Melton deal is good, but more work is ahead

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
1:15
PM ET
While Dallas Cowboys fans are rejoicing about the agreement with defensive tackle Henry Melton on Tuesday night, and the deal is a positive for the team in terms of upgrading the defensive line, there are other issues to worry about.

The Cowboys need another defensive end, (Anthony Spencer perhaps, or maybe Robert Ayers), improved safety play and quite possibly to draft a lineman this spring.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson, Brandon Carr
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiInconsistent play by Brandon Carr, 39, and the rest of the secondary is among the issues facing Dallas' defense in 2014.
Melton is coming off ACL surgery and team officials say he should be ready for training camp. The rest of the defensive roster is another story.

Last season the Cowboys finished last in total defense allowing 6,645 yards, with DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher on the field for a bulk of the plays.

The Cowboys also allowed 388 first downs, most in the NFL.

The Cowboys' front has to become stronger at the point of attack, and adding someone like Melton helps, but getting another 20-something defensive lineman in the first-round, Aaron Donald or Timmy Jernigan, improves the line.

Secondary play was inconsistent last season.

Cornerback Brandon Carr was solid at the start of the 2013 season, but tailed off to an inconsistent state. Orlando Scandrick emerged as a full-time starter at the other cornerback spot, even taking over certain receivers at times when asked.

Morris Claiborne battled through injuries last season and needs to remain on the field for a full 16 games season so the Cowboys can really see what they have in this former first-round pick.

As a unit, the Cowboys gave up 231 passing first downs, 30th in the NFL. Some of these first downs were not a result of the scheme, because while the Tampa 2 has principles of zone coverage, Monte Kiffin allowed his cornerbacks to play man-to-man. Kiffin also placed strong safety Barry Church near the line of scrimmage leaving his free safeties (a mixture of Will Allen, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath) alone.

After Allen was released, Wilcox provided a physical presence on the back end, but he never regained his starting job after he was hurt, giving Heath an opportunity to start. It was clear Heath understood the scheme, but he struggled to make plays on the ball and just didn’t perform well on a consistent basis.

Sean Lee leads the linebackers, but he missed what ended up being the biggest game of the season, Week 17 against Philadelphia, because of ligament damage in his neck. With Ware gone, Lee has become the face of the defense at middle linebacker and needs to remain on the field, injury-free, at a difficult position.

Justin Durant and Bruce Carter were the other linebackers in the 4-3 defense, and both were inconsistent at times.

Drafting another linebacker wouldn’t surprise anyone outside of Valley Ranch, especially if that person can help Lee.

So yes, Melton’s move to Dallas should be viewed as a positive, but there are more things to fix on the 2014 Cowboys’ defense.
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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