Cowboys Draft 2012 in Review: It Starts in the East

Dallas’ D needs to finish the
plays in 2012.

In the days when Tom Landry’s Cowboys ruled the NFC East, new coaches made beating the Cowboys objective one on their agendas.  George Allen took immediate aim at Dallas when to took Washington’s helm in 1970.  When Dick Vermeil began his Eagles rebuilding project in 1976 he made overtaking the Cowboys his goal.

Winning your division is the NFL equivalent of crawling.  You can’t sprint towards a Super Bowl until you get past your in-house rivals.

This weekend’s draft showed Dallas facing that basic reality.  They had a brief moment of glory in ’09, when Wade Phillips’ defense got hot and shut out Washington and Philadelphia in a December stretch run.  Since then, the pass defense has abandoned the Cowboys and this offseason, rebuilding the pass defense has taken priority over every other team need.

The reasons are obvious.  Dallas has gone 9-9 in the division the last three years.  The Cowboys have been strong against the Redskins, winning five or six, but have won a series of strange games, one a 7-6 taffy pull, another a 30-27 shootout. Only one of the Cowboys’ wins was by more than three points. Dallas split its games against the Eagles, but fared badly against the Eagles passing attack.

The results have been abysmal against New York.  The secondary simply does not match up against the champs.  The Cowboys are 1-5 against New York since ’09 and Eli Manning and his guys have topped 30 points in each of those five losses.  Dallas has allowed 30 or more points in eight of those eighteen division games.  The Dallas offense is powerful, but that’s too much pressure to put on Tony Romo and his skill position players.

And what did the Giants do over the weekend?  They, like the Cowboys, had offensive line needs.  They too put those off and re-loaded Manning’s gun, drafting running back David Wilson in the 1st and receiver Rueben Randle in the 2nd.  The Redskins of course put Robert Griffin at their offensive controls and signed several veteran wide receivers to help speed his developmental curve.

The margin over Washington has been wafer thin, and the margin between the Cowboys D and the Eagles and Giants offenses has grown recently.  You can’t think playoffs until you can compete with these rivals and the Cowboys can’t do this until they fix their pass defense.  That leaves some offensive line spots impoverished, but as we’ve been saying for weeks here, the Cowboys only had so many picks and too many holes.  They put their emphasis on defense and it’s down to Jason Garrett, Rob Ryan, Bill Callahan and Jerome Henderson to make that plan work.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • Pmkaram

    Bobo, a halfway decent performance from any of Kowalski,Arkin,Costa or Nagy would make our O-Line look a lot different. That is what the braintrust is counting on.

  • the Turk

    Great job with the draft this year Rafa

    Have a good time in Oxnard

  • greatwhitenorth

    Just saw this highlight reel of James Hanna:  Of course it’s only highlights, but there’s some pretty impressive stuff in there as a receiver.  Obviously wearing Cowboy-colored glasses here, but I think I saw just a little of Novacek-ian ranginess and guts in there.  Pretty good for a 6th-round pick.

  • cowboyny

    Many believe when Jason Garrett officially shed the label as the interim Head Coach, the team started their rebuilding job. The team will never admit it, but the process with be heading into year 2 and hopefully completed after another offseason.

    Year 1-this was all about rebuilding the OL. Team not only drafted 3 offensive lineman, but they released 3 long-term starters whose production completely fell off the map. Team filled the most important need in finding an elite blindside protector, but there are alot of questionmarks in the interior at this juncture. Keep in mind, the majority of prospects with be entering yr 2 of their development, hopefully a player or two makes the next step sometime this season or the next. Can the team get at least one long-term starter out of this group: Arkin, Nagy, Kowalski, Costa? The likes of Livings, Bernedeau in essence replaced Kosier/Holland and will keep the seats warm, but won’t become any kind of progess stoppers for our prospects.

