No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.
The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.
Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:
Tony Romo – B
This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.
Kyle Orton – I
He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.
DeMarco Murray – C
A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.
Felix Jones – C
Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.
Lance Dunbar – B
Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.
Phillip Tanner – C
Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.
Lawrence Vickers – C
Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.
CALMING THE WAVES: Gerald Sensabaugh has emerged as a steadying influence in the Dallas Cowboys secondary
During a season marked by personnel turnover on defense, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett cited free safety Gerald Sensabaugh as someone who has emerged as a calming influence in a patchwork secondary.
“He certainly has. I think he’s grasped that leadership role more and more as he’s been here,” Garrett said of Sensabaugh, who is the longest-tenured Cowboys’ defensive back (four seasons with the team) slated to start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. “When you’re playing with different combinations of guys, he’s the guy who’s been here. He’s the steadying influence. He communicates well before the snap. He plays well after the snap. The guys respond to him really well.”
Sensabaugh, who posted five tackles and a pass breakup in last week’s 27-24 victory over Pittsburgh, has been flanked by lots of fresh faces in recent weeks because of injuries to others. The list includes Sterling Moore, Michael Coe, Eric Frampton and Charlie Peprah _ all signed Sept. 25 or later as free agents, and all expected to contribute against the Saints.
Garrett said Sensabaugh’s most endearing trait is his durability. He has played the past 10 weeks despite a series of nagging injuries and has started 58 of his 60 games in Dallas.
“Sensabaugh is so impressive because he’s just there every week,” Garrett said. “He’s had a lot of different injuries over the past couple of years … but he gives you that look on Wednesday (that says), ‘I’ll be ready.’ He responds well to injuries. He’s a tough guy. He cares about his team and he loves to play football. Somehow, some way, you expect to see him out there on Sunday regardless of what’s going on with his body.”
Sensabaugh said he adjusts his on-field responsibilities based on whoever is lined up next to him in the Cowboys’ coverage package.
“I just try to get into position to put those other guys to where they’re more comfortable,” Sensabaugh said. “Everybody has their different style of play. Some guys like to play deep, middle more. Some guys like to play down in the box more. I just try to base my game off tying to be as versatile as possible to where I can just play wherever needed. We’re just trying to make it as easy as possible for the guys who are coming in new, so they can play fast. If that takes me doing more of the odder jobs, the more complicated roles, I’ll take pride in doing that.”
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is working with seven players who weren’t on the team to start the season, including five who signed after Thanksgiving. All seven played against the Steelers:
Cornerback Sterling Moore : 37 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Dec. 1
Safety Eric Frampton : 29 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Sept. 25 for special teams role
Cornerback Michael Coe : 10 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Dec. 11
Defensive end Brian Schaefering : 10 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed Dec. 12
Nose tackle Robert Callaway : 6 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, signed to the roster Dec. 8 after Josh Brent charged with intoxication manslaughter
Linebacker Ernie Sims : 5 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, started but left early because of concussion, signed Oct. 24
Linebacker Brady Poppinga : 5 of 60 snaps against Pittsburgh, started in sub package, signed Nov. 26
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys claimed cornerback Michael Coe off waivers from Miami to get a more veteran backup and waived Vince Agnew.
Coe played in one game with Miami before his release and in seven games with the New York Giants. Coe has played in 35 games with 19 tackles, four pass deflections and two fumble recoveries with the Giants, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Miami.
Agnew played in four games after he was called up from the practice squad.
The Cowboys have also re-tooled their practice squad, adding tight end Andre Smith, defensive lineman Robert Rose, linebacker Brashton Satele and cornerback Micah Pellerin. The Cowboys released cornerback Reggie Jones and tight end Chase Ford from the practice squad.
Satele spent part of the offseason with the Cowboys before his release in May.