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Dallas Cowboys: 10 Changes Needed After 2010 Season

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Jonathan Bales

After a horrid start to the 2010 campaign, the Cowboys have finally begun to right the ship.  Unfortunately, their playoff hopes have sailed.  The primary goal is always to win football games, but a close eye should be kept on the 2011 season.  Here are 10 changes the Cowboys will look at making in the offseason to ensure that 2011 in no way resembles 2010.

10.  Find Terence Newman’s eventual replacement

Newman certainly still has something left in the tank, but signs of his age are apparent.  The Cowboys have been really poor at diagnosing potential problems before they become disastrous, i.e. this year’s offensive line.  Dallas needs to find Newman’s replacement before he is a liability.

On a side note, I think the Cowboys might want to experiment with Newman at free safety a bit next season.  Although tackling is completely different from the safety spot, I think Newman could handle it.  At worst, he’d be comparable to Alan Ball.  Plus, I think Newman’s ball skills are far superior when he’s in zone coverage as opposed to man-to-man.

9.  Move Alan Ball back to cornerback

Ball has improved at free safety as of late, but he still leaves much to be desired.  Moving him back to cornerback might be an option if the team finds itself weak at the cornerback spot.  Don’t forget the Cowboys have promising rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah returning in 2011 and, if Newman can make the jump to free safety, Ball could return to his old spot.  His versatility will help the ‘Boys no matter where he plays, but he’s probably better suited as a two-position backup than a starter.

8.  Make Dez Bryant a focal point of the offense

It’s really unfortunate that Bryant is out for the season, but the Cowboys saw glimpses of a true playmaker this year.  Bryant’s attitude, effort, and talent are undeniable.  I love Miles Austin, but Bryant may already be the best receiver on this team.  He should be the No. 1 option on offense in 2011, or at least 1A.

7.  Cut Marion Barber

If you couldn’t tell Barber is slowing down, Tashard Choice’s game last week lets you know just how poor Barber was playing.  The difference between the two players is monumental.  The fact that Barber was starting so far into the season is a tragedy, and his presence on the roster in 2011 would be even more of one.

In my view, the Cowboys’ top two running backs are already on the roster. . .they just need to find that third guy.

6.  Replace Keith Brooking

I loved Brooking’s addition to the Cowboys last season, but his diminishing skills are overriding his incredible leadership and experience.  He’s been just okay against the run this season, but absolutely horrible in coverage.  He has poor hips and fails to break down in space.  It’s time for Sean Lee.

5.  Overhaul defensive end position

Igor Olshansky.  Marcus Spears.  Stephen Bowen.  Jason Hatcher.  Not a single defensive end on the Cowboys is of starting quality, in my opinion.  All four players are extremely limited in what they do, and only Hatcher has played up to his potential (at times) this season.  The poor play of the defensive ends has been the primary reason for Anthony Spencer’s sub-par season, as offenses know they can block any of the ends with ease.

I think Hatcher will stay in 2011, but the others should go.  Look for the Cowboys to address this spot early and often in the draft.

4.  Cut Marc Colombo

I haven’t watched every right tackle in the league this year, but I still feel confident in saying Colombo has been one of the worst.  He’s been below average in the run game (which is sad), and we all know how much he struggles in pass protection.  By my count, he’s given up a team-high five sacks, and that’s with a ton of help from the tight ends and running backs.  I have a bad feeling Colombo will open next season as a starter, but the Cowboys would be better off with Sam Young.

3.  Find a placekicker

Opinions on Buehler are mixed, but I think he needs to go back to his role as a kickoff specialist.  I’ve shown in the past how incredible the difference is between a great kicker and a poor one.  The Cowboys are sure to improve in 2011, and they cannot let an inaccurate field goal kicker ruin their playoff hopes.

2.  Give Tashard Choice, Martellus Bennett, Victor Butler, and Sean Lee more playing time

Choice and Lee are obvious, but many people might be surprised to see the other two names on this list.  Don’t be.  While I love Jason Witten and think he is still one of the better tight ends in the league, it’s clear he has lost a step.  Bennett has been solid when called upon as a receiver this season and, once again, one of the team’s best blockers.  Actually, I would feel more comfortable with him at right tackle than Colombo.  That’s not a joke.

