Dallas Cowboys Midseason Report Card for Every Positional Unit

Chris Hummer@chris_hummerAnalyst IOctober 23, 2012

Dallas Cowboys Midseason Report Card for Every Positional Unit

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    The Dallas Cowboys have almost hit the midseason mark, and at 3-3, the team has been decidedly average.

    They have pulled off huge and surprising wins—Week 1 against the Giants—and have been clobbered —Week 4 against the Bears. But the majority of the time, they've been in the middle of games, and close ones at that.

    They've come out on top of a few—Tampa Bay and Carolina—but have also been killed by silly mistakes in their losses—Baltimore comes to mind, with the way the Cowboys bungled the last 30 seconds.

    And like the team, the players have been up-and-down as well. Some games a unit will be brilliant, and others they will have the kind of five-pick performance that makes a fan want to scream.

    Six games through the season the Cowboys have been consistently inconsistent. So, let's take a look at each individual unit and access their performance thus far.


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    Tony Romo: C

    It's kind of hard to pin down Tony Romo's season to this point.

    He's been spectacular, notably in the team's Week 1 upset over the Giants where he passed 309 yards, three touchdowns and netted a 129.5 QB rating. But he's also been spotty at times, whether he's throwing five picks in a game or mismanaging a late-game drive.

    His stats reflect this up-and-down play.

    He's passed for 1,409 yards, a 67.4 completion percentage and thanks to his five-interception game, he has more picks than touchdowns (seven to nine).

    These are bellow-average statistics for a QB with the talent of Romo, but as always, a QB's success will be determined by a team's win-loss record.

    As of now, Dallas is average, and until the Cowboys get above .500, Romo's grade will continue to reflect that.

Running Backs

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    Grade: C-

    The Cowboys' backfield is only averaging 97.2 yards a game, good for 21st in the NFL. Another aspect in which the Cowboys are just plain average.

    The talent is there, sure.

    DeMarco Murray has been great when given ample opportunity to shine, as evidenced by his 131 yards against the Giants and 93-yard outburst—in only one half—versus the Ravens. 

    Now, Murray is out with a foot injury, so it's former first-round pick Felix Jones' chance to step in and perform. He did pretty well against the Ravens (92 yards) but was stifled by the Panthers front seven on Sunday.

    His backup, Phillip Tanner, didn't do much better either, and it equaled a poor day on the ground for Dallas as they stumbled for only 65 yards.

    Not a great performance against a team that entered the game in the bottom-third of the NFL defending the run.

    This unit will have to find its stride in order for this team to shed the average label.

Wide Receivers

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    Grade: B+

    Of all the offensive units, the wideouts have had the most consistent performances.

    Three receivers—Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree—have reeled in over 200 yards and at least two touchdowns, and each of the trio have carried the team in a game or two with extraordinary outings.

    The group is frequently getting open and have made Tony Romo's job significantly easier, as the Cowboys sit as the league's eighth-best passing attack.

    Bryant, despite his immaturity streaks, has emerged as a go-to target for Romo, and Austin has remained a big-play threat over the middle. Ogletree has been a solid No. 3 too, quietly erasing what was a big area of concern in the offseason.

    Still, drop balls have plagued Bryant. Austin does disappearing acts from time to time. And Romo looks totally out of sync with the unit on some routes.

    But overall, this skill group has put on a display through six games. It's a unit that the Cowboys should be able to lean on down the stretch.

Tight Ends

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    Grade: B-

    Through two weeks this group looked to be in shambles—well the better way of putting it is Jason Witten looked terrible.

    The most consistent player on the Dallas roster the last decade was dropping more balls than T.O. in his popcorn days. And people were questioning whether the tight end had fully recovered from his ruptured spleen.

    But of late, the traditional safety blanket has returned for the Cowboys, and it's been great for the passing attack.

    Witten has reeled in 244 yards in the past three games and has been an effective blocker, as always, on the line.

    His backup John Phillips has been solid in protection too, and rookie James Hanna has looked good in limited action.

    But this unit goes as Witten does, and if he continues to play at a high level, the passing attack will always have a chance to click.

Offensive Line

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    Grade: C+

    This grade could be a little generous for the O-line, but they've played reasonably well the past two games.

    However, for stretches this season, they were atrocious.

