Let's take a quick break from the short-term view of reviewing the Dolphins preseason game, and do a longer, future-looking preview of the 2013 season. You can do that with Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, on sale now. It's good for getting stats on the Cowboys, and it's really beneficial for catching up on what other teams in the NFL are doing.
The big headline - how many games does FO see the Cowboys winning in 2013? Well, Cowboys fans won't be happy. 2013 projection: 6.9 wins. Yikes. So how well have they predicted the past few years? Pretty close the past two years, not as close the two years before that.
2012 projection: 7.5 wins (Actual record 8-8)
2011 projecton: 7.7 wins (Actual record 8-8)
2010 projection: 7.5 wins (Actual record 6-10)
2009 projection: 8.0 wins (Actual record 11-5)
One of the big issues they have with Dallas revolves around Jerry Jones and the front office. Let's just say they are no admirers of the Cowboys Big Kahuna. Jerry and Co. receive rough treatment in the opinion/analysis part of the Cowboys chapter. They also thought, as many do, that the Cowboys could have done more for the offensive line. Based on last year's group, and with the addition of Frederick, they were not impressed. So we asked about some of the possible changes that could be coming to the line.
1a. "Your analysis of the offensive line has no mention of Ronald Leary, who was reported to be looking very good filling in for an injured Nate Livings. If he pushes Livings out of a starting role, or even off the team, with his performance, what would that indicate for the offensive line?"
1b. There is not mention of Phil Costa, who is actually seen as Frederick's competition at center, but some Dallas writers are talking about him playing the center spot and Frederick moving to guard (possibly to replace Mackenzy Bernadeau). Any thoughts on that?"
I don't think there's much difference between Costa and Bernadeau as linemen. Either of those potential moves are symptoms of the bigger disease: that the Cowboys haven't spent enough draft pick value on these positions over the years. So instead of having structured battles between guys the organization likes and current starters, you have a free-for-all where anyone can grab a seat. From a projection standpoint, because we value offensive line continuity, we'd favor the incumbents all things being equal. From a performance standpoint, nobody should get a seat at the table for sure outside of Tyron Smith.
I can't necessarily argue with their answer, in fact, we as Cowboys fans are hoping and praying that some combination of Livings-Leary-Frederick-Costa-Bernadeau-Arkin actually works out. The Miami game showed some promise in that direction, but we've got a long way to go before we can be sure.
The other area that the Cowboys got dinged on was their defense. Especially the pass defense. But there are two major things different this year. One is the obvious move from the 3-4 to the Monte Kiffin 4-3. Were they able to evaluate that?
2. How hard is it to evaluate the Cowboys defense with the switch to the new 4-3 scheme under Monte Kiffin? Did you try to project players in their new responsibilities on defense?
Most of the new responsibilities don't make a difference as far as projections go. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer may get new gap responsibilities on some plays, but the change isn't going to have a meaningful impact on their statistics. We have adjusted tackle totals based on this change though, for players like Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, and the safeties.
The other issue they didn't address directly in their evaluation was the inordinate amount of injuries the Cowboys suffered through on defense last year. Any thing there?
3. The Cowboys defense certainly faltered last year, especially as the season wore on. But they were dealing with a crazy number of injuries to starters, and even their depth. At the beginning of the year before the injuries, they were actually among the better defenses statistically. How does that play out in your evaluations of the 2013 season?
We haven't found much of a correlation between second-half performance carrying over to next season, really. What we do know is that the Cowboys were very dinged up - that matters - and that Rob Ryan was fired because (reason that only Jerry Jones really knows). The scheme isn't a perfect fit for the players anymore, and the safety depth is still frightening. Those are factors that scream "consolidation year" at us.
This one you can have some disagreement with. Rob Ryan was fired for a specific and publicized reason, his scheme was too complicated and that led to busted assignments and big plays. Part of the reason the Cowboys brought on Kiffin is because of his simplified scheme. Also, some would argue that the 3-4 scheme wasn't a perfect fit for the Cowboys, that the 4-3 could actually works better, especially for linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, along with some of the defensive linemen. But they do have a point on safety depth, we'll still have to prove that point.
What do you think? Are the Cowboys better than a 7-win team? Can their offensive line and defense defy the predictions?
Check out the FO Almanac 2013 for yourself if you've got a few bucks. It's a great resource.