Butler has shown he simply has a knack for getting to the quarterback.  He’s explosive off the ball and vastly improved in his run defense.  If he continues on this path (and Spencer doesn’t improve), he should compete for a starting job next season.

1.  Make Jason Garrett the full-time head coach

This is hard for me to say, as I basically ripped Garrett all offseason, but I will give credit where it is due.  Despite a slight drop in numbers, Garrett is vastly improved as a play-caller in 2010.  I will conduct a bunch of studies on Garrett once the season concludes, but I already notice he is dialing up more weak side runs (see study on weak side runs here), more 3rd down runs (see study on 3rd down runs here), and less predictable play-calling based on personnel (see personnel-based play-calling stats here).

His 3-1 record as a head coach thus far is impressive, but the intelligence and heart with which the team is playing is an even bigger sign of things to come.  Garrett has proven to me that he possesses the smarts, attention to detail, and ability to adapt that will make him a successful coach for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011 and beyond.

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20 Responses to Dallas Cowboys: 10 Changes Needed After 2010 Season

  1. willis says:

    I’d have to say I agree across the board with this analysis, however I am wondering why you would prefer T-New over Kwasi at free safety. I agree he would likely be an upgrade from Ball, but as I remember you all were very highon Kwasi during the draft last year. Has that changed?

    I’m all about getting the best player available, that being said I also think it is imperative to shore up our lines, especially D-Line, hopefully we can do both. Look what Suh has done for the Lions this year, I know our scheme is different but I believe a player that dominant could handle any d-line position. I would love to see Nick Fairly or Marcell Dareus beside Jay Ratliff, I think either of those guys could come in and have the immediate impact we need on Defense.

    Lastly, what are the possibilities we could get a Jared Gaither or someone for the O-line in free agency. Or do we even know considering the Labor situation?

  2. I would prefer that AOA wins the job, but you just never know. As much potential as he has, he’s still only a 4th-rounder with little playing time in his rookie season. It’s unlikely he’ll be ready to start the season at FS, but I do think he’ll become a starter eventually.

    I do think you’ll see Dallas sign one big-name free agent this year, once the labor situation gets cleaned up (which I think it will). Whether it is an O-lineman, a DE, a S, or whatever, I’m not sure. My guess is offensive line, however, simply because of this year’s draft. The CB and DE spots are loaded, but the OT and OG position look uncharacteristically weak. I’ll have a better grasp on that when I can put more time into the draft.

  3. Michael says:

    Awesome recommendations, JB. If Garrett does return–which, for the record, I think he should too–do you think he should continue calling plays? What about defensive coordinator? And the position coaches? I’m curious as to what you and the other readers think…

    I think he should continue calling plays, but he should hire an offensive coordinator–preferably a young coach, with innovative ideas that can bounce concepts off of JG while learning the ropes of installing a game plan and calling plays on game day. I know Garrett is relatively young himself, but I think adding another young innovator would serve the offense well with all of the talent they have.

    I guess Pasqualoni has earned the right to be retained another year as defensive coordinator and the problems with the defense are more personnel- and performance-related than scheme now that he’s tweaked the system to feature a more zone-heavy, ball-hawking approach.

    And if I had to choose one position coach that I think should be retained, it’s Ray Sherman. I think he’s an excellent position coach and has coached some of the best receivers throughout his career–Randy Moss, Chris Carter, Donald Driver–and can continue to help with Dez’s development.

  4. Snatchandgrab says:

    I agree with you. I think Marion Barber has been the starter because of one thing: He’s the best blocker. When a back is kept in the backfield for protection, he’s the best of the three hands down. I live in Atlanta and I’m a Falcons season ticket holder (love the Cowboys though) and I said it on every post that Keith Brooking couldn’t cover me and his run tackling had diminished. That’s why Atl didn’t resign him and he’s a local product.

  5. Thanks Michael. I do think Garrett should continue to be the play-caller and OC because I think the improvement is there, but I think the team should bring in some sort of offensive consultant. Like you, I think that person should be young with unique, stat-based ideas that sometimes fly in the face of “conventional” football wisdom.

