IRVING, Texas – Four months ago, before the Cowboys even left for training camp, the staff of DallasCowboys.com set out to ask – and then answer – some of the biggest questions facing this year's team.
From late June until the start of training camp in mid-July, the staff gave their thoughts on some of 2014's biggest issues. Some of them were big-picture problems, while others had a smaller scope. They were all important to the Cowboys' fortunes this season.
With the team on its bye week, it's time to take a look back at those predictions. What did we get right, what did we get wrong and what did we not see coming?
The first part of this series ran Thursday, while Part 3 will run Monday, before the Cowboys begin preparations for their Week 12 game against the Giants.
Let's take a look back with Part 2.
Which D-Lineman Will Break Out Like Selvie In 2013?
David Helman: I had higher hopes for what Terrell McClain was going to bring to this defense. Granted, a high ankle sprain during training camp severely limited him, and it's only within the last month that he's been able to contribute on a serious basis. Still, he's credited with just 10 tackles, two tackle for loss and one quarterback pressure on the season. Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey have both enjoyed stronger efforts so far this year.
Bryan Broaddus: This is the first question where I totally missed the boat. I felt like going into camp that Martez Wilson was going to have a bigger role on this team because of the lack of true pass rushers they lacked. Wilson never even made it to the final cut and has become a distant bad memory. The guy that has played more like Selvie here in 2014 has been Jeremy Mincey whom I thought would have been beat out DeMarcus Lawrence at some point during camp.
Nick Eatman:Well, let's start with the context of the question. I think the Cowboys would just assume have Selvie play like Selvie from 2013. That'd be nice right there. But my answer to the question was Crawford, although Mincey might have been a better answer. Then again, Mincey had produced eight sacks before with Jacksonville. To really have a Selvie-type year it needed to be from someone who has never been established and that was Crawford. He's been pretty good and the Cowboys are hoping he can get healthy again for the stretch run. Since we're somewhat keeping score here on hits and misses, I'll call that one a hit!
Is this the year Mo Claiborne lives up to the hype?
David Helman: There's no way to avoid it – I said I thought Claiborne would stay healthy in 2014. I also said I thought this would be the season he proved himself as a competent, quality starter for this defense. Neither has been the case, and Claiborne will go into the final year of his contract with everything to prove. I don't think there's any way you can get around labeling him a bust as he sits out the rest of the year on injured reserve with a monumental injury to overcome.
Bryan Broaddus: I really believed from what I saw in the OTAs and minicamps that Claiborne was due to turn things around and up until those joint practices against the Raiders he was on that path but once again we were all disappointed. I said it in our predictions that it was fair to him that he was compared to Deion Sanders before he even played in a NFL game. I have always believed he was a solid player in college and at times even spectacular but he will go into his final season with the club coming off a knee surgery that will even bring him further down in his development.
Nick Eatman: Well, I thought he would have an improved season and who knows, maybe he was getting there before the injury. A bad game in St. Louis actually ended with him making the game-saving interception. That was followed by him walking out for a day when he learned of Scandrick returning to take his spot. And then he gets hurt. Claiborne couldn't catch a break and maybe he never will. I personally think the Cowboys should look at changing his position a little bit and maybe make him more of a return specialist and even an occasional offensive weapon. He's got talent and it's the Cowboys' job to figure out how to use it.
What changes with Scott Linehan as the play-caller?
David Helman: I feel pretty good about this one. I thought Scott Linehan would focus in on his two biggest playmakers, and that has been the case all season long. Linehan is riding his two best players in DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant, and they're both having fantastic seasons. Murray is averaging 24 carries per game, and he's got 1,200 yards on the year. Bryant has been targeted at least seven times in eight of the Cowboys' 10 games. He has scored a touchdown in all but three games. Even in his worst games, against Arizona, Linehan was still trying consistently to get the ball into Bryant's hands. Linehan has shown the ability to keep his offense balanced, and a big part of that is that he's feeding his playmakers.
Bryan Broaddus: Going into this season my thought was that Linehan was going to get more players involved with his offensive play calling instead of just focusing on one guy. Linehan has done just that but he has also done something that the previous play callers had not managed to do and that was successfully stick with a consistent running game which has allowed this offense to play with far more balance. It was something that Jason Garrett always addressed but was far less able to make part of the offense.
Nick Eatman:In answering the question back in July, what I didn't account for and I certainly don't feel bad about this – was DeMarco Murray rushing for a pace of a 2,000-yard season. And with that, it's certainly helped Linehan in terms of play-calling. When your back can rip off chunks of yards the way Murray has through 10 games, why should we get too creative? In fact, the only criticism I've had with the play-calling has been the times (mainly vs. Washington) when the Cowboys passed the more on second-and-short plays when the Redskins had given no indication they could stop Murray. So Linehan has been better than I thought but a big reason is because Murray has been way better than any of us thought.
If the defense doesn't improve, can the offense carry this team?
David Helman: It's hard to say, because the defense has improved dramatically from the woeful unit that took the field last year. They still aren't world beaters, but the Cowboys are a middle-of-the-pack defense in most of the major categories, and they're top 10 in scoring defense. The offense has been rock-solid, but it hasn't really had to "carry" anything, as the defense has been there to pick up some slack in its own right. That's a big part of why the record is this good after 10 weeks, in my opinion.
Bryan Broaddus: What has been surprising is that this Rod Marinelli led defense has at times carried this offense and that was something that I would have never believed to happen. What has helped both groups has been the offenses ability to hold on to the ball in the running game but also convert on 3rd downs. Stephen Jones came out during training camp insisting that they would be a successful running team and that has been the case. Neither of these groups has had to carry the other and I believe that is why you currently see their record as good as it is.
Nick Eatman: Well I thought the offense could be a Top 5 offense and if that happens, it'd be impossible for the defense to be that bad again. The Cowboys are really good on offense but this defense has been better for different reasons. The running game keeps them fresher and able to make plays but some guys are stepping up defensively such as Mincey, Rolando McClain, Crawford, Scandrick and Justin Durant before his injury. But the question was really about the offense and yes, I think this offense has been good enough to carry what has been a pretty solid defense.
Which player has the best chance to make his first Pro Bowl?
David Helman: My list of bad moments continues, as I picked Morris Claiborne to reach the Pro Bowl in his third season. Instead, he's on injured reserve while a handful of younger corners have replaced him without too many hiccups. If I could have this one back, I'd either pick Travis Frederick, who has been outstanding in the middle of the offensive line, or Rolando McClain, who has been the spark for the defense's improvement this year.
Bryan Broaddus: I believed that is was going to be Travis Frederick and I still feel like that he has a great chance. If you look at the line you now have to also include Zack Martin in that conversation. I made the commitment on our Writer's Round Table Show that I felt like Martin through these first ten games has been the best offensive linemen of the five starters. I believe that you also have to include Dan Bailey in that Pro Bowl talk as well despite what has happened with those two blocked field goals that were more protection problems than his physical ones.
Nick Eatman:Well, I'm still annoyed that Rowan Kavner took my first answer (Dan Bailey) so I thought I'd get cute with Harris. Whiff! Oh well, it's not over yet. All that needs to happen is Harris make a few big returns – preferably when the world is watching such as Sunday night in New York and/or Thanksgiving vs. Philly. Come to think of it, the next four games are all nationally-televised games so if Harris makes some game-changing plays, most voters won't really know he is having a down year. Don't forget he covers kicks, too so the all-around special teams player could get him in. But Bailey is a better pick and Zack Martin wouldn't be bad either.