I’ve reviewed both the Cowboys’ win over the Giants and loss against the Seahawks numerous times. There are some things to like about this revamped squad, but plenty of things to be concerned over. After watching the tape, here are my top five players that need to step up if the Cowboys want to play more like they did against New York than they did in Seattle. . .
1. Tyron Smith
Smith was one of my favorite players in 2011, allowing the third-lowest pressure rate of any right tackle in the NFL. Smith has faced two really tough defensive ends in Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Clemons, but he’s going to face that sort of competition a lot in his career. I haven’t tracked him as allowing a sack, but he’s given up five quarterback pressures and has committed multiple false start penalties. Right now, I have him on pace to allow over twice as much pressure as he did in 2011.
2. Doug Free
I attributed the final sack in the Seahawks game to Free, but he’s been getting beat on a fairly consistent basis for over a year now. I thought moving back to right tackle would help Free, especially in pass protection, but he’s been worse than Smith. Cowboys running backs are also gaining just 4.0 YPC when Free is at the point-of-attack. The top priority for Jason Garrett should be getting his offensive tackles to play up to their potential, allowing Tony Romo enough time to get the ball downfield.
3. Dez Bryant
I was a big believer of Bryant coming into 2012, and I still am. Wide receivers typically go through dry spells—even the great Larry Fitzgerald recorded just four yards in Week 2 against the lowly Patriots secondary.
The problem is that Bryant has been dropping passes and running poor routes, and those are things he simply hasn’t done in the past. I really expect a big game from Bryant against the Bucs this week, and the Cowboys need it in a major way.
4. Jason Witten
In an article I wrote on Witten’s projected decline
, I proposed that we’d see a significant drop in Witten’s play in the very near future. Are we witnessing that decline before our eyes, or does Witten’s spleen injury have more to do with his poor play than anything else? Time will tell, but the Cowboys really need Witten to get back to form as soon as possible.
5. Mackenzy Bernadeau
Bernadeau has given up a sack and four pressures from the right guard position, and that’s bad. Further, Cowboys running backs are averaging only 3.22 YPC when running behind Bernadeau through two weeks. Romo is at his worst when he gets pressure right in his face and the ‘Boys desperately need to convert in short-yardage situations, so we need to see Bernadeau step up to the level set by left guard Nate Livings.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.
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