    Year 2-Start the rebuilding process for the defense as a whole. The team took a defensive player for every level in the draft, DL, OLB, MLB, CB, S. They also jumped into FA to acquire a high-level starter with Brandon Carr. Like the OL last year, some growing pains will occur, some players will need some development, but hopefully a few players will become long-term fixtures for the team.

    Year 3-Identify the missing piece or pieces and finish the job. Several long-term core players will have a small window to succeed, this will be the year to make it happen. The roster will be 80% turned over by this team, since prior to yr 1 of the rebuilding process. Take a few shots with this new group to see if they can be more successful than the other group, pre Jason Garrett as the Head Coach. 

    • hardwater

      Those year-2 guys better get better in a hurry. 3 O-Line spots to fill by 2 marginal FA retreads and 4 2nd year guys who showed last year they weren’t close to being NFL ready. Unless Callahan and Woicik can work some major magic better put Romo in an Iron Man suit.

      • cowboyny

        Will Livings/Bernedeau replace the production lost from Kosier/Holland? What we do know is that both players should be more reilable to stay healthy for a full 16 schedule. Kosier’s play had tailed off, mainly due to his body breaking down, where Holland was effective when on the field, but he missed several games due to many nagging injuries. It is fair to say, both players should be able to at least be as good as the players they are replacing. They aren’t long term fixtures, but rather keeping the starting spots warm for our prospects to take over at some point. They need more development on the field and in the weight room.


        • Jlh11a

          Yeah, when you are dealing with young players (rather than old ones), at some points you have to look for some improvement, not just keep bringing in new people every year. Give last year’s O-line-heavy draft, and even this summer’s free agency, a chance. It isn’t a big upgrade, but I don’t see any of these moves as a downgrade either.

  • AustonianAggie

    Jimmy K at shared this link, pretty funny – a video of all the hugs between Goodell and the drafted players, and a clock for how long it took. Expect Fletcher Cox to get good treatment from the league, as he led all huggers with a 10 second embrace

  • Jpboxing7

    it was a good draft  we improve alot if Mo can be good as joe haden im exicted and he upgrade over ball and newman. Crawford has more pass rush skills than spears and coleman that a upgrade. bruce carter and conner younger and  faster lb than kieth brooking and james another upgrade . we got alot younger and faster. the only team that we need to worry about eagles but they do have one weaknest injuryprone Qb and left tackle never make through a season. 

  • Ridgelake

    Having done the research, watched the press conferences and the like, I can understand why we drafted the guys we did.

    But I am more than a little concerned that exactly 1 pick weighs over 275 lbs.  If one is consistently beat up front, one can’t win in the NFL.  I’m more than a little wary of our continued lack of investment on both lines, excepting last year on the OL.

    • greatwhitenorth

      Maybe, just maybe, Jerry is still acting out against the “Planet Theory” leash that Parcells demanded of him?

  • hardwater

    I have been a DeCastro fan all draft but assuming he’s as good as advertised I like the Claiborne trade. Along with Carr we should have a stout group of CB’s. Still worry about the interior O-Line.

  • Pmkaram

    Guys, check out Gosselin’s chat on Under “Guest” you will see my question about not addressing th center position. His answer will tell you what I have been saying. Read it! 

    • greatwhitenorth

      makes good sense to me.  They’ve made their bed with Livings, Bernie, and the youglies; now we’re all going to have to live with it.  My bet is on Nagy to win the C position, and that he’ll do a respectable job of it during the season.

  • Taylor

    I have thought for years that we faded late in games and late in the season because of age and conditioning.  To a large extent, both have been addressed.  Woicek could be the best off season pick up we have made, and almost all the old guys are gone.

  • truecowboyfan

     I would have liked to see the Cowboys select Hebron Fangupo in the 7th round. Take a relatively cheap look to see if he is a better run stuffer at NT than Josh Brent or Jay Ratliff. I’m pretty sure he is more stout than Ratliff. If so, you have another rotational player who can give Ratliff more rest so that he can be more effective on passing downs. At worst, you upgrade your short yardage defense.

