IRVING, Texas - With the 2013 season in the books, the writers of DallasCowboys.com took a look back to the best and worst of this past season, which ended with a rather familiar 8-8 record.
Nick Eatman: Dez Bryant - The best player on this offense was Dez Bryant. When they needed a big play, they could go to him. Never was that more of an example than the Giants win when he willed them to a win. He also had a clutch TD against Philly in the last game. They nearly won without Romo and won games without Murray. I don’t want to see them try without Dez.
Rowan Kavner: Jason Hatcher - The Cowboys needed Jason Hatcher if they were to get a pass rush, and for that reason he’s my pick here. When the front was able to bother the quarterback, this defense had a chance. Otherwise, quarterbacks would pick them apart. Typically if that rush was coming, it was through the middle from Hatcher, who put together a remarkable double-digit sack season as a defensive tackle. The Cowboys may be losing their defensive MVP.
Nick Eatman: Jason Hatcher – He really had a great season, especially considering we thought he was the one player who could be the weak link on that starting line – only because he had never played a 4-3 and seemed out of position. He wasn’t. And when he missed the Saints game, it left a huge void in the middle. He’ll probably be gone but give him credit for playing so well in a contract year.
Most Significant Injury:
David Helman: Romo -Plenty of players missed more time. Lee missed five games, DeMarcus Ware missed three games – Anthony Spencer missed a whopping 15 of 16 games. But the Cowboys lost Romo with a chance to make the playoffs – a chance for him to put last year’s late-game gaffe against Washington behind him. This team was probably never going to make the Super Bowl – Romo or no Romo. But you had to like their odds to make the tournament with Romo playing at home against Philadelphia.
Bryan Broaddus: Anthony Spencer - When the Cowboys decided to make the switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3, I believed that Anthony Spencer would have been an impact player rushing off that left side. Coming into the season, I even predicted that Spencer would have ended up with more sacks than DeMarcus Ware. In the previous two seasons, it appeared that Spencer was finally getting it and the talent that we had seen in flashes during his career was being fully used. When he missed all of training camp, then tried to play that game in Week 2 against the Chiefs without success, I knew it was a bad situation. There were points during the season where they could have used his pass rush ability to create pressure when teams were having success. It was a shame that a player with his skill set, had to sit a watch.
Rowan Kavner: It’s tempting to take Sean Lee here, but to me it has to be Tony Romo’s back. Who knows what the result would have been had Romo been able to play in the season finale. Orton stepped in admirably, but it’s impossible not to wonder how the result would or could have changed with Romo behind center. This is also an injury that may never completely vanish, as the Cowboys are left to wonder how long it’ll take Romo to return to form.
Nick Eatman: Anthony Spencer – This team missed his pass rush in a major way. I think you saw it with the cornerbacks who had trouble covering for a few seconds longer.
David Helman: Jason Hatcher - It’s easy to lose sight of the fact in retrospect, but there were plenty of questions about Hatcher’s transition to the 4-3 scheme. At training camp, we weren’t sure exactly which role he would play on the defensive line. In one season as a three-technique tackle, he had the best year of his career and led all defensive tackles with 11 sacks – he was one of just two defensive tackles to notch double-digit sacks. He definitely wasn’t expected to have the best season among Cowboys’ defensive linemen, but he ran away with that accomplishment.
Rowan Kavner: George Selvie: That George Selvie finished the year with the second most sacks on the team behind only Hatcher, ending the season with one more sack than DeMarcus Ware. Selvie joined the group during training camp but demonstrated quickly he was more than just a camp body. With another year left on the contract, Selvie at least provides some depth at defensive end going forward and a little more stability at the position, which will likely be addressed in the draft.
Rowan Kavner: DeMarcus Ware - The obvious answer is a third straight 8-8 season, but on an individual basis, I have to look at the production of DeMarcus Ware. I don’t think we realized how much pain he was in throughout the year, mostly because he denied he was in any. But the unstoppable force we saw during camp and the first few weeks of the season never returned. It’s possible with an offseason to get healthy we can see that again, but a career-low six sacks wasn’t to be expected.
Nick Eatman: Jay Ratliff – I think the way that went down was just a really rough situation – and one we still don’t know all the details of. But the fact that a four-time Pro Bowler was able to just leave the team disgruntled and then sign on with another team, although we were told he had a serious injury. Just something wasn’t right about that. The Cowboys really could’ve used him in the middle this year and for it to end like it did, was a shame.
Most Improved Player:
Bryan Broaddus: Ron Leary - Give Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack a great deal of credit for getting
Rowan Kavner: Terrance Williams - It’s odd to say this considering he’s a rookie, but from the start of the year to where he’s at now, I’d go with Terrance Williams. Obviously, this isn’t a year to year thing since he was in college last year, but he ended the year looking leaps and bounds better than the player we saw in camp. The jump was tremendous and he became an accountable deep threat, finishing with 736 yards, a 16.7 yards per catch average and five touchdowns.
Nick Eatman: Orlando Scandrick – I really wanted to go with Tyron Smith here, but as a first-round pick, getting to the Pro Bowl and making All-Pro teams was expected by his third year. As for Scandrick, he really has developed into a solid player. He didn’t let Morris Claiborne get his job back and he’s played very well in a demanding spot. Yes, he can make more plays and interceptions but for his size and being a fifth-round pick, I think Scandrick should get a lot of credit. He’s a student of the game and he really played well from the start of camp to the end of the year.
Rowan Kavner: Sometimes we lose sight of just how valuable Dwayne Harris is. He led the team in special teams tackles, despite missing nearly a month toward the end of the season. He’s a complete special teams stud, leading the way as a cover guy and a returner, finishing second in the league in kick return average (30.6) and third in punt return average (12.8), while also securing the game-winning touchdown catch against the Vikings.
Top Offseason Need:
David Helman: Defensive Tackle - The Cowboys’ first priority this offseason needs to be a defensive lineman, as far as I’m concerned. Whether that should be defensive tackle or defensive end is up for debate, but I’m going with the interior. My line of thinking is that DeMarcus Ware probably returns, and Anthony Spencer could very well re-sign. George Selvie is back, as well. Meanwhile, if Jason Hatcher leaves in free agency, which looks likely, the Cowboys are looking at
Bryan Broaddus: Defensive Line - I thought that this defensive line needed to be retooled last season even with DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher in the mix. Now there is a good possibility out of that group that you will only have Ware. The challenge for Jerry and Stephen Jones along with Will McClay is to dig those guys out that can come in and play from the word “Go” much like they have with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. There will be no time for sitting around and learning on the job. How they work on this position will once again have a huge impact how they go forward in the coming years.
Rowan Kavner: The Cowboys need defensive linemen, particularly tackles who can rush the passer. With the return of Hatcher unlikely, the Cowboys need to find a player that can cause some havoc in the middle. Getting
Nick Eatman: Deee-fense! Just like they went offense the first three picks last year, they should go defense with the first three, if not four or five next year. This offense seems to be in good shape. But they need help on the defneisve line and maybe more depth at linebacker and safety. The top need for me is a pass-rusher on the edge. Even if Spencer returns and Ware returns to form, you still need to get a young, hungry pass-rusher.