    I don’t think PP should stay. I don’t see enough changes to suggest his scheme is much different from that of Phillips, although he may just be working with what was already installed. Still, I think the Cowboys need a far more aggressive approach on defense.

    No doubt on Sherman. He’s a great coach and guy, and I think he’ll stay as long as JG is head coach.

  6. JJ says:

    Solid as usual Jonathan. After much thought, I would add a few things I’ve observed:

    1. Replace both safeties is possible. Sensabaugh is serviceable but unless we find a stud FS, we have two average safeties.

    2. Get rid of the entire defensive coaching staff and bring in a butt kicking DC and let him hire his staff.

    3. Start finding the eventual replacement for Bradie James,

    4. Get a fullback that can block and catch.

    5. Find a 3rd RB not names Barber.

    6. Consider replacing Houck unless they feel the line is reason for all of their problems.

    7. Draft, recruit…DEs, OL, CB, Safety.

    Finally, find a way to better work personnel. Whether it’s Garrett who may know more about personnel than we know but somehow the Cowboys need to become better assessors of personnel. Not only in the draft but during the season. Wade overvalued Brooking, Jason Williams, Igor, Sensbuagh, Ball…is this enough evidence?

  7. johncoleman says:

    I agree with all except getting a kicker. He still has some rope with me. I couldn’t say that he has cost us a game this year. If we count 59 yarders, maybe. How realisic is it to expect makes from that distance. I also feel there are 44 others who could have made a difference in close games. i also hope that we have some players who will make a step from now to next season. McCann is one who can develop and I also have high hopes for Teddy Williams. Of course at this point Williams has a lot more work to do than McCann. I was impressed in preseason that a guy with no college experience outplayed college players. With his size and speed Williams could be a real find. Lissemore and Brent could also make that jump. Further we have guys like newbies Cummings and Geathers who have a shot to contribute. Geathers was a project according to the draft scouting reports, but has great size and good athleticism. He is raw for sure but he can be coached up. The Cummings kid has been around a year or two but started out under Mangini. Bart Scott noticed him upon arriving last year and had good things to say. The kid has worked hard to reshape himself physically and has improved his quickness/movement ability. He also was one of the stronger guys on the team. So maybe a change of scenery helps. Even if they become solid backups it would be a plus. Concerning DE’s I agree even to Hatcher being the guy they might keep. I would like to see us get a true NT and at least move Ratliff to DE. I think we could lengthen his career a few years. Brent might do ok at DE as well. If so you would have a four man rotation. Then you just need another big body at NT. I see RT, ILB, FS, CB, and DE as the needs. Depending on which way you go with current players and development of current players that needs list could be RT, ILB, CB, and NT. I want to mention a couple of guys who are intriguing as prospects and let you chew on them. One is Keith Payne RB, UVA, 6-2/6-3 260lbs. He could be a short yardage monster and has something like 11 tds this year. With his size he could be a potential FB as well. The best part is 7th rd to UDFA. I would love to give the Giants a taste of our own Brandon Jacobs. They other guy is Dom DeCicco SS, Pitt, 6-3 230lbs and runs 4.64. A little slow for a safety but not terrible. However with his size speed he could transition into an ILB. Wannstedt actually moved him to ILB a few games because of injury I think. Point is he should have better coverage skills than the typical LB and is big enough to play the run. Once again the best part is currently he is 7th to UDFA. It’s way early, but I’m looking. I want to give a shout to you and the regulars here for solid on point discussion. By far I find more useful content and comments here than an where else I visit.

  8. Vince Grey says:

    Great analysis. Overall, I can”t disagree with anything you said.

    Let me add a few thoughts:

    – PP must go. Yes, the defense has gotten more turnovers lately, but still not enough, and otherwise they’ve really stunk this entire season. It’s amazing to me that this is basically the same group that was playing so well most of last year. Let’s get an aggressive guy in there who’ll teach tackling, turnovers, and pressure.

    – While Columbo would definitely be tops on the list, I’d say the O-line needs a complete reworking. A minimum of 2-3 new starters, and 4 wouldn’t be out of the question, IMO. HH needs replacing as well. His handling of this group over the past few years has not impressed me at all.