    I really think the Cowboys are doing an excellent job of drafting talent in the last 2 or 3 years.  However, their reluctance to even try to upgrade the NT position is baffling, to say the least. The Cowboys may have a good run defense, at least statistically, but they certainly won’t be confused for a dominating unit against the run. And we all know there have been times when teams ran wild over the Cowboys D. Jay Ratliff is undersized and over 30, a TERRIBLE combination for a NT. He could breakdown at any moment for all we know.

    I truly hope that NT does not become the interior OL of the 2012 season. In other words, the position where at the end of the 2012 season, after not making the playoffs, Jerry admits that he seriously miscalculated the talent at the position. And its a definitely possibility…an injury to Brent and/or a decline in play by Ratliff could be DISASTROUS. With Lesean McCoy, Ahmad Bradshaw, and now David Wilson, the Cowboys still need to stop the run to win the NFC East.

    • DW94

       I don’t get it. Why do you think stopping the run is so critical in a league where the consistently good teams are able to pass the ball and/or defend the pass at a high level?

      How many games last year was the ability to run or stop the run the critical difference in winning? I think can think of perhaps one game: against the Rams. Neither team passed the ball well, but the Cowboys ran over the Rams all day.

      • truecowboyfan

         I understand that today’s NFL is a passing league. But running the ball is still a fundamental component of an effective passing game, even today. You think the
        Eagles are not going to try to run the ball? They certainly tried against the Cowboys last year in their 1st meeting. What about the Giants, who just invested a 1st round pick on a running back? You think they do not have plans to run the ball?

        It is very short-sighted to think that just because the NFL is a passing league, that means that teams will only try to attack the Cowboys via the pass. The honest answer is that NFL teams try to attack your weaknesses. With the Cowboys significantly upgrading their pass defense with Claiborne, Carr, Pool and even Bruce Carter, I think there is a reasonable possibility that teams will try to attack them in the running game. If the NTs do not hold up, it will be difficult to stop the run.

        • DW94

          Do you think Dallas is losing games because of their run defense? Do you think the Eagles/Giants will focus on running the ball more because of Dallas’ offseason additions?

          And why are you fixated on the NTs? Dallas struggled more on run defense with their DEs.

    • DannyWhite

      I’ve read from different several places that because of how much Ryan likes to mix up his schemes and his formations, we line up in a base 3-4 only about 20% of the time. Perhaps that’s the reason why the team hasn’t been overly concerned with getting a speed-bump NT.

      • truecowboyfan

         That sounds reasonable. But I also believe that Ryan’s formations is based on what the offense is showing. And because of the propensity to pass in the NFL, more teams have been lining up in 3 and 4 WR sets, which would take the Cowboys out of the base 3-4. Hence, the 20% figure that you referred to (which seems really low to me, but I will take your word for it). However, if a team, such as the Giants, attempted to attack the Cowboys on the ground  with more 2 rb or 2 TE sets, I think the Cowboys would be in their base 3-4 more frequently.

        In summary, IF the Cowboys are soft at NT, teams will attack them on the ground. There is no doubt in my mind about this. This is especially true if the Cowboys secondary turns in to the force that we all think (and hope) they will be, making it more difficult to pass. To date, they have not been soft, but I don’t think they are stout either. Declining play from a 31 year old, undersized NT who has shown some signs of wear and tear could change that, though. It is the responsibility of Cowboy’s management to identify this risk and to mitigate it before it becomes reality. I do not believe they Cowboys have adequately addressed this risk.

  • Steel5

    I’d have to agree that this draft’s focus on defense is what we needed.  I never understood all the people that were completely focused on getting DeCastro.  I mean, I’d love it if he was on the team, but we still had a pretty pontent offense last year.  As long as the free agents are any kind of upgrade, or the rookies from last year can step up and become quality starters, our offense should be in the top ten this year.  Even with the poor O-line performance last year, we were 11th in yards and 15th in scoring.  Give Romo a little more time, and Murray a few more holes to hit, and we should be doing pretty well this season on offense.

