For the 2014 Dallas Cowboys to improve on their 8-8 2013 season, they must put the Big D back in Dallas. Defensively, the Cowboys ranked:
- 30th versus the run and 30th versus the pass.
- 30th in the NFL in touchdowns allowed
- 26th in rushing touchdowns allowed
- 31st in passing touchdowns allowed.
- 29th most penalized team in the NFL.
The most glaring need for the Cowboys is at defensive end and defensive tackle. The Cowboys must also improve their cornerback and safety positions. Offensively, the most glaring need for Dallas is to find a suitable backup for DeMarco Murray at running back.
The Cowboys must get more production from this position by adding some youth and speed. Demarcus Ware is now 31 years old and battled elbow injuries all last year, while only registering six sacks. George Selvie proved to be a nice find, but is not fast enough to be a starting defensive end. Kyle Wilber was forced into action last year because of injuries, but at 246 pounds he is just too small to be an every down defensive end. New defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has said he is looking forward to working with Tyrone Crawford, but I believe he is too small to be an every down tackle and too slow to be an every down end.
Marinelli will be looking for defensive tackles that can get penetration and disrupt opposing offenses in much the same way that Jimmy Johnson’s defenses did. Unrestricted free agent Jason Hatcher fits that mold and had a really good season last year finishing with 11 sacks, but Hatcher is also 31 years old and is on the backside of his career. Nick Hayden was the leading tackler at defensive tackle for the Cowboys last year, but he is more of a hole plugger. Marinelli speaks highly of Ben Bass, who has prototype size and speed to play the defensive tackle position, but at 24 years old is very green and only appeared in two games before being lost to a season ending injury.
Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick both have the prototypical size and speed to play the corner position, but both of them are 27 years old. Morris Claiborne also has the prototype size and speed to play, but he has been bothered by injuries, missing 5 games this past season. Sterling Moore has good size, but is too slow, and B. W. Webb has good speed, but is small at 178 pounds. The Cowboys must find a corner that has the size and speed to be successful in the NFL that can help Carr, Scandrick, and Claiborne.
Last year the Cowboys drafted J. J. Wilcox from Georgia Southern, who had only one year of playing the position in college. Wilcox finished with 38 tackles, missing three games in the middle of the season due to a sprained knee. After last year’s draft Dallas signed rookie free agent Jeff Heath from Saginaw Valley State. Heath has prototype size and speed and started nine games for the Cowboys last year finishing with 60 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble. In the 2012 draft Dallas selected Matt Johnson out of Eastern Washington, but he has yet to play a game for the Cowboys in two seasons. The Cowboys must find another safety that can push Wilcox and Heath to be better and compete for playing time.
DeMarco Murray finished 10th in the league in rushing with 1,121 yards and 9 touchdowns.
The problem is that Murray is 26 years old, which ranks him as being a year over his peak performance age. There is no doubt that Murray can still play, but Dallas must start looking for another running back to spell him some. Lance Dunbar was his best backup a year ago, averaging 5 yards a carry, but he is too small at 5-8, 188 pounds to take the pounding that an every down back takes and is coming off knee surgery that landed him on injured reserve the second half of the season. Joseph Randle is another back that is too small and slow to make a difference as he only averaged 3 yards per carry. The Cowboys need to address this position.
The Dallas Cowboys must improve the defensive line in free agency and in the draft for them to improve from 2013. Improving the line will help the whole defense get better. They Cowboys must also look to add another corner and a safety that has the experience, athletic ability and that is durable to make it through a whole season. Offensively, Dallas must help Murray by getting him a good backup that can give him some breaks when needed. If the Cowboys can improve these areas they will have a shot at winning the NFC East and making it to the playoffs.