    – Everyone on this planet, except, oddly, the Cowboys coaching staff, recognizes that Choice is a far better play now than Barber, but there’s still a need for a power RB in the rotation. Good news is those can be found in the later rounds or even as a FA.

    – Witten has definitely slipped, but he probably has at least one more season as an above-average starter in him. Still think Bennett is limited as a receiver. He has the tools but something is missing. Maybe Phillips come back strong.

    – I hesitate to place the blame for Ware and Spencer’s lack of production on the play of our ends. I saw Ware get handled easily by the Colt’s #74 last week. Both of these guys need to step up their games. That said, there definitely needs to be some new blood in the mix at that position.

    – We’re talking what, 5-7 new starters here? 1-2 O-linemen, 1-2 DE’s, at least one safety, maybe two, one ILB, and maybe a kicker? Maybe a couple of these guys come from within, like Lee, and maybe Columbo’s replacement, but that’s still a lot of players to replace with one draft and one off season of free agency, especially considering we don’t have extra picks like the Pats. Still, I think you do it sooner rather than later.

    – The only good news about our record is that, barring some miracle finish, we’re probably set with a top 10 pick in the draft. Assuming we don’t blow it, that’s a good start.

  9. Mark Watkins says:

    Excellent analysis as usual Jonathan. I’m kind of interested in what kind of background you have with football. I assume you might have played and/or coached? I agree with your assessments too, but like someone mentioned above, I would like to see Beuhler win the job as the FG kicker because of his strong leg. I would hope he could improve, but maybe I’m wrong. I do think they should at least bring someone in to compete with him though. I like his tackling ability in kickoffs too. I also agree with the comments above that we need a true bruising FB. One that could catch passes would be huge. And another power RB would certainly help too. I sure hope that AOA can be a player too, but there seems to be no doubt that Ball needs to be replaced as a starter. I can’t believe that they would count on Columbo to start again next year unless he’s playing through injuries now. I’ve always been a backer of Romo’s too and I know we could do a whole lot worse. I’m not saying that he should be replaced by any means, but the way that Kitna has led the team lately (and the way Romo dodges the media) makes me think that Romo might be kind of lacking in leadership skills. I don’t know if that’s something he could improve upon, but I don’t think that he can be excused from blame for their terrible start either. Another thing that I wonder is whether there would be any possibility of trading Roy Williams or if his contract would preclude that.

  10. OmarJ says:

    i wouldn’t like to see newman at FS but yes i think jerry should start to find a replacement

  11. Snatchandgrab: You’re right that Barber is the best blocker, but I don’t think his blocking skills are that superior to those of Choice that it justifies starting him. I can’t wait to see how Choice is used when Barber returns.

    JJ–I’d go ahead and agree with just about everything you listed. Of course we know Dallas won’t be able to make all of these changes, so it’s really about determining which are top priority. Let’s hope they put ILB and RT at the top of that list.

    I’m not certain Houck needs to go, though. I think this line suffered more from age and poor evaluation than coaching, although you could argue Houck is certainly part of that evaluation process.

    John–You can never really point to one player and say “that’s the sole reason we lost this game,” but Buehler’s inaccuracy will become a major problem if it isn’t fixed. I certainly am in support of keeping him on the roster due to his resurgent kickoffs and allowing him to work as a placekicker during that time. There’s no point in replacing him at this point, and perhaps you even go into next season with him as your guy. Unless he shows big-time improvement on FGs, though, they’ve got to bring in someone more reliable.

    I’ll check out the players you mentioned. DeCicco is on the small side at 230 pounds, but the league is changing. It really depends on what scheme the new DC (if there is one) will run, but I’m definitely in support of bringing in quicker, play-making players at each position. Bradie James is a good ILB, but Dallas can’t survive with two ILBs like him on the field (or even worse, Brooking). If I was an opposing OC, I would pass on almost every first down.

  12. Vince–Agree on PP, but I definitely don’t see four new starters. Three would be the absolute max, and I think it will actually be two. I have a bad feeling Colombo will stay, but I sure hope not.

    And believe it or not, I almost forgot about John Phillips. He looked insane during the preseason, so it sure will be nice to have him come back strong next year.