  • Here are the Cowboys point totals in those 5 losses to the Giants:
    24, 31, 35, 34, 14.

    Three games where your offense tops 30 points and you lose !?

    That sums it up right there. 

    • the Turk

      I would put it at 24 points up as the benchmark 

      4 games you score 24 points and lose

      If RB’s can’t get 1 yard to win a game by converting short yardage or scoring a TD not to mention protecting a lead

      Defense has to be better too

      I sure hope Jimmy Robinson teaches WR’s reads/routes cause it had been pitiful with ole Ray S

      Joe DiCamilis has not been getting it done either

    • geth13

       I agree that the defensive secondary had to be revamped. It was the biggest area of need on the team. However, as good a CB as Mo is projected to be, don’t expect him to come out & shut down every receiver beginning the 1st game. It will take awhile for him to play to the level he is projected to play at.

      The O-line has been a big problem with this team for a number of years. Yes, the offense has scored some points but I credit that to Tony Romo & the receivers (including Whitten of course).

      In big games, and in particular near the end of seasons before last season, it was the O-line that completely fell apart. I still have nightmarish visions of the Giants & the Eagles totally dominating the Cowboy’s O-line a few years ago. I don’t remember what year it was but when Flozell Adams hurt his knee in mid-season, that was the beginning of the O-line slide. It slid way down but at least last season someone from the organization realized they finally had to do something. I think they can still do a lot with it, but I do agree with Raf that the secondary had to be revamped first. I’m hoping that the strength & conditioning coach can put some muscle on some of the O-linemen & they will be able to play a lot better next season.

      • DannyWhite

        Regarding Mo, maybe/maybe not. Corner – especially outside corner (as opposed to slot corner) – is one of the easiest positions for an elite rookie to come in and play right away. He’s supposed to be at the Revis/Deion level, and it didn’t take those guys very many games before people learned to simply not throw it at them.

      • Jarhead

        romo just got told he will still need to keep bailing out his oline.

        if not for him, dallas would have at least two more losses, or three (wash x 2 and miami). he almost saved the zona game.

        well, he is getting paid that kind of money, so he better suck it up and play on.

        at least when he walks off the field with a lead and 1:48 left in the game, there is a reasonable chance now the cowboys will finish it.

        • MadMick

          Bah. That seems a little too close to cherrypicking for me. What about the losses to the Jets and Lions? The rest of the team certainly played well enough to win against the Jets save for one awful special teams breakdown that gifted the Jets a TD.  But hey, Romo cost the Cowboys an easy three and gifted the Jets the game-winning three.

          Even with all the big passing yards surrendered to Sanchez and his buddy Tamplax, the defense only really allowed 17 points. If memory serves, they actually knocked the Jets back a few yards after Romo handed them the winning field goal on a silver platter.

          I mean aren’t we forgetting that some of those big pass plays in the season opener were 50/50 balls that Austin and Dez went up and took?

          Also that’s very convenient to forget the two bad early picks he threw against the Dolphins. 

          It’s like you said he gets paid very handsomely. You can’t put him on a pedestal for “winning” games and then say THE TEAM lost those games against the Jets and Lions. That dog just won’t hunt.

          • The Cowboys had a 10 point 4th quarter lead AFTER the two Romo picks vs. Detroit.  

            The guy only threw 10 picks all season.  If you can remember every single one of them it proves my point.  

            The guy had no margin for error.  31 TD, 10 picks.  

            How perfect does he have to be for “that dog to hunt” for you?    

          • MadMick

            But the third pick he threw against the Lions set their high octane offense up at the Cowboys’ 40 for the go-ahead TD with a little over four minutes left. It’s not a stretch to say that one put the defense in a rock and a hard place. Or let’s put it another way: the defense was royally screwed giving the Lions that kind of field position to go for the go-ahead score.

