Dallas Cowboys  

 

With coach role addressed, Cowboys look to fill other key holes

Every team is facing some tough questions with the regular season over, especially those who won't be dancing in the playoffs. We continue our Exit Interview series with the Dallas Cowboys, a team that always carries its share of drama, with the franchise's 51st season being no different.

First and foremost was the midseason coaching change ... a perfect place to begin with our five burning issues as Dallas heads into the offseason.

Cowboys' run-pass ratio in 2010
 
Runs/
game
Passes/
game*
Rush pct.
W-L
Under Phillips
21.1
42.8
33.1**
1-7
Under Garrett
32.4
33.1
49.4
5-3
* includes sacks | ** lowest in NFL

1. What is future under Garrett?

Now that Jason Garrett is the team's coach, one has to wonder if the 2011 offense will be reminiscent of Garrett's offense through the first eight games of 2010, which was more Jason Priestley than Jason and the Argonauts. Most of the lack of punch was attributed to a identity crisis.

Despite the hype surrounding the "three-headed monster" backfield of Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, Dallas passed more than any team in the league while Wade Phillips was coach and Garrett the offensive coordinator. That was a huge factor in the team's awful 1-7 start. But during the second-half resurgence, when the Cowboys won five of eight, balance was re-introduced into the game plan.

There were those who suggested Garrett aired it out far too much partially in an attempt to tank Phillips, only to resume a healthier offensive balance when he took over as head coach. Whether that theory is true or not, one can only wonder. Either way, it will be interesting to see what identity this club has with Garrett calling all the shots.

Most pass plays of 20-plus yards allowed
Team
No. of Plays
62
60
58
57

2. Will Cowboys go safety in draft?

It's time for owner Jerry Jones to roll the dice on taking a safety with a high choice. Yes, picking safety Roy Williams eighth overall in the 2002 NFL Draft didn't work out. But it's nine years later, and as NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has mentioned before, the Dallas safeties are a weak link.

Gerald Sensabaugh intercepted five passes, but it doesn't make up for all of the big plays he and fellow safety Alan Ball allowed. Ball is more athletic, but consistently gets lost in coverage. Cowboys fans have seen a lot of third-and-longs converted followed by a cutaway to a perplexed Ball, or a big play caused by him taking a bad angle.

Frankly, this position group hasn't been good since Darren Woodson was telling a young Williams where to line up so he could destroy people. Dallas might decide to hit this position in the second round with the 41st pick overall.

3. How much work will be done on the line?

It's easy to say the Cowboys' offensive line needs to be addressed, with as many as three starters going bye-bye. But this part of the evaluation process might be most difficult. How does Garrett and his staff evaluate a line that played in an offense that could never decide what it was?

In January and February, NFL.com took a look at the five pressing questions facing each team as it heads into the offseason.

AFC East:
» Buffalo Bills: Must remedy draft failures
» Miami Dolphins: Need to overcome awkwardness
» New England Patriots: Issues start on defense
» New York Jets: Rocky road to reach Super Bowl
AFC North:
» Baltimore Ravens: Immense pressure on Flacco
» Cincinnati Bengals: Distractions cloud team's future
» Cleveland Browns: New coach faces no easy fix
» Pittsburgh Steelers: Father Time is biggest hurdle
AFC South:
» Houston Texans: Big issues on defense
» Indianapolis Colts: Big decisions on key players
» Jacksonville Jaguars: Same issues haunt team
» Tennessee Titans: Big void at QB with Young gone
AFC West:
» Denver Broncos: Defense will dictate offseason
» Kansas City Chiefs: Sustaining is next challenge
» Oakland Raiders: Team has hope, questions
» San Diego Chargers: Bolts aim to bounce back
NFC East:
» Dallas Cowboys: More holes to fill than coach
» New York Giants: Many lingering questions
» Philadelphia Eagles: More drama on horizon
» Washington Redskins: Huge problems to tackle
NFC North:
» Chicago Bears: Cutler opens deep bag of issues
» Detroit Lions: Closing in on respectability
» Green Bay Packers: Champs face tricky offseason
» Minnesota Vikings: Uncertainty surrounds team
NFC South:
» Atlanta Falcons: Need help to take next step
» Carolina Panthers: Plenty of room to improve
» New Orleans Saints: Time to tackle backfield, D
» Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Next step won't be easy
NFC West:
» Arizona Cardinals: QB quandary still an issue
» San Francisco 49ers: Must settle QB situation
» Seattle Seahawks: Playoff run can't hide issues
» St. Louis Rams: Reason for optimism

Left guard Kyle Kosier, right guard Leonard Davis and right tackle Marc Colombo all could be gone come June. But good linemen don't grow on trees, and replacing 60 percent of the starting lineup is a little ambitious. Kosier has had health concerns, and is on the wrong side of 30. Ditto Colombo. Then there's Davis, who like Kosier and Colombo, will turn 33 this year, but seems to lose concentration at times.

Going the free-agent route might not be the answer, as that is how this triumvirate was acquired in the first place. The team's two best linemen, Pro Bowler Andre Gurode and left tackle Doug Free (most upside), were draft picks. Look for Jones to address this group in April's draft.

4. Buehler? Buehler?

Cowboys fans don't trust David Buehler. The front office doesn't trust Buehler. Eva Longoria and Sandra Bullock don't trust Buehler.

The kid with the big leg missed many a key kick in 2010, failing on eight field goals and two extra points -- the last one costing Dallas the game in Arizona.

The distrust in Buehler led to the signing of veteran Kris Brown. He could be the answer to what has been a black hole ever since Nick Folk started making the Peyton Manning face after missing kicks two seasons ago.

5. Will Romo follow Kitna's lead?

Yes, wideout Roy Williams is an issue to be addressed. So is the mostly ineffective Barber and his contract. The starting inside linebackers are 64 years old combined. But none are as important as the guy with the keys to the franchise.

Tony Romo is a great player, who is often judged unfairly. The veteran quarterback could afford to take a page out of Jon Kitna's playbook, however. The latter's complete lack of fear in telling receivers where they needed to be, or when they ran the wrong route, was both refreshing and, from afar, seemed to motivate. It wasn't unusual to see Kitna wearing his emotions on his sleeve, and that included barking at younger players when they weren't where they needed to be.

While every player has his style, Romo is held accountable when the Cowboys don't score points and lose games. It shouldn't be a stretch for him to hold his 'mates accountable.

Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

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