It was a case of from first to worst for the Cowboys in 2010. After winning their first playoff game in a decade, a lot of experts were predicting Dallas to make the Super Bowl that was to be played in their new stadium.
It didn’t happen.
That week 1 hold, which will forever be ingrained in the memory of Cowboy fans, was probably the low point in their ten losses.
Still there is reason for hope. Dallas certainly is a talented team, and three of their wins came against very good teams in Houston, New York and Indianapolis. If Dez Bryant can stay out of trouble in the future, their 2010 draft class also looks like it could turn out to be something special.
New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will be tasked with turning around a unit that horribly underperformed last year and Jason Garrett will be thankful (despite the comments of Martellus Bennett) to have Tony Romo healthy again.
With Ken Hamlin’s release in 2010, the Cowboys elected to go with Alan Ball as his replacement. For a free safety, Ball was simply inadequate in coverage. His -11.0 rating was second worst in the league amongst all safeties. Just as alarming, his seven touchdowns conceded had him tied at the bottom of the league with two other players. 26% of the time Ball was targeted, the result was a score for the opposition. The numbers, in this instance speak volumes.
Across from him it’s a different story for strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh. He finished in the green in every department and was especially adept in coverage giving up just 12.2 yards a catch. QBs gained on a rating of 47 when targeting him. That’s not to disparage his work against the run either where his 30 stops ranked joint seventh. He even offered something rushing the passer, where he picked up two sacks and two pressures in just nine rushes. Resigning Sensabaugh, one of Dallas’ few productive veteran defensive players should be a high priority entering the offseason.
It also doesn’t seem as if the answer is currently on the roster. The only other player who saw action at safety last year was undrafted free agent Barry Church. His only game with extensive playing time (over 20 snaps) was against Washington in week 15. To suggest he struggled would be an understatement. He couldn’t handle Chris Cooley at all in coverage allowing all three targets to be complete for 44 yards. He also missed tackles on Cooley, Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams. Church is an example of a player clearly out of his depth.
In free agency, both Quintin Mikell and Eric Weddle are better playing closer to the line of scrimmage so they may look in another direction. Free safety Michael Huff was one of the few Oakland players hitting free agency who was not given a new contract so he might be an option. Daniel Manning of Chicago would also be a nice investment, he excels in coverage. In the draft Dallas have paid close attention to UCLA safety Rahim Moore who is seen as a ballhawk and the consensus number 1 safety in the 2011 draft. He could be an option in round 2.
Terrence Newman began to show his age in 2010. Once one of the top players at his position, he is now 32 and appears to be on the decline. After a solid 2009, he crashed back to earth in a big way. Although he picked off five passes, he also gave up five touchdowns and allowed 65% of balls to be complete. His 914 yards allowed ranked sixth worst in the NFL. Compare that to 2009 where he allowed just 740 yards and 57% of balls to be complete.
We singled Mike Jenkins out as one of the most promising young players at the end of the 2009 season. Here was a guy who looked like he had a chance to join the elite at the cornerback position. Like fellow first round pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie however, his 2010 season was nothing short of a catastrophe. His QB rating allowed more than doubled (from 54.0 to 122.0), he allowed more touchdowns (two compared to six) and had fewer picks (five compared to one). All hope is certainly not lost for the talented Newman but he’ll want to bounce back in a big way in the coming year.
Even nickel back Orlando Scandrick is not undeserving of criticism. He may be one of the better pass rushing and run defending slot corners but his play in coverage, just like his teammates’ was poor. For a nickel CB to give up seven touchdowns is pretty unbelievable and his QB rating allowed of 113 doesn’t make pretty reading either. It’s not as if the pass rush can be blamed either, Dallas is a team that boasts Demarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher.
Backup Bryan McCann only had extensive action in one game and while many will remember the interception he returned 100 yards for a touchdown, other than that he couldn’t handle the combination of Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks. In fact the only ball targeted to McCann that was not complete was that interception, the other ten ended up in completions.
Jerry Jones has never been one to shy away from big name free agents so Asomugha will undoubtedly be discussed. Jonathan Joseph, Josh Wilson and Chris Carr are three other guys to be in the mix. The Cowboys have gone out of their way to indicate they’re not interested in a corner in the NFL draft. Jones has said he likes the players he has at the position. This is more than likely a smokescreen and Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara should be available at number nine.
There’s a high chance Alex Barron won’t see the Cowboys jersey again and the injured player he was filling in for in that game, Marc Colombo (32) has seen his performances drop off a cliff since an injury in week 10 of the 2009 season. Since that game, in 18 games since, Colombo has accumulated a -45.0 grade, ranking in the green only once. In 615 pass blocks in 2010, he gave up 58 combined pressures (seven sacks, 11 hits and 40 pressures). His run blocking had him ranked just outside the bottom 10. Overall, he was our third worst offensive tackle.
The same cannot be said of left tackle Doug Free but he might be more suited to the right side. His run blocking was far and away the best of any player in the league last year as he was a full five grade points above Langston Walker. His pass protection, however, isn’t ideal for a blindside protector as he gave up five sacks, seven hits and 21 pressures. Penalties were also a problem for Free, who gave up 11 of them. Considering their current state, resigning him is a must.
In free agency, Matt Light could offer a short term fix but the pool is swamped with players more suited to the right side. Dallas have been strongly linked to USC’s Tyron Smith who would be an option in the first round. Teams are said to be enamoured with his combination of size and athleticism.