IRVING, Texas –The NFL has the Pro Bowl, which will be played later this month, along with various All-Pro teams and All-Rookie squads.
At DallasCowboys.com, we've traditionally produced a team made up of players who performed at the highest level against the Cowboys during the 2013.
The Cowboys faced the NFL's leading rusher in LeSean McCoy, along with the obvious favorite for league MVP in Peyton Manning. Neither of them made this list.
Similarly on defense, the Cowboys played Jason Pierre-Paul and Clay Matthews, and neither of them made the list.
Today, we'll break down the defensive unit:
Brian Robison, 4-3 DE, MIN – He made his two tackles count in a big way. In a tie game, the Cowboys drove the ball to the Vikings' 12-yard line in the second quarter when Robison got around right tackle Doug Free for a sack. The next play, Robison did the exact same thing to get his second sack in as many plays and force the Cowboys to kick a field goal. Free had stymied Robison up to that point and had a fantastic bounce back year, but those two plays Robison shined.
Corey Liuget, 3-4 DE, SD – With six combined tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and a forced fumble, Liuget had to find his way onto this list. There weren't many defensive ends who gave this team trouble, but the 3-4 early on in the season seemed to give the Cowboys' line a few more problems than the 4-3 they typically saw in practice.
Dontari Poe, 3-4 NT, KC – The Cowboys didn't know just how formidable a defense the Chiefs possessed before playing them in Week 2, but they found out quickly in Kansas City. The pressure was led on the inside by Poe, who had two sacks and gave rookie center Travis Frederick fits. The early experience against a star 3-4 nose tackle helped Frederick know what to expect later in the year.
Cullen Jenkins, 4-3 DT, NYG – He only had one tackle for loss and a couple tackles in the first meeting between the teams, but he was a force the second time around. Jenkins brought Romo down twice in New York, once on a second quarter drive that the Cowboys eventually had to punt on and then on a third down in the third quarter which also forced the Cowboys to punt.
Honorable Mention: Nick Fairley – DET DT
Nick Roach, OAK – It's easy to forget just how close this Raiders game was – and how fantastic Roach played in the middle of Oakland's linebacker corps. He finished the game with 11 combined tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. He spread out his talent throughout the game, finishing with five of his tackles and a sack in the first half and adding six more tackles, another sack and a forced fumble after the break.
Mychal Kendricks, PHI – Those who didn't realize who Kendricks was in the first meeting between these teams surely found out in the season finale. Kendricks led the Eagles with 12 combined tackles, adding an interception and a forced fumble. Most of that work came in the first half, including the forced fumble on DeMarco Murray after a promising drive to start the game and a pick intended for Jason Witten that changed the game entirely.
DeMeco Ryans, PHI – The Eagles' other inside linebacker added seven combined tackles in the finale, but it was his performance in Philadelphia the first time around that got him on this list. With a stat line similar to Kendricks', Ryans had a sack and an interception mixed in with his eight combined tackles on the day in Week 7.
Honorable Mention: Shaun Phillips – DEN
Sam Shields, GB – It really was a toss-up between Shields and Tramon Williams, both of whom came up with game-changing picks in one of the Cowboys' worst collapses ever. Shields had three passes defended, including a superb interception on a slant intended for Miles Austin as time winded down in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys clung onto a five point lead with fewer than three minutes remaining. That pick changed the game and Williams' pick would seal it.
Keenan Lewis, NO – In similar fashion to the Green Bay circumstance, this recognition could go to Lewis or Jabari Greer. The Saints doubled Dez Bryant and were determined not to let the star receiver beat them, but Lewis had the primary coverage against him and helped to hold him to just one catch, which didn't occur until the third quarter.
Honorable Mention: Tramon Williams – GB, Jabari Greer – NO, DeAngelo Hall - WAS
Antrel Rolle, NYG –There weren't a ton of star performances by any safeties against the Cowboys this year, but Rolle made a difference in the NFC East rivals' second matchup. Rolle tied for the Giants' lead in tackles in that Week 12 game in New York and hauled in an interception. [embedded_ad]
Eric Weddle, SD –The stats won't depict the difference Weddle seemed to make in this game, as the Cowboys struggled to put points on the board in San Diego. Weddle had six combined tackles, two passes defended and a special teams tackle and covered Jason Witten as well as anyone down the middle of the field, thwarting most of the Cowboys' longer pass attempts.
Dustin Colquitt, KC –Don't look at the net punting average of Colquitt in this one, but rather where his punts ended up. His prowess helped Kansas City win this one by making Dallas drive the field. Five of his seven punts ended up inside the Dallas 20-yard line, including four punts at or inside the Dallas 10-yard line.
Steve Weatherford, NYG – Talk about consistency. Weatherford averaged 54.7 yards per punt in the opener against the Cowboys and followed up by averaging 54.6 yards per punt in the next meeting between the teams. He also had a punt of at least 60 yards in both contests.
Marcus Sherels, MIN –There weren't many terrific punt returning performances against the Cowboys this year, but Sherels' was one to recognize. The Vikings' returner averaged 17.5 yards per return on his two returns, including one for 26 yards.
Dexter McCluster, KC –The Chiefs' shifty, versatile returner averaged 13.7 yards per punt return on three returns, including one return for 20 yards