            And that one was just a bad plain throw off his back foot where even he admitted he misjudged how much he had to put on the pass to get it over the linebacker and into Witten’s waiting arms.

            To be fair, he probably felt helpless by that point unless he did do something aggressive to go out and win the game. But he’s the one who went to sillytown in the first place with a 27-3 lead. 

            So what if his raw numbers of picks had been 15 instead of 10? That’s giving him too much credit for a couple of clean games against total chopped liver pushover squads like the Rams, Bills and Bucs.

            As long as they’d gotten off to the 4-0 start and he hadn’t committed THOSE particular turnovers, big difference.

            So perfect enough to just slide on 3rd down inside the ten and push the lead to 10 against the Jets; or responsible enough to maintain 24-point leads instead of playing a glorified game of catch with the best man at your wedding.

          • Jarhead

            so the two losses negate the multiple wins that can be attributed to romo from last year?

            whats “sillytown” is that dallas was passing with a 20+ point lead.

            Talk to JG about that one.

            The whole offense rests on him, thats why he pushes it. And nothing is going to change b/c nothing was done for the offense in this draft, though the FA Oline will  help. Offense is all on romo again.

            lets hope the defense helps now.

          • MadMick

            No, I’d say you go with what their actual record was: 8-8. The team as a collective failed to give them any chance in either game against the Eagles and the finale against the Giants. Same goes for the Cardinals where the O-line, pass defense and coaching utterly sucked down the stretch.

            Then there are those two losses to the Jets and Lions where Romo made some mistakes similar of mistakes he made in past losses to the Steelers and last season against the Titans.

            I’ll be happy if the Cowboys just get back a healthy 2010 Miles Austin for most of this season. This should also be Dez’s breakout year. There are no excuses for it not to be.

          • Jarhead

            when did i give him a pass for the jets and lions, or any pick?

            but since we’re talking specifics, lets talk 9ers:

            Week 2.

            Coming off a loss, and staring another one right in the face.

            Romo has midsection pain that proves to be a collapsed lung/broken bone.

            he walks back onto the field and pulls a win against a team that goes on to the NFC CS.

            Umm, the guy has warts; but he is the reason dallas is competetive.

            and he got no help in this draft.

          • MadMick

            You’re preaching to the choir on the lack of help they got Romo in the offseason.

            It’s nauseating to even suggest the Cowboys brass might more aggressively address the O-line NEXT offseason if things go kaput again due to that unit’s deficiencies; because what’s stopped them from doing so every other offseason up until now? 

            Then again not moving up and grabbing Claiborne would’ve been cutting off the nose to spite the face. Besides, even standing pat at 14, we all know now there’s no way in heck the Cowboys would’ve been content to pick DeCastro then Konz.

            At the very least, they addressed the defense properly this offseason. I mean as much as it’s “backtracking”, the Cowboys screwed the O-line by not wanting to be boring in the 2nd round of the 2011 Draft. 

            Funny that the 9ers were the only contender-caliber team they beat all year; before anybody even knew the 9ers would be worth a crap.

          • Daledoe

            The beginning of the Jets meltdown was the blocked punt. After that Romo and Garrett share the blame for that loss. 

      • MadMick

        It’s okay if Mo isn’t that island inhabiting corner from day one. Who are the best of the scrubs Revis has to worry about on a regular basis in the AFC East? Stevie Johnson; and he can’t even catch the really big game-deciding passes to save his life. He’s blew games two seasons in a row against the Steelers and Jets. Mo’s task is a lot taller facing all the quality receivers in this division.

        The move to get Mo Claiborne is a forward-thinking move looking beyond the Romo/Ware/Witten window and geared towards directly dealing with: a 25-year Jackson and 23-year old Maclin; and a 23-year old Nicks and 25-year old Cruz.

