It appears team owner Jerry Jones is wasting no time changing the attitude in Dallas. Jones recently fired the fiery defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, then soon replaced him with 72-year-old Monte Kiffin (per ABC News). The hiring of Kiffin indicates a change to the team's defensive scheme from a 3-4 to a Tampa-2 style.
With the upcoming draft and available free agents, the Cowboys should be one of the busiest teams this offseason.
Here are five additional items the Dallas Cowboys need to address to be successful next season.
According to teamrankings.com, the Dallas Cowboys were the third highest penalized team per game. This is an astonishing and unacceptable stat. In fact, the Cowboys have ranked in the top six for most penalized teams consecutively since 2007 (per teamrankings.com).
The lack of discipline is apparent and the penalties will keep piling up at the most inopportune times if nothing is addressed.
Jason Garrett and the Cowboys' players should take cues from the Atlanta Falcons and coach Mike Smith. According to ESPN, the Falcons set an NFL record for fewest penalties committed in a season. One of many reasons for their recent success.
Coach Garrett must hold all players accountable and reverse the negative trend from recent years.
The Cowboys have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 (per NFL.com). Can you guess the running back?
Dallas' current back, DeMarco Murray, is a step up from Jones—when healthy. Murray was named the starter in Week six of the 2011 season. Unfortunately, he sustained a season ending leg injury in Week 13, ending his impressive run towards 1,000-yards. Per ESPN, Murray finished this season with 897-yards in six games started.
Injuries were the story again in 2012. Murray only played 10 games and topped 100-yards once. Backup Felix Jones was a non-factor with injuries of his own.
The 'Boys need a consistent runner who can manage to stay healthy for an entire season. This will prevent Romo from throwing 50-plus passes a game and help manage the tempo of the offense.
Another factor contributing to the team's poor running game has been the play of the Cowboys' offensive line.
The team has shuffled their line each year and this season was no different. According to ESPN Calvin Watkins, the Cowboys used three centers and four lineups in 2012. This line also led the league with 27 false start penalties.
These are the ingredients for a recipe of disaster.
The Boys need to look to upgrade the line via the draft or free-agency. According to NFL Trade Rumors, there are plenty of free agent offensive linemen to consider, if the team decides to go this route.
Either way, the line must be more disciplined and improve their play. This is the only way to create a positive domino effect with the passing game, running game, game management and limiting penalties.
Per ESPN, the Cowboys were tied for 20th in the league with 34 sacks on the season. Now this may not indicate much, since the Atlanta Falcons were ranked 28h, but regardless it needs improvement.
With the Cowboys' signing of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the team will be switching to a Tampa-2 defensive scheme.
How will the current roster fit in this scheme, specifically the D-Line?
One of the most important elements in running a successful Tampa-2 defense is the ability of linemen getting pressure on the quarterback without blitzing. Big, fast and physical linemen are needed to execute this scheme.
Jay Ratliff or Jason Hatcher would be an ideal linemen to lineup over the center. DeMarcus Ware would still rush on the weak side of the line, as he is the team's best pass rusher. The Cowboys will likely let Anthony Spencer walk, though it pains me to admit this. He is a perfect fit for a 3-4 schematic defense.
The linebackers are set with Bruce Carter, Sean Lee and possibly Dan Connor, who should be able to attack the quarterback when blitzing.
In conclusion, the 'Boys need to hit the draft or free agent market for physical pass rushers to complete the line.
Another major responsibility in a Tampa-2 defense are the safeties. Both are played relatively deep and wide covering both sidelines. The MLB is responsible for anything deep down the middle. Carter or Lee should fit this position nicely at linebacker.
But the looming question is can the current secondary, especially the safeties, handle the transition?
Gerald Sensabaugh and Danny McCray currently are the team's free and strong safeties, respectively. Both are athletic players, but offenses continuously expose their weakness—covering the deep ball.
Yes, with the new scheme, both players will be in position to cover the deep pass, but they are still not the right fit, especially McCray.
The Cowboys will likely draft a safety, but according the NFL Trade Rumors, there are plenty of free agent safeties available.
With the change in defense, the 'Boys are now able to pin-point exact needs on defense and safety should be near the top of the list.