    Against Tampa Bay, the unit allowed four sacks, contributed nine penalties and got less push up front in the run game than Dan Bailey would against Ray Lewis.

    But overall, the line has played above expectations. They've only allowed nine sacks—fourth in the NFL—and have provided reasonably serviceable pass protection. The O-line has struggled a bit in the run game but has shown signs of life recently (most notably against Baltimore.)

    As the offensive line goes, the offense goes, and it will be up to the big ugglies to set the tone the rest of the season.

Defensive Line

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    Grade: B+

    It's hard for a group to establish itself when it can't stay healthy, but the defensive line has done a remarkable job considering all the injuries the starters have sustained. 

    Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff has only played two games, as he's been hampered by an ankle sprain. Starting defensive end Kenyon Coleman has missed two contests, and Sean Lissemore and Jason Hatcher have split time at the other end spot.

    That's not even counting the snaps that Josh Brent, Marcus Spears and Tyrone Crawford have spent rotating in and out of the lineup.

    Despite this unstable rotation, the Cowboys are holding opponents to 105 rushing yards a game and have only allowed five rushing touchdowns.

    They haven't been great, but they've done enough to keep the Cowboys in games. Once they get completely healthy as a unit, the group could be dangerous.


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    Grade: A-

    The linebacking unit has been Dallas' best, hands down.

    DeMarcus Ware has been his usual dominant self with his 30.5 tackles and 6.5 sacks (sixth in the NFL). And despite all the criticism he receives, Anthony Spencer has been excellent on his opposite side.

    Never was this more evident than in the two games he missed against Chicago and Baltimore when Dallas gave up a combined 65 points, only three less than the Cowboys have given up in their other four games combined.

    Bruce Carter has also been solid in his first full season as a starter, as his sideline-to-sideline speed has made a huge impact.

    Carter has been good, but his partner up the middle, Sean Lee, has been outstanding.

    Lee leads the team with 58 tackles and is around the ball on every play. He's forced a fumble, snagged a pick and stood up more run plays than the entire Big 12 conference.

    The group has been great and will continue to be the rock of the defense moving forward.


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    Grade: B

    Jerry Jones made improving the secondary a priority in the offseason, and it has paid off.

    The Cowboys are third in the NFL in passing defense, allowing 187.3 points a game. They have also allowed only seven passing touchdowns, picked off two balls and have limited long passing plays—they've only given up one pass of over 40 yards thus far.

    Morris Claiborne has been excellent in his rookie season; Mike Jenkins quickly returned from injury and has looked great. And Brandon Carr, for the most part, is exactly what Jones wanted when he signed him: a shutdown corner.

    The safeties don't hold a high profile like their corner counterparts, but they've been quietly effective.

    Gerald Sensabaugh has been steady in the secondary. He hasn't been spectacular by any means, but he's always in the right place and has been a solid tackler.

    The unit has also endured the loss of Barry Church—who is lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. His replacements Danny McCray and Eric Frampton have by no means been good, but they've been serviceable enough to keep Dallas afloat.

Special Teams

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    Grade: C+

    Much like the rest of the team, this group has been quite average.

    The kickoff and punt return teams haven't made any mistakes, but they haven't made anything huge happen either.

    Both punters the Cowboys have featured, Chris Jones and Brian Moorman, have been good but have failed to live up to the level of excellence Mat McBriar established the previous few seasons.

    Dan Bailey has gone 12-of-13 on field goals, very accurate numbers in his sophomore campaign. However, the one kick he missed cost Dallas a chance at a victory.

    Right now the group is solid, but for a team like Dallas to succeed the group needs to make more wow plays.


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    Grade: D-

    This grade is mostly a reflection of the head coach; Rob Ryan's defense has actually been rather good this season.

    But Jason Garrett's clock management has cost Dallas a game this season, and that's unacceptable.

    The Cowboys received a gift with 27 seconds remaining against the Ravens. They were in borderline field-goal range with a timeout remaining and still only managed to get a single play off.

    Garrett failed to relay a play to his team quickly enough, and didn't call a timeout either. Forcing, Dan Bailey to attempt a 51-yard field goal to win the game.

    It was the type of performance that's been Garrett's biggest fault in his head coaching tenure, and the loss could be the difference between a playoff berth for Dallas and hitting the links a week early.

    It's a coaches job to give his team the best opportunity to succeed, and Garrett just hasn't done that this season.