Player-by-Player Report Card for the Dallas Cowboys: Defensive Edition

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 6, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 18: Anthony Spencer #93 is congratulated by DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas Cowboys after recovering a fumble against the Cleveland Browns at Cowboys Stadium on November 18, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys defeated the Browns 23-20. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

We've started to move on. It's been more than a month since the 2012 Dallas Cowboys season came to an end, and we're now shifting the focus entirely to the offseason, free agency and the draft.

But let's take another look back at this past season by grading all of the key offensive contributors on "America's Team." We looked at the offense last week, and now we take on that injury-ravaged D.

Defensive Ends

Jason Hatcher: A

Rather quietly, Hatcher had a borderline Pro Bowl-caliber season. He had a career-high 51 tackles, made twice as many stops as anyone else on the defensive line and was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the fourth-best 3-4 end in the NFL.

Kenyon Coleman: B-

The 33-year-old was playing well before his season—and very likely his Cowboys career—came to an end abruptly as a result of a torn triceps midway through the year.

Tyrone Crawford: B-

Not a lot was expected from the rookie, but his role increased after Coleman went down, and he had some solid performances, particularly as a run defender. Look for Crawford to become a key cog as the 'Boys switch to a 4-3 front.

Marcus Spears: C

I've been saying for quite a while that I think Spears is declining. He'll be 30 this year and probably shouldn't be viewed as a starter much longer after failing to do much of anything in 2012. 

Defensive Tackles

Josh Brent: B+

It looked as though the former seventh-round pick was becoming a reliable starter before a DUI and intoxication manslaughter charges brought his season to an end in early December. The big guy was superb at clogging running lanes but was also performing well as a pass-rusher.

Jay Ratliff: C

Ratliff, who will be 32 before next season and missed 10 games due to injury in 2012, is also dealing with legal issues as a result of a recent DUI charge. Even when healthy, he's just not the player he used to be.

Sean Lissemore: C-

I'm beginning to realize how dire things are for the Cowboys inside. Thank goodness they won't need a nose tackle in 2013, but they'll still lack depth at defensive tackle because Lissemore failed to take the leap many expected him to in 2012, and Brent and Ratliff are both huge question marks. 

Outside Linebackers

Anthony Spencer: A+

The Cowboys wouldn't have even come close to the playoffs if not for Spencer, who was the most versatile 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL in 2012. The guy really can do it all, and he finally got that sack total up into the double digits this year.

DeMarcus Ware: A-

Ware wasn't quite himself due to injuries to his ribs and elbow, and as a result the 30-year-old had just 11.5 sacks. He might be past his prime now.

Victor Butler: B

It's hard to shine behind a duo like Spencer and Ware, but the 2009 fourth-round pick took a small step forward in his fourth season. He'll find a new home this offseason and has the ability to eventually start in a 3-4 system somewhere.

Inside Linebackers

Sean Lee: A

The fact that there are still concerns regarding his durability prevent him from receiving the best possible grade. Lee was on track to receive All-Pro honors before a toe injury ended his season in Week 8. He's yet to play an entire 16-game season.

Bruce Carter: A

The man eerily resembled a young Ray Lewis at times, stepping it up and becoming one of the best players on the team when Lee went down. Unfortunately, an elbow injury cost him the final five games of his breakout second season.

Alex Albright: B-

Who knows where he'll fit in now that they're switching to a 4-3, but the third-year end/linebacker is big and strong enough to hold his ground as a starter on the strong side if the Cowboys want to put him there. But he proved again in 2012 that he's also versatile enough to be a reliable backup wherever he plays.

Dan Connor: C

He entered his first offseason with the Cowboys as the favorite to start next to Lee, but Connor was quickly surpassed by Carter on the depth chart. He'd play OK when he returned to the starting lineup later, but it was still a disappointing year for the veteran.

Ernie Sims: C

This grade feels a lot better than Connor's, mainly because Sims was brought in with few expectations in an emergency situation and performed at a mediocre level. Connor did the same thing but with a big salary and big expectations.


Orlando Scandrick: B+

A hand injury cost him the final month of his season, but when the veteran nickel corner was on the field, he was the best defensive back the Cowboys had. Scandrick gave up only 20 receptions on 39 targets, according to PFF.

Brandon Carr: C+

With his $50 million contract in mind, it was a rather disappointing year for Carr. However, he did make a game-changing interception in overtime against Pittsburgh in December. Still, they'll need him to make more big plays while surrendering fewer of them in 2013.

Morris Claiborne: C-

The rookie first-round pick lacked consistency all year and was simply beaten far too often. He had only one pick in 15 starts but surrendered four touchdowns. It's not easy being a rookie corner in the NFC East, especially when you lose most of your first offseason due to injury.

Mike Jenkins: D+

Jenkins also lost much of his offseason due to injury, and the disgruntled former starter struggled for the majority of his first season in a backup role. His career in Dallas is likely over.


Gerald Sensabaugh: C

He's still rarely responsible for big plays, and the depleted group around him didn't help, but it was still a rough season for Sensabaugh, who intercepted zero passes and surrendered a triple-digit passer rating.

Danny McCray: F

McCray was the worst defensive starter on this team in 2012. He missed 12 tackles and was continually abused in coverage. They had few other options, but there's absolutely no way this guy should be back for 2013.

Barry Church: N/A

Church can't get a grade because he only took 108 snaps before going down with a season-ending injury. Still, he allowed only three receptions in that time period, while performing well against the run. He enters 2013 as a definite starter.


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