IRVING, Texas – For the last two years, this team has been nothing but mediocre. And their 8-8 record the last two years is the only proof needed to argue that point.
With an 8-8 season, you get a little bit of good and the same amount of bad. Of course, with lofty expectations around here each year, anything short of the playoffs is considered a lost season, and rightfully so.
Over the next two days, let's take a look at five statistical figures that are both encouraging and discouraging for this team. Here are five stats or figures the Cowboys should be encouraged about moving forward in 2013:
Dez Bryant turned into the beast receiver the Cowboys envisioned when they drafted him in 2010. His stats alone suggest that, especially considering how he played down the stretch. For the first time since maybe the Michael Irvin days, we saw a wide receiver simply take over games, which is always tough to do from that position, considering you need help to get the ball. He made the most of every opportunity down the stretch and had a season that probably would've landed him in the Pro Bowl had it not been for a finger injury that required post-season surgery. Still, those yards are proof that he's on his way to becoming the star the Cowboys hoped they'd be getting all along.
Talk about coming on strong down the stretch … what about Dwayne Harris as a punt-returner. He replaced Dez Bryant in the second half of the year and was nothing short phenomenal, finishing the year No. 2 in the NFL with a 16.1 yard average. He had a game-changing return for a touchdown against the Eagles, and had field-position returns against the Steelers and Redskins later in the season. Not to mention the success he's had as a third receiver, it's setting up rather nicely for Harris to be heavily involved in the offense and special teams next year.
That would be Tony Romo's completion percentage in 2012. Yes, his interceptions were up this year and touchdowns slightly down, but he also threw 124 more passes last season to easily set a new career high in attempts for a season with 648. That ranked third in the NFL behind Matt Stafford (727) and Drew Brees (670). Romo had the highest completion percentage among the five quarterbacks with the most attempts. When you factor in how many times he was pressured or flushed out of the pocket, which usually leads to passes being thrown away, Romo was able to slightly edge his average completion percentage of 64.5, heading into the 2012 season. Clearly, this team needs to run the ball better and become more balanced, but Romo completed passes at a high rate, considering the amount of attempts. That's a good sign if this team can give him a little more help in the running game.
The most consistent player on this team the past two years has to be kicker Dan Bailey. And what a weapon he's turned out to be. Not only has he made seven game-winners in two seasons, but he's also had two game-tying kicks to force overtime as well. Bailey was 29 of 31 on field goals in 2012, tied for first with a .935 percentage. Better yet, he's clutch on the kicks he's supposed to hit, making all 26 of attempts inside of 50 yards. He was 3 of 5 in field goals on 50 yards or more. While it's always possible for kickers to get into slumps, Bailey seems as level-headed as the Cowboys have had at this position in a while.
Nobody wanted to talk about "moral victories" at the time, and likely still don't. What happened on Oct. 14 in Baltimore is just a troubling trend for a Cowboys team that can say it should've beaten three of the last four Super Bowl teams over the past two years. The Ravens this year, coupled with the Patriots and first Giants game last year – yeah, the Cowboys had chances to win but fell short. And that will likely be mentioned on tomorrow's list. But as bad as the Cowboys ran the ball this year – finishing 31st in the league – they had one glorious day against the Ravens and ran for 227 yards. It wasn't just one guy, either. DeMarco Murray had 93 yards before an injury wiped out his second half. Felix Jones had 92 and even Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar got in on the act. It was the most yards ever yielded by the Ravens' usually-stout defense. Whether it was an aberration or the squirrel finding the nut, the Cowboys saw firsthand they can dominate a good team at the line of scrimmage. It wasn't consistent, but something to build on.
That's five right there and you can see there is not a defensive stat on the list. Rest assured the defensive side of the ball will be mentioned more on Wednesday when we break down five troubling stats the Cowboys need to rectify in 2013.