Midseason Report: Dallas Cowboys
IRVING, Texas -- After nine games, the Dallas Cowboys have issues.
The defense can't stop a topflight quarterback. The offense can't -- or won't -- run the ball. Injuries have affected the offensive line, defensive line and secondary.
Yet with seven games to play, the Cowboys lead the NFC East with a 5-4 record. Can they join the conference elite?
Before that question can be answered, here's a look at how the Cowboys have graded out so far:
GRADING THE DALLAS COWBOYS
|Quarterbacks||Tony Romo has done what he promised to do: protect the ball. He has only six interceptions in the first nine games to go with his 20 touchdown passes. If he could have one throw back, it would be the interception that cost the Cowboys the Denver game. But if the Cowboys are to make it to the playoffs, it will be with Romo playing at a high level.|
|Running Backs||This grade is not only for the backs. It's for the lack of faith in the running game showed by the coaches. DeMarco Murray was off to a good start before a knee injury knocked him out for two games, but he left yards on the field as well. Lance Dunbar was looked at as a big third-down threat, but that has not materialized either.|
|Wide Receivers||Dez Bryant has been a beast, even if the emotions have gotten the better of him the past two games. He has to dial that back and stay on point. Another hamstring injury has set back Miles Austin, who was off to a good start. Terrance Williams has filled in admirably and Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris have proved to be solid role players.|
|Tight Ends||Jason Witten has two 100-yard games and has four touchdowns, but the "12 personnel" package has not produced as much as the Cowboys had hoped. Gavin Escobar, the second-round pick, has four catches and is not ready to handle a blocking role. James Hanna has improved as of late, but more was expected from this personnel group.|
|Offensive Line||The play has been better than last year, but needs to be better. Travis Frederick has anchored the interior, but losing Brian Waters to a triceps injury hurt. Ronald Leary has been OK but will need to play better as the season goes on. Tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free have had their moments, good and bad. With the way the Cowboys pass the ball, the line will have to step up its protection.|
|Defensive Line||This is grading on the curve because the expectations of the group are so low. The Cowboys find themselves relying on players like George Selvie, Nick Hayden, Drake Nevis, Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown because of injuries to Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff, Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass. Jason Hatcher (seven sacks) is having a career year. DeMarcus Ware's return from a quad strain would be a big boost, but his Pro Bowl run might end this year.|
|Linebackers||If not for Sean Lee, this grade would be lower. A lot lower. Lee has made a ton of plays and leads the team with four interceptions. Bruce Carter has been a disappointment so far, but maybe the second half versus Minnesota is a sign of things to come. Justin Durant has been OK, but he does not see much playing time with the team using more nickel. Ernie Sims might have played his way out of heavy snaps with his game against Minnesota.|
|Secondary||Individually, Orlando Scandrick is having his best season and Barry Church has rebounded from an Achilles injury. Before Calvin Johnson went off, Brandon Carr was handling No. 1 receivers fairly well. Morris Claiborne has had shoulder and hamstring injuries that have hurt him, but he was not making enough plays. Rookie safeties J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath show promise, but the Cowboys don't have time to wait for them to be 100 percent ready. But when a defense allows a record four 400-yard passers in nine games, the grade can't be a good one.|
|Special Teams||Dan Bailey is a weapon on field goals and kickoffs, which is a must in a league where games are so tight. Chris Jones' punting has been up and down. The coverage units have been good enough. Harris is one of the most dangerous punt returners in the game. The Cowboys will need him more in the second half to flip field position.|
|Coaching||Jason Garrett has had this team playing hard since he took over in 2010. The Cowboys don't always play smart, but the effort is there. Garrett is coaching for his job in the final seven games. The move to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 has not gone as smoothly as expected. Too many points. Too many big plays. They can't slow down top-level quarterbacks. Bill Callahan's turn as offensive coordinator has also been a mixed bag. It was strange to see an offensive line coach just ignore the run the way the Cowboys did against Minnesota.|
Dallas Cowboys, Nfl, Dallas Cowboys, DeMarcus Ware, Doug Free, Jason Witten, Anthony Spencer, Miles Austin, Tony Romo, Orlando Scandrick, Jay Ratliff, Jason Garrett, Jason Hatcher, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Ernie Sims, Tyron Smith, Demarco Murray, Bruce Carter, Dwayne Harris, Dan Bailey, Justin Durant, Brian Waters, Chris Jones, Monte Kiffin, Morris Claiborne, Bill Callahan, Brandon Carr, Ronald Leary, James Hanna, Tyrone Crawford, Lance Dunbar, Cole Beasley, Travis Frederick, Gavin Escobar, J.J. Wilcox, Terrance Williams, Jeff Heath, Nick Hayden, George Selvie, Drake Nevis, Everette Brown, 2013 NFL Midseason Report, 2013 NFL Midseason Report NFC, 2013 NFL Midseason Report NFC East
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