What is the Dallas Cowboys' biggest need in order to be a serious contender in 2011 coming off a 6-10 season?
Chemistry experiment must workThey need an injection of leadership and a change in culture. What ails the Cowboys isn't a lack of talent or worthwhile coaches. It's something far less tangible, and, for this franchise at least, more difficult to attain.
They've had plenty of diva antics on the sidelines, but when is the last time you saw someone do something to inspire or fire up everyone else? Something is off there, something is missing. And, generally, the kind of personality it takes to own a locker room can't come from the outside. You have to draft this guy.
For the sake of Cowboys fans, one would hope they already have.
Accountability is at top of listIt's not a matter of personnel, per se, but it is a matter of personnel stepping up and being accountable. I know a lot of people blame a lack of leadership among the big issues, and it is, but to me, if you are a professional whose job is played out in front of millions of people each week, personal pride and accountability should be a premium. That was missing last season, especially on defense.
Quarterback Tony Romo should help the offense run more efficiently (he needs to limit his turnovers) and, somehow, running back Tashard Choice needs to be more involved. Defensively, new coordinator Rob Ryan must figure out how to schematically get cornerback Mike Jenkins and outside linebacker Anthony Spencer playing like they did in 2009. Their regression last season made the defense easier to exploit, which is why good players, like Jay Ratliff and Terence Newman, had down seasons.
An uptick in personal accountability throughout the locker room might also go a long way.
Free could be variable in equationThat question becomes a two-fold answer if the new labor deal has four- and five-year players as free agents. The Cowboys were ready to focus on their secondary, especially safety. While that must be addressed, re-signing offensive tackle Doug Free would become a priority. The Cowboys need Free and they must find a true free safety. Unless Dallas gets both things done, its season will come up short.
Secondary a primary concernSafety. I know it's not the sexy choice, as few fans get all fired up about the acquisition of a safety. However, the fact remains that this team has been hamstrung by mediocre play from its back two ever since Darren Woodson retired in 2004. Gerald Sensabaugh and Alan Ball, the usual suspects in 2010, were serviceable at best. But if we're talking about taking the next step, at least one of the safeties has to be a difference maker. If you don't think adding a safety is that big a deal, look no further than Saints general manager Mickey Loomis going out and grabbing Darren Sharper in 2009. The Saints don't make it to Super Bowl XLIV without Sharper's nine interceptions and three touchdowns.
Now or never for RomoSaying that Tony Romo is holding the Cowboys back almost seems too easy, but it is the truth. Take a look at the Super Bowl winners dating back to 2001 and all teams -- with the exception of the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII and Giants in Super Bowl XLII -- had an elite starting quarterback.
Romo has been labeled an elite quarterback by some, and he's put up great regular-season numbers. But he has never done it in the playoffs. Two games that stick out to me are the postseason losses to the Giants in 2007 and Vikings in 2009 when his passer rating was in the 60s. That is not going to get it done.
Romo, 31, has come to the point in his career where he either starts performing well in the playoffs or it is time for the Cowboys to move on. I know Martellus Bennett feels me on that.
Someone must step to the frontThe Cowboys are the league's biggest underachievers. That speaks volumes about the lack of leadership in the locker room. There doesn't appear to be a take-charge personality on a roster full of stars, and the team suffers as a result.
In most situations, the quarterback serves in that role, but Tony Romo lacks the demonstrative demeanor. He has to become more assertive on and off the field for the Cowboys to reach their potential.
Players will typically heed the advice of those they respect, and on-field production is one of the best ways to garner that admiration. If Romo fails to step up, one of the other veterans must shoulder the responsibility of holding teammates accountable.