    Mark–I played both HS and college (DIII) football in southeastern PA. I also coached HS football for a few years (the same HS I attended). I’d actually love to get back into coaching.

    Anyway, I have big hopes for AOA as well, as you probably know. I really think he’s a more instinctual player than Ball.

    As far as Williams, hes un-tradeable due to his contract.

  13. moses says:

    Most of the issues that you outline are the responsibility of a GM. We don’t have a very good one in my opinion. I have already outlined the qualities of a good GM and Jerry Jones ain’t it.

    Another issue is Garrett. I have mixed feelings about him. Actually I don’t. Garrett was responsible for the offense and the product out on the field for the past few years.

    I have seen too many games where the offense was content to lay down. I still remember the Philly game and the Viking game where we were embarrassed by Garrett’s pathetic coaching. The D played well but the offense mailed it in.

    I want to look at the entire record. Remember that this was supposed to be a Super Bowl quality team. We were supposed to win. Wins against Detroit and Indy aren’t very impressive. These are weak teams.

    I think we need to keep our options open. If Jerry decides to get a good GM, I am all for that. If he is going to continue as GM, then he needs to evaluate all of the potential head coaches. Garrett could be a contender, but I am not sold.

  14. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    I’d be careful on Sean Lee – he had a 2 INT game but watch his run stopping (or lack thereof). I wonder how well Victor Butler would be at ILB?

    Newman at FS in other than obvious passing situations (ie. anything besides 3rd and 12+ yds to go) is a mistake. I’ve stated this before. He’s listed at 5’10, 193 lbs – he’d never make it out of training camp healthy enough to play trying to tackle TEs or RBs. He has Ed Reed potential but only in pass defending capacity. Can you really see him trying to tackle Brandon Jacobs? I say trade him (yes, TRADE him and MBIII and get whatever you can for them – perhaps 2 5th round picks or pick up some O Line help).

    Also, Dallas has too many WRs. Williams, Austin, Hurd, Bryant, Olgetree and Holley are all on the roster (Dez, of course is on IR) and Dallas has yet to run a 5 WR set if I’m not mistaken. Ogletree and Holley might draw some attention for teams if packaged w/ the above two mentioned. Hurd is valuable on spec teams but the amount of $ he’d want next year (he’s a FA) doesn’t justify 4 or 5 plays a game.

    I think Bryan McCann should be given a chance to replace Newman. Moving Ball back to CB makes sense but I would think a change in defensive scheme should be tried 1st – Ball might be pretty good back there but just hasn’t had the opportunity w/ the way he’s asked to play.

    First draft pick should be a DT/DE as the draft is LOADED (5 of the top 15 best available players are supposed to be DEs). 2nd round could be a S (Rahim Moore if still avail), OT/OG (Camrini or Costanzo or Solder – I really like the Cannon kid from TCU at OG as he’s 6’6″ and mobile) or ILB (Studivant, Matthews or Jones) would be good. 3rd round is tricky as the value of any positions the boys need other then O line isn’t there and if they pick up OL help in the 2nd, they have too many other positions that need attention to draft 2 O linemen in a row. Perhaps a DB in the 3rd. The 4th HAS to be FB (I’ve been high on Havili all year). 5th, 6th and 7th should all be backup, prospects and to fill holes on special teams. One thing Dallas IS missing is one of those “grind it out” do anything type of guys like Woodhead of the Patriots or Bush of the Saints or Harvin of the Vikings (when healthy). We need someone who can play offense at WR or RB and special teams and be fairly good at all of them that might still be available in lower rounds. Troy WR Jerrel Jernigan or Damaris Johnson of Tulsa come to mind. There’s your 3rd RB right there…

    That would leave still more need on O Line, RB and perhaps TE (depending on how Philips heals) to address in free agency.

