The Dallas Cowboys are not only the epitome of mediocrity, but they have also managed to add "inconsistent" and "dumb" to their list of desirable traits. We know all about the injuries to players like Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Orlando Scandrick and Barry Church, but this team is simply not yet ready to contend. It's not what Cowboys fans want to hear, but it's time for the plain truth.
No matter what their record will wind up being at season's end, everybody will blame Tony Romo in some form or fashion for the 2012 season.
That debate needs to be tabled. He's had to carry this team in spite of a poor offensive line and a non-existent running game. Sure he's not having his best year, but he's still a quality quarterback.
The Cowboys will need to figure out a long-term plan at quarterback, whether Romo is part of it or not. However, there are just too many other needs this team has to address just to be in contention. Romo is under contract, and to think he won't be here next year is foolish. On the bright side, the Cowboys do have some nice pieces to their existing puzzle in the form of Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, DeMarco Murray and Tyron Smith.
Unfortunately, it's not enough, and even those cornerstone players have all been hit with injuries this year. So what areas of the roster are holding this team back from contention? Is it right across the board? A few areas? Many areas?
The correct answer is that the Cowboys need to find good football players, and that should be a yearly goal. This team needs better players in every area, but I believe you have to start somewhere and be realistic about the expectations. This team needs to become a contender, and it needs to happen now.
To become a contender, the Cowboys are going to need some additional pieces to a current puzzle that is incomplete. Here are the five pieces that will get them there.
This should come as no surprise, but what do you expect when the position is ignored for so long and only recently addressed? What, did Jerry think that Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau would make up for Jacob Rodgers, James Marten, Robert Brewster, Stephen Peterman and Marco Rivera?
The bottom line is that, right now, the Cowboys need another tackle and at least two to three more interior linemen. This team can't protect, can't run the football, can't stay healthy and there are too many question marks surrounding this area of the roster. Without the offensive line's arrow pointing upward, Jerry Jones shouldn't even bother showing up for work anymore.
When the Cowboys locked up Doug Free to a contract extension, the thought was that the Cowboys would be set at tackle, along with Smith. But times have changed, and Free is a mess. His footwork is inconsistent and it appears that he may have some problems with mental lapses. Anybody see him in the Browns game?
And I suppose that's Romo's fault? Please. The offensive line needs multiple pieces, but they all lie within the same group. Guys like Dockery, Cook, Arkin and Parnell will not be part of any contender. Period.
Let's face facts with the running back position. DeMarco Murray has a full-blown injury problem, Felix Jones is a free agent who also has an injury problem, Lance Dunbar needs time and Phillip Tanner got leap-frogged by Dunbar. Right now, this position is a mess, and that's why Romo has to throw the ball 62 times.
The Cowboys need another piece at this position for two reasons—for insurance, and to replace Jones while sharing the workload with Murray. Some people might overlook this position, but this team needs a major piece right here. If you can't run the football, and become one dimensional, even the best quarterbacks won't win.
Maybe a running game will help!
The defensive line has been a huge disappointment this year and the injuries are just part of it. Jay Ratliff is such a huge part of this defense but he can't stay healthy and it's hurt this team. Same goes for Sean Lissemore, who was going to be counted on as a breakout player. Defensive end Marcus Spears has been his usual average self and Kenyon Coleman is 34 years old and on injured reserve.
Jason Hatcher has been solid but he needs to cut down on the penalties. The rest of the group features youngsters like Tyrone Crawford, Josh Brent and Ben Bass. They do represent some nice potential building blocks but what good is it to have great corners when your line can't apply any pressure?
This defensive line needs an impact, game-changing piece to add to this group if the Cowboys are going to be contenders. All great defenses have multiple impact players at this position and the Cowboys overlooked this area in the offseason. The results back this up because the Cowboys fail to create enough turnovers. This unit has a combined five and a half sacks, with Hatcher accounting for three of them.
That sounds like a lack of impact to me.
The Cowboys, when healthy, have a nice set of linebackers in Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Dan Connor. But a rash of injuries, an aging DeMarcus Ware and a lack of depth have me concerned. Ernie Sims could be a keeper in the future, but preserving Lee and Carter will be paramount in becoming a consistent contender.
Anthony Spencer has been a beast this season and he may have forced the Cowboys' hand. Ware is his usual self, but the Cowboys need more. The Cowboys need to move on from Victor Butler, Alex Albright and maybe even Kyle Wilber if they don't show anything over the last five games.
The time for status quo is over and so is the reliance on a few players in this area. The Cowboys need another impact player at linebacker, either outside or inside. This will allow for some versatility, the ability to create more turnovers and keeping this unit a strength of this team.
Losing Barry Church for the season was a tough blow for this team, and Matt Johnson not getting on the field was disappointing. But watching Danny McCray unable to cover or tackle Leonard Hankerson is downright embarrassing. When you watch him play, you can appreciate the effort, but there is simply a lack of talent. He's takes bad angles, he's a step behind in coverage and when he closes in for the tackle, he needs to be more square in his base.
The Cowboys had to have Johnson in the fourth round of this year's draft, and that has been a colossal failure. The safety position in general has been ignored for several years, and Jerry Jones got burned with Ken Hamlin's contract. But going with a fourth round pick and McCray as depth for a vital position is just plain stupid.
It remains to be seen how Church will return from his injury despite signing a four-year contract extension, but I do think he needs to be pushed and not just handed his job back. The Cowboys have some versatility when he does return, along with Gerald Sensabaugh and Charlie Peprah, but the time has come for this team to add a safety who can impact the game in a number of ways.