  • Michael Emery

    I think I made a comment a couple weeks before the draft that I would be happy going strictly defense in this draft. I really wanted to get Decastro and have him play C for us, but after thinking about each frustration last year (there were plenty) I was content in not getting DeCastro. I think our draft, although not flashy other than Mo, was good. If Ryan is happy and feels like he got guys that can help him improve our defense then I am happy. Romo has performed excellent with less… So i think this year we can rack up some wins against the Giants, Eagles and Redskins. 

    • John

      “If Ryan is happy and feels like he got guys that can help him improve our defense then I am happy.”
      But how do we know Ryan is happy? Surely it can’t be from post-draft quotes. What was he supposed to say – wow, this sucks. I can’t believe we drafted x, y, and z – they are and will be terrible.

      • Michael Emery

        How about Ryan smiling and high fiving in the war room on draft day? That works for me.

        • Jlh11a

          Yeah, you’ve got to have serious conspiracy issues if you think this mostly-defensive draft panned out against the wishes of our defensive coordinator! And that a mostly-defensive free agency was also against his wishes, and that he was lying before the draft about what he wanted–which is exactly what we got. . . .

          Sheesh, if our defensive coordinator isn’t happy about getting the best defensive player in the draft (along with a bunch of others), and doesn’t use that fact to improve the defense, we should fire his butt.

  • DannyWhite

    My enduring memory of the Giants games last year (aside from Romo just missing Austin on the game-icer) is Eli dropping back to pass, Ware and Spencer closing in, and at the last minute him flipping the ball to Nicks/Manningham/Cruz, with Newman nowhere in sight. It happened so many times that it’s like an animated .gif playing over and over in my head.

    Hopefully Mo/Carr will be the cure to that particular problem. I would have liked some OL help, but we only had so many picks, and we knew that no matter what we were not going to be able to fill all of our roster holes with this draft. Hopefully Ryan know has enough weapons to work with to reverse the 3 years of disastrous defensive play.

  • Emmitt>Barry

    I’m okay with this draft given our defensive needs and what fell to us, but let’s not go another 3 or 4 consecutive years without using any 1st, 2nd, or 3rd round picks on the OL. I think we’ve seen where that approach leads, and we are still trying to rebuild after that period of OL negligence.

  • Lanceb17

    Tex…I’m gonna beat you to it, thanks goes out to kitna for the lone win vs ny in the last 6.

    • AustonianAggie

       You sure that wasn’t Bryan McCann?

  • Duc_TC

    Hey Raf, are there any Center/Guards’s that might get cut in June that Dallas might look at?  Any rumors of any that are on the cutting block?

    • Bobo

      A lot of people are forgetting that there are still going to be players available. One halfway decent center hits the market and our line looks a lot different.

  • 99yard_TD_Run

    If we can shore up the C position, i believe we’ll further along in matching up w/ the Eagles & Giants.  This, I believe, is our glaring weakness now that we addressed defense in the draft.  Go Cowboys!

  • AustonianAggie

    I didn’t realize that we’d gone 1-5 VS the Giants since 09. We’ve got to find a way to get our PPG back down to the teens. We can’t expect to win giving up 24 pts a game, let alone 30!

    • Emmitt>Barry

      So many heart-breaking losses in that stretch…the most recent obviously being the Miles Austin and Tony Romo missed connection with 70 yards of open field and a division crown lying in front of Miles late last season.

  • Jarhead

    One thing that gives me reason to look forward to the season: I want to see this newly revamped secondary against the gints.
    There is reason to be confident about the secondary, though if eli stands in the pocket all day, no secondary can hold up.
    BUT, perhaps gone are the days where eli simply throws up prayers to see them answered over and over and over again. I for one, am quite tired of this. Perhaps more so than of seeing dallas line romo up in the SG on 1st and goal, perhaps more so of holding my breath on 3rd and 2. Perhaps.
    I am certainly tired of eli’s floaters resulting in huge chunks of yards when they should be picks, or at least incompletions.
    Maybe this new, physical, secondary can address that. What will he do when those prayers are not answered on a regular basis?   now there is a question…….