract in free agency. Hayden was serviceable opposite Hatcher after being forced into the starting lineup because of injury and the defection of Jay Ratliff. The more Hayden played the more he was exposed as a backup getting too many snaps. Getting help at defensive end and defensive tackle are the top two priorities of the offseason for the Cowboys.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Bruce Carter, MLB Sean Lee, SLB Justin Durant. Backups -- OLB Ernie Simms, OLB Devonte Holloman, OLB Kyle Wilber, OLB Cam Lawrence, MLB Orie Lemon.
This is another position that had huge expectations coming into the season but was a disappointment at the end because of continued injuries to middle linebacker Lee and the frustrating play of weak-side linebacker Carter. Lee missed five of the last six games, including the final three. He still finished second on the team in tackles with 123 and first in interceptions with four. Lee is easily the team's best and most important defensive player when he is on the field. He needs to find a way to stay there. It was the second straight season he has ended the season on the sideline. Carter was supposed to thrive at weak-side linebacker in the move to the 4-3. He was even compared to former Tampa Bay great Derrick Brooks. But the Cowboys were disappointed in his effort and his production. He was benched twice during the season but saved and put back on the field because of constant injuries to Sims and Durant. Holloman was so solid at middle linebacker in place of Lee at the end of the season that he could push Carter in 2014. The injuries proved to open a door for Wilber who may have found a home on the strong side. He was moved there from defensive end when Durant went out and started the final five games there. The Cowboys need to get younger and healthier. They will likely move on from Sims or Durant if not both in 2014.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Orlando Scandrick, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church, S Jeff Heath. Backups -- CB Mo Claiborne, CB B.W. Webb, CB Sterling Moore, S J.J. Wilcox, S Jakar Hamilton, S Danny McCray.
The Cowboys must try to find a way to get better in the secondary and/or find a way to help the secondary out. They had the worst pass defense in team history in 2013, topping the previous worst mark in 2012. Consider also that Scandrick began the year as the team's third cornerback and ended as the best and most reliable, surpassing Carr and Claiborne. Scandrick replaced Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in 2013, in the starting lineup two games into the season. He replaced Carr as the team's most trusted cover corner in December.
None of it bodes well for the future. Carr was signed last season to a $50.2 million contract and he proved to be a liability over the last half of the season. Claiborne was limited by injuries, a lack of confidence and play-making skills for the second straight season. Yet the Cowboys are tied to this threesome at cornerback for at least another year because of the hefty contracts and investment. Church was the most consistent player in the secondary as he led the team in tackles with 147, though he made few game changing plays.
The free safety position was a revolving door and a target for big plays all season. Will Allen opened as the starter and was cut. Wilcox, a rookie project with tackling deficiencies, replaced him before being injured. Heath ended the season as the starter and was exposed for big plays. Wilcox will get the first look next season but the Cowboys will again look for upgrades in the draft and free agency.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Dan Bailey, P Chris Jones, LS L.P. Ladouceur, PR Dwayne Harris, KR Dwayne Harris.
It was simply another stellar year for Bailey. He made 28 of 30 field goals and was 47 of 47 on extra points. Bailey also had 52 touchbacks on kickoffs, good for fourth in the league. Bailey will be a restricted free agent so look for the Cowboys to try to sign him to a long-term deal as he is clearly one of the best at his position. Chris Jones was average as a punter with a 39.1 net average, good for 20th in the league. He downed 30 inside the 20, which was seventh best. The Cowboys will likely sign some competition to push him in the offseason. Ladouceur is simply the best at what he does. Harris was a game changer on returns before he was slowed by a hamstring injury. He ranked second in the league on kickoff returns and third in the league on punt returns. Harris also tied for the team lead in special teams tackles.