Finding a line. The Cowboys took big steps toward identifying a future offensive line. Third-year left tackle and 2013 Pro Bowler Tyron Smith, second-year left guard Ronald Leary and rookie center Travis Frederick became the go-to side to run behind. At right guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau was better than expected in replacing Brian Waters at midseason. Right tackle Doug Free is not a long-term answer, but he generally drew praise.
Take it away. The Cowboys finished tied for ninth in turnover margin, plus-8, with 28 takeaways against 20 giveaways. The 28 takeaways were 12 more than last year. But the Cowboys faded down the stretch, forcing only three turnovers in the four December games.
DeMarco Murray. He put together his first 1,000-yard season, rushing for 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns with a 5.2 average, despite missing two games because of injury. He also had career highs in catches and receiving yards, including the game-winning touchdown in Week 16 at Washington.
The defense. It was the worst in team history — most yards given up, most passing yards given up, most first downs given up — and last in the league. All on the watch of first-year defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, whose 4-3 “Tampa 2” defense showed promise early and at least delivered on the promise of takeaways. But after that, not much redeemed it.
Detroit and Green Bay. The Cowboys bungled the game management of these contests. Against Detroit, a penalty on a running play prevented more time from being run off the clock and allowed the Lions to drive for the winning touchdown, scoring with 12 seconds left. Against Green Bay, the Cowboys ran seven times in the second half after holding a 26-3 lead at halftime.
Injuries. Again, they flared up for the Cowboys, particularly on defense. The Cowboys got one game out of Anthony Spencer. They lost Sean Lee at midseason, although he returned for one game. Cornerback Morris Claiborne, rookie safety J.J. Wilcox, linebacker Justin Durant and defensive end DeMarcus Ware all missed significant time.
Decline of D-Ware. For the second consecutive year, DeMarcus Ware’s production faded down the stretch, largely because of injuries. He had a quadriceps problem that caused him to miss the first three games of his career. He said after the season he also had neck, elbow and back injuries.
Decline of Miles Austin. After he caught 10 passes in the season opener, hamstring problems caught up to Miles Austin again. He missed two games, came back and played in two without a catch, and the missed two more games. He had 24 catches for 244 yards and no touchdowns, his fewest numbers in each category since becoming a starter in 2009.
Young secondary. The Cowboys got generally good production from their rookie class, but the inexperience was most clear in the secondary, where undrafted safety Jeff Heath and fifth-round cornerback B.W. Webb appeared lost at times. Heath was hurt through the air and ineffective on tackling against New Orleans. Webb got pulled from the same game for passing up on a goal-line tackle. Eventually, Webb lost his nickel cornerback job to free-agent signee Sterling Moore. — Carlos Mendez