    Overall, Jonathan, good analysis. I think we think alike…

  15. john coleman says:

    Tyrone- I have a question for you as one of the regulars here. You mentioned late rd special teams help. The question is why do we expect offensive ball players to be good special teamers? I was looking at a roster from the Jimmy J years and we were at 5 WRs,2QBs,and 3RBs. I think there were 3 TEs as well. He did seem to carry more DBs. I’m thinking Guys who make a living tackling at their regular positions would make better coverage guys on special teams. Yet we have WRs on the field and to their credit they have made some plays. I also agree with your evaluation regarding DE/DT as a position of strength in the draft. I don’t see any of the “Elite” OTs as being elite. IMO Sherrod is the best LT prospect in the draft and he is a late 1st guy. The rest will probably end up as RTs. Castonzo and Solder have the skills but are not ready yet. I can’t see taking a RT high. Somebody like Ziemba in the 3rd or 4th would be good to replace Columbo. In that case you would have Young and Ziemba with some college LT experience. I too think Cannon could be a Davis replacement. I think the team likes Nate Irving, NC State at ILB. I like Matthews instincts and bloodlines. His knock is speed. However sometimes guys play faster than their 40 time would suggest. I think that is Matthews. He will have a chance to showcase himself against Auburn and Mr. Newton. I personally think he could be an impact player, like his brother.

  16. Tyrone..I don’t think Butler has the skill set for ILB. He’s definitely athletic, but I highly doubt he has the hips or COD to turn and run with tight ends. Also, the Cowboys wouldn’t get much for Newman now, and they wouldn’t get anything (at all) for Barber. His contract is too rich.

    I believe the Cowboys have run one 5 WR set this year, although I need to check that.

    John–I agree defenders are naturally better tacklers, but 90 percent of special teams, IMO, is about WANTING to make a play. You can see Holley, Hurd, and guys like that excited to run down the field and make a tackle.

  17. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    John, here’s what I know about special teams.

    First there’s the 53 man roster. Only 45 can suit up any game day (except for one player designated as the emergency backup QB). You figure a normal I formation offense w/ 1 TE, 5 OL, 1 QB, 1 RB, 1 FB and 2 WRs for 11 offensive players and their backups (not necessarily a backup FB but definitely a 5th WR in his place), you have 22 people. Figure a standard 3-4 defense w/ 4 LBs, 3 DLs, 2 CBs and 2 Safeties for starters and their backups, you now have 44 people. That leaves one extra position – the kicker or punter – for your gameday 45 man roster.

    Well, that means in order to accommodate the punter and long snapper, you have to NOT carry another backup in some other area. Honestly, most teams don’t carry a backup lineman for each line position so you can save a few people there. And, sometimes teams expect a player to fill in either as CB or S if needed.

    Given that you have probably 8-9 backup defense guys (and that includes DT/DEs and LBs) to utilize for kickoff/punt coverage, then you gotta get those extra “speed” positions somewhere. That’s where the 4th and 5th WR come in. That’s also why JJ threw Tashard Choice under the bus the other day saying he needed better special teams play from his 3rd RB. He was right – only problem is that TC has never been a good special teamer. If that’s what was expected of him after being drafted, then he was a poor choice (no pun intended).

    One thing that I think people don’t realize is that draft choices beyond the 2nd and sometimes 3rd round aren’t expected to be starting within 3 years. Most often, draft picks that late are to play special teams, be a developmental project and/or possibly fill out the roster and just serve as an interim backup player if/when your starter goes down (someone who can maintain status quo for a few weeks). The Cowboys got lucky w/ both Marion Barber and TC in drafting them that late and then having them produce like they did. But, let’s call them what they really are – the exception.

    I don’t think that Dallas should give a big contract to TC when the time comes or they’ll possibly set themselves up for the exact situation they’re in w/ MBIII now. TC is good but he’s not Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson (or even Felix Jones).

  18. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Best draft pick you can have is the 1st 8 to 10 picks of the 2nd round. Why? Because usually (depending on the draft) these players are 1st round stock but come at a 2nd round price. The Tuna once said he would NEVER trade a 2nd round pick away – 1st and 3rds, he’d trade all day.

    The only problem w/ having an early 2nd round pick is that usually equates to an early 1st round pick – which means not only was your team was lousy the year prior and but you also going to have to pay a high price (for longer periods of time) for what might be a bust.

    I’m not a Pats fan, but watch NE and see how often they trade out of the 1st round and into lower 1st round and early 2nd round picks. They did it last year so that Dez could become a Cowboy…

  19. You made the right choice with that pun. That one was clearly intended.

  20. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Glad to see you caught that…

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