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Good & Bad: NFC East No Problem; Can't Stay Healthy


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 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 the Cowboys' success within the division throughout the year, along with their inability once again to stay healthy down the stretch. The former gave them a chance in Week 17, but the latter issue eventually forced them out of playoff contention.  

Promising: The 2013 season marked the first time since 2003 the Cowboys gathered five wins in their division. They were one Kyle Orton drive away from going undefeated in the division, and had they done that they'd have gone to the playoffs. It's rare a team that goes 5-1 in their own division finds themselves second in their division and out of the postseason, but they nearly were perfect in the NFC East.

Even in the 11-5 season in 2009, the Cowboys only had four wins in their division. The same was the case when the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007. It's difficult to beat up on division opponents, let alone do it twice in the same season. Despite the mediocrity the Cowboys soaked in yet again, they took care of their NFC East opponents for the most part which should give them some confidence heading into 2014.

Their division success was a sharp contrast from recent years. In their previous two 8-8 seasons, the Cowboys went a combined 5-7 against division opponents. They were 3-3 in 2012 (which makes more sense given their .500 finish) and 2-4 in 2011. Unlike the end of the 2012 season, there was no dominant read option that destroyed their chances.

Troubling: For one, the Cowboys went 3-7 in games against non-division opponents. But a main reason for that was their lack of health. We'll never know how the defensive line would have performed and, consequently, how the entire defense would have performed had the devastating injuries not permeated the defense from the first snaps at camp through the rest of the season. Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff played a combined one game for the Cowboys in 2013. They were supposed to thrive in the new-look scheme and defense. [embedded_ad]

That began the carousel ride of free agent defensive linemen to go in and out of Dallas the rest of the year. In addition, for the second straight year DeMarcus Ware dealt with injuries that severely impacted his play from the middle of the season on. This time, they forced the 31-year-old to miss the first three games of his career, leaving many to wonder if the dominant player everyone was enamored with at camp or the shell of that player at the end of the season is more of the Ware to expect for the future.

Miles Austin's hamstring injuries continued, Tony Romo didn't finish the season and needed serious back surgery, DeMarco Murray still hasn't played all 16 games in a season, his backup Lance Dunbar missed seven games and Sean Lee's only played 17 games the last two years. These are among the many injury concerns the team's faced. In addition, hamstring injuries in particular severely limited the team in 2013. Morris Claiborne and Dwayne Harris were among the players who pulled their hamstrings and returned only to pull them again, leaving them out for multiple games. Health hasn't been on the Cowboys' side.

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