Emmitt Smith once famously said about his team, “We had some diamonds, but we had a lotta cow poo poo around it, and the diamonds was mixed in with the poo poo…it just all look like poo poo.” (The Grammar is Mr. Smith’s alone.)
If that was true of the late ’90s Cowboys, it was doubly true of the 2010 version of America’s (Former) Team. At the end of the most disappointing year in the 51-year history of the Dallas Cowboys, it can be challenging to find ten players whose contributions merit mention on a list of “top performers.”
Somehow, this 6–10 disaster of a team managed to put five of its players in the Pro Bowl, all of them as starters. Each of those guys makes this list. That leaves us with the task of digging in the cow poo-poo for five more diamonds.
From Number One to Number Ten, I give you the 2010 Top Ten Dallas Cowboys:
Number One: Jason Witten, Tight End
On a team with a rich history of tight ends with names like Billy Joe DuPree and Jay Novacek, Jason Witten is establishing himself as the best to ever play the position in Big D. The eight year veteran has just been named to his seventh Pro Bowl.
This year, Witten became just the third tight end in NFL history to record multiple 90-catch, 1,000-yard seasons. The other two? Todd Christensen and Tony Gonzalez. 2010 was the third time Jason has gone over 1,000 yards in receiving.
He also caught nine touchdown passes this year, the most in his career.
Number Two: DeMarcus Ware, Outside Linebacker
On a defense that sank like the Titanic 99 years before, DeMarcus Ware once again proved his mettle. The six year veteran was named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl. He should be named first-team All-Pro for the fourth year in a row, as well.
For the second time in three years, Ware led the NFL in sacks, recording 15.5. He had three sacks in the season finale to go along with a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
On the season, Ware recorded 56 tackles and ten assists. He was easily the best defensive player on the team.
Number Three: Jon Kitna, Quarterback
When Tony Romo went down in week six, the 39 year old Kitna was pressed into action. While he was short of spectacular, he was steady. He provided solid play and much-needed leadership to a team that had recorded just one win before he took the helm.
Kitna completed 209 of 318 passes for 2,365 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also secured four victories for the Cowboys before going down to injury, including wins over the Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants, both on the road.
Jon Kitna was the rudder Jason Garrett needed to right the rudderless ship inherited from Wade Phillips.
Number Four: Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver
Dez Bryant only played in just over 11 games before going down with a leg injury. In that time, however, he established himself as the alpha receiver, scooting Miles Austin, the 2009 surprise hero, aside.
Dez brought fire and passion to the field, the kind not seen around these parts since Michael Irvin hung up his helmet. He also produced, catching 45 passes for 561 yards and six touchdowns.
Dez Bryant was the acrobat under Jerry Jones’ billion-dollar big top.
Number Five: Mat McBryar, Punter
For just the second time in his stellar seven-year career, Mat McBriar has been named to the Pro Bowl. The Australian has been the picture of consistency since arriving in Dallas in 2003 as an undrafted rookie free agent. He might have as easily been to four or five Pro Bowls by now.
In 2010, McBriar posted a 47.9 yard-per-punt average. He led the NFL in net punting average with 42.1 yards. This meant opponents, more often than not, had to march the length of the field to score.
Unfortunately, that marching the length of the field thing was hardly a bother against the porous Dallas defense.
Number Six: Bryan McCann, Returner/Defensive Back
Bryan McCann began the year on the practice squad. When injuries opened the door for him to get on the active squad, he made the most of it.
While McCann’s overall production for the year was not eye-popping, he did provide the most thrilling moments of the season. In back-to-back games, he returned an interception 101 yards for a touchdown and a punt 97 yards, also for a touchdown. McCann’s heroics contributed to the only two-game winning streak the Cowboys had all year…and got the Jason Garrett era off to a smashing start.
Number Seven: Jay Ratliff, Nose Guard
At 6’4″, 293 pounds, Jay Ratliff is a runt.
Well, as nose guards go, he is a runt. He is also a whirling dervish, hard to block, hard to contain. Fortunately for his opponents, he is accompanied on the defensive line by a handful of stiffs, so opposing offensive coordinators can double- and even triple-team Ratliff.
In a year when the Cowboys’ defense was gashed again and again on the ground and burned like toast week after week through the air, Ratliff’s compatriots thought enough of his play to put him in the Pro Bowl.
Jay Ratliff only recorded 23 tackles, eight assists, and 3.5 sacks in 2010. He also forced one fumble and recovered two.
This will be his third straight Pro Bowl appearance.
Number Eight: Doug Free, Left Tackle
Coming into the season, the left tackle position was a source of concern with the departure of Flozell Adams. As it turned out, Doug Free was more than capable of anchoring the position. On a line that often failed to open running lanes or provide protection, Doug Free allowed no sacks in the first 5.5 games of the season.
Once Romo went down, the less elusive Kitna stepped in and Free did give up a few sacks. Still, he played a fairly solid left tackle against some big challenges, including pass rushers named Julius Pepper and Mario Williams.
Number Nine: Andre Gurode, Center
Andre Gurode is sometimes on his own program, snapping the ball whenever the mood besets him, firing it over the head of quarterback, or failing to get it to his hands when the QB is under center.
All of that notwithstanding, Gurode has the respect of the league. He has been named a starter in the 2011 Pro Bowl. This will be his fifth consecutive appearance in the game that showcases the best in the NFL.
Nothing about Gurode’s performance in 2010 really stands out much, but this is not a difficult cut, this 2010 Top Performers List.
Number Ten: Stephen McGee
Further evidence of just what kind of year this has been, my tenth top performer is the third-string quarterback, who played in but two games, and started only one.
Stephen McGee was not brilliant. He only completed 22 of 44 passes for two touchdowns. However, he did not throw any interceptions.
More importantly, he played well in crunch time.
Against the Arizona Cardinals, he led his team on a late fourth quarter scoring drive that should have sealed victory for his team. He threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to put the Cowboys ahead 26–24 with under two minutes remaining. Unfortunately David Buehler missed the extra point and the Dallas defense failed to stop the Cardinals, giving up the winning field goal as time expired.
In the final game of the season, McGee lead another late fourth-quarter drive, capping it with a touchdown pass to Jason Witten. This time, he got the win, 14–13, thanks to a DeMarcus Ware sack of Kevin Kolb on the Eagles’ last drive.
Offensive MVP: Jason Witten
No offensive player did more to help his team succeed in this failure of a season than tight end Jason Witten. In addition to the stats I spouted earlier, Witten was the favorite target of all three of his quarterbacks when the chips were down.
Third and long? Jason Witten.
Red Zone? Jason Witten.
Defensive MVP: DeMarcus Ware
The final game of the season said it all. Ware recorded three sacks, including the one that essentially ended any hope the Eagles had of winning the game. He also scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
Mr. Ware is the modern-day version of Bob Lilly. Simply put, he IS Mr. Cowboy.