Player By Player, Are The Cowboys Better Or Worse? (Part I)

Dez Bryant is one player that everyone evaluates as being better than last year.

Along with the air of optimism that pervades almost all NFL fan bases, I (and my fellow Dallas Cowboys fans) tend to suffer from a rather large sense of apprehension this time of year. More than most seasons I can remember, we are anxious about just how this season is going to play out when the team hits the field. Most of us are at least moderately hopeful that the Cowboys will scratch out a couple of more wins this year than in 2011 and get back into the playoffs. But I don't think any of us would be all that shocked if they only got to 8 or 9 wins in 2012, with the continuing issues on the offensive line and muddled situation at wide receiver.


Related: Dallas Cowboys 2012: Going Deeper With Football Outsiders (Part I)

It doesn't help matters when you see other football sites basically having the Cowboys stagnant this year. Given all the talk about the sense of entitlement that both Dallas players and Dallas fans are supposed to have, I certainly don't feel it right now, and seeing what Football Outsiders had to say about the team just added to the concerns.

One thing that did strike me as a bit off was where they said that, past Brandon Carr, they did not really see much improvement in the secondary. They felt Morris Clairborne was going to struggle, which I can understand, but the only other change they talked about was Brodney Pool replacing Abram Elam. Right now, I am not sure Pool is good enough to make the final roster, so I see some issues here.

And in the comments thread, Through Thick And Thin made the same point I was thinking.

2) T-New WAS THAT BAD! Making QBs go to their 2nd, 3rd, 4th reads will give our DL and LBs time to get to the QB. Let’s not forget that our ILBs should be greatly improved against the pass this year as well, further improving our pass defense.

3) Pool, meh, looks like Church may surpass him and I never saw Pool as an Elam clone…not great, but better than Elam.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I got to wondering: Just how much does the team seem to have improved? And are we, as fans, looking at things the right way?

This time of year, the 53-man roster is what most people focus on. But to be real, the final five or six players to make the team will likely have almost no impact on the season. The players that matter are the starters and the primary backups. Or, put another way, I think we should focus on the two-deep roster to see just where the Cowboys have improved, stood still, or gotten worse.

I am going to look first at the offense, and will cover the defense and specialists in a followup post.

I break it all down after the jump

Obviously, I have to make some assumptions about who is going to be on the depth chart, and where, but I think I can get most of the names pretty close. And most of the starters are known. So, here they are, the starters and primary backup for the 11 offensive positions, and my judgement on whether the team has improved with each one or not.

One note on the trend. That is my call on whether that position, whether starter or backup, has improved over what the team had there last year. And of course, I am basing this on the health and status of the team right now. All is subject to change as developments ensue.

Position Player Trend Comments

QB

Tony Romo

Having the same Tony Romo that finished last year is a very good thing. Note here that I am looking at the way he played after the games against the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions. I don't think we will see much of those early errors in 2012.

QB

Kyle Orton

Jon Kitna was a very good backup. Orton is better. We still don't want to see him on the field, but he is definitely an improvement.

RB

DeMarco Murray

Again, having the DeMarco Murray that was going to be the first 1,000 yard rusher for Dallas in forever, prior to his injury, is a very good thing.

RB

Felix Jones

If he is healthy, he is a dangerous back, both running and catching the ball. The team doesn't need improvement from him as much as it needs durability.

FB

Lawrence Vickers

Leadership. Hard hitting. Good hands coming out as a receiver. And contributes on special teams. (No backup here)

TE

Jason Witten

How could you get better than the Senator? Yet, the reports are he is working hard on improving his blocking. Still, I couldn't really show him as improved.

TE

John Phillips

He replaced Martellus Bennett, which is enough to justify the up arrow. Plus someone (maybe OCC?) referred to him as a Witten clone the other day. High praise indeed.

WR

Dez Bryant

Every report on him says he is better. Conditioning, route running, focus. And it is not just the media, Jason Garrett is praising him, too. And Garrett does not praise lightly.

WR

Danny Coale

Yes, I am betting big on Danny. But he is the last pet cat I will ever be allowed to have. The point is, whoever replaces Laurent Robinson is a downgrade.

SE

Miles Austin

Once more, there is nothing to be unhappy about if the team gets the same kind of play Miles provided - when he was healthy. (I used WR and SE in this table just to differentiate the two.)

SE

Andre Holmes

Maybe he and Danny will be reversed - but the impact would be the same.

LT

Tyron Smith

He pancaked DWare. Any more questions? Seriously, his play looks better already than what the team was getting here last year.

LT

Jermey Parnell

It could be argued that Parnell is better than he was last year. But I don't have any real data to back it up, so we just assume he is not worse.

LG

Nate Livings

Is he an improvement over Kyle Kosier or Montrae Holland? Maybe. Maybe not.

LG

Ronald Leary

It could be argued that Leary is better this year than Arkin, who never saw a play, was last year. But not proven. And the way things are going, he may be backing up both guard positions.

C

Phil Costa

You could argue that he should be better after a full offseason of work and coaching. But he is still the same player. And he still gets pushed back into the quarterback sometimes.

C

David Arkin

I fear Kevin Kowalksi will not make it back this year. And Arkin has been moon-shotting his long snaps. I'm not scared about center. Wait. Yes, I am.

RG

Mackenzy Bernadeau

Right now, the Cowboys really need him to come back from injury and show the promise they thought he had. But I just don't see him being as good as Montrae Holland was last year, at least early in the season. Note to Jerry and Stephen: Maybe you need to rethink things.

RG

Harland Gunn

It's him or Derrick Dockery right now. Not a good place to be. Leaves the team pretty much where it was last year, one way or another.

RT

Doug Free

This is a bit deceptive, since the two tackle positions taken together are improved this year, at least in my judgement. I just don't think Free will ever be quite as good as Tyron.

RT

Pat McQuistan

The team only carried Parnell as a backup tackle last year. But McQuistan has also been working some at guard, and not looking all that bad. They may decide to keep him just as insurance.

Obviously, things are not good with the offensive line. Although the tackle situation looks pretty good, the interior of the line is still the big, nasty question that has not been answered, and the continuing injuries just aggravate things. There could obviously be a lot of changes here before the season kicks off. One question is whether the team might still be thinking about paying Montrae Holland his price. If things continue the way they are going, it may still happen.

The "skill" positions are still looking very good, and actually should be a bit stronger this year. If Dallas is to thrive this year, it may have to do it through Tony Romo and the backs and receivers covering some of the weaknesses in the line. Romo is good at this, fortunately. We just have to hope the line can do enough to keep him healthy.

But there is another side to consider. Defense can help carry a team. And as you will see in my next post, there are some very good things happening there.

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