The Dallas Cowboys season began with visions of a Super Bowl floating in everyone’s head and ended quite undramatically with their third string quarterback throwing a game-winning touchdown against a Philadelphia Eagles team playing a lot of backups in a game that was meaningful for few people outside of the stadium.
In many ways, it was a tale of two seasons. The first season featured a Dallas Cowboys team that had already made the Super Bowl but simply needed to go through the motions of the season. Unfortunately, going through the motions led to a 1-7 start and the end of the Wade Phillips era in Dallas. The second season featured a Cowboys team that had been slapped in the face by the firing of their head coach respond to interim head coach Jason Garrett’s more disciplined approach by finishing the second half of the season 5-3 despite being without their franchise quarterback.
But no matter how much the 6-10 season is sliced and diced, the end result is a prize no team wants: a top 10 pick in the next NFL draft.
The play that best exemplifies the season.
If we were to sum up the 2010 Dallas Cowboys season in a single play, it would have to be that infamous attempt at a Hail Mary to close out the first half of the season opener against the Washington Redskins, a play that led to Washington’s only touchdown in the game when DeAngelo Hall returned Tashard Choice’s fumble 32 yards for a touchdown.
The play had a lot of the same components that led to that dismal 1-7 start: a poor coaching decision to call an offensive play that has as much a chance to backfire than it has to succeed, an offensive line that could not block long enough for the play to have a chance of success and a turnover that led to the difference in the game.
But it does face competition from the play that ended the game, a play where a game-winning touchdown reception by Roy Williams was wiped out by a holding penalty from right tack Alex Barron.
Best plays in Cowboys history.
After rough start, offense responds
The Cowboys struggled to get any points on the board in that first game against Washington, and those struggles stuck with the Cowboys throughout the first half of the season. A team that kept getting in its own way with penalties and negative plays, the Cowboys struggled to establish the run and couldn’t punch it in for touchdowns when they got into the red zone.
But after averaging 18.4 points through the first half of the season, the Cowboys started getting it together under Jason Garrett. The line started opening up some holes for the running game, the team started playing more disciplined football and the offense scored almost a touchdown more a game with an average of 24.6 points a game.
The bright spot on offense was the play of Dez Bryant before an injury ended his season. Bryant was injured at the beginning of training camp, putting a dent in his learning process, but as he started getting up to speed at the Xs and Os, he started making plays. The big question mark here is whether or not he can stay healthy for a season, but there is little doubt that he has the talent and ability to be one of the best receivers in the league.
The Cowboys do have some playmakers on offense. Between Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Felix Jones, they have people that can make plays. But all the playmakers in the world won’t do a team any good if the offensive line cannot block for them, so expect big changes along the line in 2011.
Check out highlights of Dez Bryant’s rookie season
Defense dips to historical low
The Dallas Cowboys went from having one of the best defenses in the league in 2009 to setting a franchise record for most points allowed in 2010. And while the offense caught fire after the coaching change was made mid-season, the defense continued to give up the big play and seemed unable to make crucial stops at the end of games.
DeMarcus Ware ended the season with a league-leading 15.5 sacks, helped out by 3 sacks against the Eagles backups in week 17, and was perhaps the only bright spot on a historically bad defense. Unfortunately, one player cannot make up for an entire defense, and while Ware racked up a good number of sacks, the rest of the defense was unable to add to the pressure on the quarterback.
But the poor defensive performance went beyond just the inability to pressure the quarterback. The line couldn’t win the point of attack and stop the run, the secondary couldn’t stop the big play, and the scheme itself became so predictable that opposing quarterbacks had an easy time figuring out the coverage and picking it apart.
Cowboys defense worst in franchise history
Special teams weren’t special enough
Coaches like to say that a team must win two of three phases in the game, and with a defense unable to hold up their side of the bargain, the Cowboys relied on the special teams to make a difference. And, at times, the special teams did make a difference. Mat McBriar will make a trip to Hawaii for his efforts in turning around field position, and Dez Bryant scared opposing coverage teams with his ability to make something happen any time he touched the ball.
But after those two names, it is hard to find a bright spot on special teams. David Buehler excelled at touchbacks in his first year, but given full time duties as the place kicker, he proved so inconsistent that fans even held their breath during extra points and stopped being as much of a weapon when kicking off. Meanwhile, Bryan McCann made one of the special team plays of the season with a 97-yard punt return, but twice had his return duties taken away after demonstrating that the ball didn’t like to stay in his hands.
End of the line for David Buehler?
What to expect from the 2011 Dallas Cowboys?
“Super Bowl or Bust” will always be the mantra for the Dallas Cowboys, and the 2011 Cowboys will have the star power to be a contender. But don’t expect them to stand pat in the offseason after such a disappointing season. The Cowboys won’t likely make the big splash in free agency this year, but that’s because they don’t need a big name wide receiver, running back or quarterback.
The Cowboys may not make a big splash, but they will make some big signings. Or rather, they’ll sign some big guys. After the dismal play of the offensive line, expect to see some new faces come 2011. They Cowboys will also be looking for secondary help, especially a free safety that can help turn around a defense that gave up too many big plays in the passing game.
But while the Cowboys end the season with a top ten draft pick instead of a playoff berth, there is no reason to think they won’t be playoff bound next year. At least, so long as they don’t think they get a free pass into the playoffs by virtue of the star on their helmet.