When an 8-8 record kept the Dallas Cowboys out of the 2012 playoffs, Owner/General Manager Jerry Jones promised changes. And changes did follow, including the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the hiring of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator and Bill Callahan as offensive coordinator.

But were those the changes necessary to turn the Cowboys around and get them back to the playoffs? Steven Mullenax, editor and head writer at The Landry Hat, indicates that he’s not convinced Jones’ solutions went to the heart of the problems.

Mullenax thought Ryan’s defense was good enough to keep the team competitive and thought injuries and offensive line play contributed more to last season’s demise. He shared some thoughts with Zoneblitz.com on the 2012 season and on what he thinks the team needs to do moving into 2013. Here’s what he had to say.

Zoneblitz: What were your thoughts on the firing of Rob Ryan and the overhaul on the coaching staff after the 2012 season?

Mullenax: I was very surprised. With the number of injuries the Cowboys suffered on the defensive side of the ball, I thought Ryan’s group overachieved as the season progressed. But Jerry Jones apparently wasn’t happy with Ryan’s schemes from the very beginning of the season, citing the terrible Seattle game as a catalyst for his departure.

Zoneblitz: In last year’s In Depth interview, you expressed some uncertainty as to whether or not Jason Garrett and his staff are the group to rejuvenate the Cowboys. After another year, what are your thoughts on Garrett as head coach?

Mullenax: The season offered the exact same results as the last. An 8-8 record and no post season due to a loss in their final game. Now a sweeping coaching change is supposed to get them over the hump. I’m still not sure it will happen with Jason Garrett at the helm.

Zoneblitz: What do you think the problems have been with the defense the last couple seasons?

Mullenax: No. In fact, I think the defense did just enough to give the Cowboys a fighting chance in almost every game. A sub-par offensive line and no running game were the Cowboys’ biggest problems. If there was one thing the defense was guilty of not doing enough of, it was causing turnovers.

Zoneblitz: How would you rate Tony Romo’s play and how much is he the problem or the solution when it comes to offensive struggles?

Mullenax: Romo is only the problem when he tries to do too much … just like every other quarterback in the league.  Because of his status as the Cowboys quarterback, Romo just can’t win. When he plays well, Romo is simply doing what he is expected to do. When he plays bad, the media has him on the next bus out of town. The fact is: Tony Romo is a franchise quarterback. I believe he will finish his career in Dallas and have better overall numbers then Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach. Give Romo a good offensive line and I believe he will be a Hall of Famer.

Zoneblitz: There have been a lot of injuries to skill position players on offense, such as Miles Austin and DeMarco Murray. What’s the overall sense for where the Cowboys are at with running backs and receivers?

Mullenax: At wideout, the Cowboys are fairly comfortable. Dez Bryant is a stud. Austin had another off year, but the Cowboys are confident he will rebound. And they really like their young receivers Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley. The offensive back-field is a different story. The Cowboys believe DeMarco Murray is the featured back they have been longing for, but his first two seasons have been marred by injuries. Back-up Felix Jones is now a free agent and should not be re-signed. The other two half-backs, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar, are still too inexperienced to be trusted as back-field blockers. The Cowboys desperately need to find a back-up running back in free agency or through the draft.

Zoneblitz: What has to be done to fix the offensive line?

Mullenax: The Cowboys must release right tackle Doug Free, the most penalized offensive lineman in the NFL last season. They must then get a replacement tackle in free agency or via the draft. The same must be done for one of the guard positions.

Zoneblitz: Who on the roster do you think might be primed for a breakout 2013 season?

Mullenax: My vote goes to Morris Claiborne. With the change to a 4-3 defensive scheme, I hope last year’s first round pick is able to show more play-making ability in the defensive backfield, especially in converting turnovers into points. Brandon Carr could also be primed to breakout for the same reasons.

Zoneblitz: What would you like to see the Cowboys do in free agency and the draft?

Mullenax: I’d love to see them sign an experienced running back in free agency. It makes sense to sign a veteran when the current backs on the roster, outside of Murray, aren’t trusted in pass protection.

Zoneblitz: How far do you think the Cowboys are from being a contender for a deep playoff run?

Mullenax: The answer is they are one critical win away. They have been for the last two years. One win from making the playoffs. And as the past few seasons in the NFL has shown us, any team who makes the post-season can win it all.

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