Few teams have been harder to figure out in recent years than the Dallas Cowboys. The team often has tons of talent on the field only to self-destruct in strange ways and the 2011 season was no different. After 11 games, Tony Romo was clicking and DeMarco Murray was running hard.
Then Dallas lost two heartbreakers to Arizona and the New York Giants late and the Cowboys were on their way to a 1-4 finish.
So what’s ahead for Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and crew? Steven Mullenax, editor and head writer at The Landry Hat blog, recently shared his thoughts with Zoneblitz.
Zoneblitz: Are Jason Garrett and his current coaching staff the right mix for the Cowboys?
Mullenax: Only time will tell. The coaching staff had their ups and downs last season. But we also have to remember that they had a shorten off-season to prepare due to the NFL lockout. We’ll have to see what they can do with a full off-season program under their belts.
Zoneblitz: In recent years the Cowboys seem to have pretty solid talent. What is keeping this team from getting deep into the playoffs?
Mullenax: If you have the answer to this question, please e-mail Jerry Jones immediately. Just kidding. I think it’s been a combination of inconsistency, lack of mental toughness and just pure bad luck. There have also been some moves by the organization that has held the team back. The Roy Williams trade and the hiring of Wade Phillips as head coach come to mind.
Zoneblitz: Tony Romo is frequently criticized for the inability to take the Cowboys deep into the playoffs, but many cited him as one of this year’s biggest Pro Bowl snubs. Are you satisfied with his play?
Mullenax: Yes and No. Cowboy fans will never be satisfied with the play of Tony Romo until he wins a Super Bowl ring. Despite his stellar statistical season this year, his mental errors cost us at least two games (see New York Jets, Detroit Lions). And when your team was just one loss away from the playoffs, that criticism is going to be hard to shake.
Zoneblitz: The Cowboys’ offense certainly has a lot of talent at the skill positions. But DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones both had significant injury issues in 2011. Do you think the team needs additions there?
Mullenax: Yes. The team will be looking for help in the offensive backfield in either the draft or free agency. Murray, Jones and Tanner were all injured and sat out significant time at some point last year. Also consider the fact that Jones is in his final contract year, and that’s even more of a reason to bring in running back help.
Zoneblitz: With Dez Bryant and Miles Austin on the roster, do you expect Laurent Robinson back?
Mullenax: Robinson may be the most important player to resign this off-season. Both Austin and Bryant missed games due to injury last year. Austin missed six games alone with hamstring issues. On top of that our third wideout going into the season, Kevin Ogletree, took major steps backwards in his development. At this point, Robinson is a must re-sign for the Boys.
Zoneblitz: One of the biggest issues this season seemed to be the defensive backfield. Can the current personnel turn the results around or do you expect significant changes? And how will Dave Campo’s leaving affect the unit?
Mullenax: Last season’s defense was one of the best in the league until mid-season. Then it all fell apart. But remember, Rob Ryan was implementing a new defensive scheme in a very shorten amount of time. This year, the team should be better prepared and hopefully able to extend their dominance further into the regular season. I do believe new defensive backfield help and pass rushers will be added to the team in the off-season. And I also believe the replacement of Dave Campo will ultimately help the defensive backfield.
Zoneblitz: How will the retirement of offensive line coach Hudson Houck and the hiring of Bill Callahan affect Dallas going forward and how did you think that unit performed in 2011?
Mullenax: I believe the addition of Callahan’s head coaching experience will bring a stability to Jason Garrett and his offensive play-calling. I expect to see an improvement in the young offensive line and the offense over-all.
Zoneblitz: Jerry Jones promised after the season to “look in the mirror.” Should Jones think about bringing in someone to at least work with him on player personnel issues? Will he?
Mullenax: He should, but he won’t. Jones bought the Cowboys to be the general manager. And it appears he would sell the team before he would bring in someone else to fill that role. It’s really not even a discussion with him. Jones believes he is the right man for the job…and the only man for the job.
Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Cowboys do in free agency and the draft?
Mullenax: Obviously, there are needs in the defensive backfield, the defensive line, and the offensive line. I’d like to see an experienced free agent brought in for the inexperienced O-line. I also would like to find a quarterback in the draft who could possibly become Romo’s successor.