|(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)|
Note to the Dallas Cowboys: Get this man some protection!
No wonder Romo ran out of gas last season, his offensive line allowed him to get sacked 36 times.
For the second straight season, the Cowboys collapsed in December and failed to make the playoffs. On paper this team looks talented, maybe it was the poor coaching, maybe it was the tough schedule, maybe they just didn't "want it" as much as the Giants. The Cowboys don't have too many weak spots, but every team can improve from the draft.
2011 Record: 8-8
Strengths: Quarterback, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight End, Nose Tackle, Right Outside Linebacker, Special Teams
Say whatever you want, but Tony Romo is an above average quarterback in the NFL. His stats back him up every season, and although he isn't the "clutchest" quarterback, I'd take him over most quarterbacks in the league. As a whole, the Cowboys offense doesn't need much work, besides the offensive line. The DeMarco Murray/Felix Jones running back combo is solid, and the Dez Bryant/Miles Austin/Laurent Robinson wide receiving core is one of the best in the league. Jason Witten doesn't seem like age is affecting him, after coming off another impressive season. As for the Cowboys' defense, Jay Ratliff provides a huge force upfront for the Cowboys 3-4 defense, while DeMarcus Ware is all over the field making plays.
Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Ends, Middle Linebacker, Secondary
This season, Romo was sacked 36 times, which was sixth most among quarterbacks in the league. If this offensive line protected Romo, maybe he wouldn't have gotten hurt, and maybe the Cowboys could have held it together for the last month of the season. Without an offensive line, it is very hard for an offense to be successful. Whether the team is running the ball, or throwing the ball, the offensive line is involved in every play, keeping defenders from getting to the ballcarrier. Now for the defense. Having two players as skilled as Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware, Dallas needs to make sure that when Ratliff and Ware are double teamed, someone else (a defensive end or linebacker) will fine the whole and sack the quarterback. The Cowboys did not take advantage this season of having two of the best pass rushers in the league. The Cowboys accumulated 42 sacks this season, but DeMarcus Ware accounted for nearly half of them. Dallas can't rely on one player to shutdown opposing offenses, especially when they play the Giants and Eagles twice. The Cowboys' secondary was atrocious last season. Wide receivers had no problem getting past the secondary, and when they didn't, it was probably because of a pass interference flag.
Possible Options with 1st round pick (14th overall): David DeCastro, Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, Luke Kuechly, Courtney Upshaw
David Decastro- The Stanford offensive guard is a perfect fit for Dallas because he's one of the top guard prospects in this year's draft, and could do excellent job protected Tony Romo.
Luke Kuechly-Kuechly is a top linebacker in this year's draft, that would fit great alongside DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee, Kuechly could be their understudy, and become a star early on in his career.
Mark Barron- The safety out of Alabama is the top safety in the entiredraft, and has the ability to anchor the Cowboys' secondary. Barron is a hard-hitting, ballhawking, safety, who also has a high Football-IQ.
Dre Kirkpatrick- His stock has declined a bit due to his recent arrest, however, on the field, Kirkpatrick is a beast. He is quick, strong, and along with Barron, was one of the key reasons why the Alabama secondary was impenetrable. Jerry Jones isn't someone who takes big risks with players, so Kirkpatrick may not be the guy for the Cowboys, but if the Cowboys are looking for skill, Kirkpatrick could potentially be a great fit.
Courtney Upshaw- Upshaw was another stud on Alabama's defense this year. While Barron anchored the secondary, Upshaw led the linebacking core and the front line. Upshaw has experience playing in 3-4 defense, and really shined in the National Championship Game. His stock rose even more after a great performance at the Senior Bowl. If all of the players above are available along with Upshaw, I think Upshaw would be the best option. He is a great teammate, has a great work ethic, and is an offensive lineman's worst nightmare.
What the Cowboys need in later picks: Offensive Tackle, Offensive Guard, Cornerback, Free Safety
Recap: The Cowboys are very close to becoming a serious postseason threat. Throughout the first 12 games of the season, the Cowboys are always one of the better teams in the league, but their late season collapses always ruin their earlier success. Although the Cowboys are very strong in certain areas, they also lack depth on defense, and need to restructure their offensive line. If the Cowboys can make these adjustments, look for them to give the Eagles and Giants trouble next season.