The end of the 2012 season brought many things I liked about the team and showed areas that need to improve. As I sat down to look at the Cowboys and took a few to think about the team as a whole, I found myself having many of the same feelings I did in the season - and changing my opinion on a major piece of the team.
The biggest opinion that changed or me was the defensive scheme. I was a fan of Ryan's and at the time thought he would have another year. When he was let go and Kiffin brought in, I was excited about Kiffin and realized I really needed to go back and look at the real problems with our defense in 2012. During the season I was not happy about the coverage schemes used at times when we went from press coverage to playing mostly zone. This created mismatches deep and took our safeties from playing over the top and reacting to the ball to trying to pickup man coverage in the back. Without an effective and consistent pass rush this gave the advantage to receivers.
I then focused on the Dline very closely, because not having any clients up front I, was not focused on watching film and analyzing up there. What I found was a scheme that was very player-centered and did not use scheme to attack up front. There were too many reads, reaction and responsibility for the front seven. When we faced injuries, the backups did not have the number of reps to fully grasp everything they were supposed to do on any given play, and this led to mounting mistakes through the season.
The move to Kiffin's scheme made a lot more sense after looking at the whole picture. Having worked in a Kiffin influenced scheme, I understand that when we talk about simple, it does not mean it is easy but it takes away the multiple reads after snap. It allows players to understand their assignment presnap and execute at the snap of the ball. This move from a scheme that requires very good starters with a high amount of snaps to a scheme that has easier presnap reads and easier defined assignments will allow the Cowboys to get back to a solid rotation of players on the Dline and our entire front 7 to better absorb the injuries that will happen over the course of a season.
At this point it was time to prioritize what I wanted to focus on, improve and fix going forward. I prioritized as follows:
1. Improve the run game - This is a must happen going forward into the season
2. Improve the pass protection - Improving the run game; better continuity; changing play-calling to a quicker, more Oline friendly passing game as well as and another offseason with Callahan will go a long ways to Oline improvement in 2013. There is also a very good opportunity in the draft to bring in more talent up front and take that improvement even further.
3. Build better depth on the Dline and move to an effective player rotation up front.
4. Build on the improvements in the secondary - I like the players we have on the roster in the secondary and think Sensie will do great in the new scheme, and Church and Johnson will show to be very good players, but with the depth and talent in the draft you should not pass up the chance to make even more improvements.
These are the areas I want to address in this post and it is going to start in FA. I will start by franchising Spencer one more season. While I think Crawford may be the longterm answer at the strong side DE, it is still a question mark and this is not a great DE draft class. This will give me a year to work Crawford and some of the young guys into the rotation and have a firm grasp of where we are next offseason.
The second move I would make is trading Kyle Orton to the Arizona Cardinals for the #38 pick in the second round. Free agency holds no options for a starting QB this season. There are only two QBs, Geno Smith and Matt Barkley, who can be first day starters and they are nowhere near the talent of the QBs in previous drafts. Plus, both will probably be off the board by the time the Cards pick #7 and the Cards will want to make sure they have a starter on the roster before draft day and not roll the dice again. To replace Orton as backup I would target Bryan Hoyer in free agency. Hoyer is already familiar with the reads for the route options for the receivers and most of the plays in the playbook, so he would just need to learn the terminology used by the Cowboys offense.
The final move I would make is to trade Miles Austin to the Bills for the #41 pick. Austin was overshadowed by Bryant and Witten being in the top 10 for receiving this past season, but even with a nagging hamstring injury he was still a top 20 receiver in the league and teams needing a receiver. HC Doug Marrone is shopping for a receiver to be a deep threat and Austin has worked in a similar system and will be a big pickup for the first year HC.
The last trade I would make is the Cowboys #47 pick to the Pats for their #59 and #91 picks. The Pats will probably go safety or DT in the first and will need to move up in the second to grab the guy they want at the other position who could play a significant role in their first year. With an improved running game, the second receiver and third option in the passing game will have a reduced role, which makes trading Austin possible.
In the draft with 5 picks in the first 3 rounds I can get players who not only project to be future starters in the NFL but can also be big role players in their first year. The following is my early mock draft for the Cowboys.
18) Jonathan Cooper, G/C, North Carolina
38) Phillip Thomas, S, Fresno State
41) Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama
59) Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
80) Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M
91) Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
111) Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina - 6-6, 260
5th round) Vance McDonald, TE, Rice
6th round) Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh