IRVING, Texas – As with all 8-8 seasons, the good goes hand in hand with the bad.
The Cowboys fixed some of their past problems from their previous two 8-8 seasons, while new ones popped up in the latest .500 finish in 2013.
This DallasCowboys.com series takes a look at both the good and the bad, analyzing some of the positive, more promising aspects of the 2013 season alongside the negative, more troubling traits as the team prepares for a new year.
Our next edition focuses on one of the few reliable pieces of the Cowboys' 2013 season – Dan Bailey's reliability and excellence as a kicker. Conversely, the Cowboys entered last season with a set group of linebackers and came out with a bunch of question marks.
Promising: "Promising" probably isn't even the right word, since the Cowboys just inked Bailey to an extension that's set to keep him in Dallas until 2021.
Bailey was phenomenal in his third season with the Cowboys, as he put together the league's fourth-best field goal percentage at 93.3 percent. It's a bit of a tired cliché, but Bailey simply did not miss. He connected on 28 of 30 attempts, and both misses came in the first month of the season.
In Week 3 against St. Louis, he had a head-scratching miss on a 35-yarder, and a week later he failed to connect against San Diego from a whopping 56 yards away. He didn't miss again in the ensuing 12 weeks.
All those makes included a 35-yarder to beat the Giants, and a fantastic five-for-five performance against Green Bay that saw him connect from 23, 43, 47, 50 and 50 again.
Bailey's outstanding season earned him a make percentage of 91.1 percent through his three-year career – he's missed just nine of 98 kicks. It makes sense why the Cowboys would seek to commit to that type of accuracy. It wasn't just his field goal kicking, though. Bailey was once again the Cowboys' kickoff specialist, where he boomed 52 of 93 kicks for touchbacks. Opponents only returned Bailey's kicks for an average of 20.8 yards, which was seventh-best in the league.
Troubling:You can think back to the peak of training camp in July and August, and the longterm plan at linebacker seemed to be developing.
Sean Lee was the rock in the middle, and Bruce Carter was his upcoming partner in crime. The strongside linebacker position wasn't quite as solid, but the Cowboys had options between Justin Durant and Ernie Sims.
It'd be melodramatic to say the future is now in doubt. Lee is signed to a massive extension, and he has played like one of the best linebackers in the NFL when he's been able to stay healthy. That said, 2013 was yet another season in which Lee was unable to stay on the field down the stretch of the season. [embedded_ad]
Carter struggled for the most part, despite finishing as one of the team leaders in tackles. In the switch to the 4-3 defense, he struggled with pass coverage and was highlighted – for the wrong reasons – in several big plays during the season.
As a third-year player, Carter is in line for a new contract after 2014. One of the topics of last offseason was where Carter ranked on the pecking order of guys deserving new contracts. Certainly he falls behind Pro Bowlers Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith at this point. It'll be interesting to see how the Cowboys approach that situation going forward.
Justin Durant has one more year remaining on his contract as the favorite to start at the strong side, but he also struggled in 2013. After suffering a hamstring injury against New Orleans in November, Durant missed several weeks before returning against Green Bay – only to injure himself again.
If there was an unlooked-for positive from the position, it was DeVonte Holloman's emergence after dealing with injuries of his own. After sitting out seven games with an injury, he returned for the final month and tallied 11 tackles and two sacks in the season finale.
With all of that in mind, the Cowboys undoubtedly need to find a way to keep their linebackers healthy – and squeeze some more production out of them while they're at it.