The Cowboys understood they would have growing pains after ridding themselves of a number of veterans in the offseason.
Coach Jason Garrett even called it a transition season if he didn't outright say rebuilding.
He said the Cowboys will be better in the future because of some of the moves and the growing pains they suffered in 2011.
Still there is no discounting the fact that despite the growing pains and rebuilding process the Cowboys could have and should have had a better fate.
They were 7-4 riding a five-game winning streak and sitting in first place in the NFC East at the end of November only to lose four of their last five games.
In addition to the slide the Cowboys had to end the season, they also blew five games in which they had fourth-quarter leads, including three double-digit leads.
An inability to close, an ability to play well when it matters most are issues of mental toughness that owner Jerry Jones said the team must address as they move forward.
"I think that when you get come-back on you can question mental toughness," Jones said. "When you get behind you can question mental toughness. You can put that right along with other things you can question when you don't get the job done. That is on the list that you can ask about your team."
What also plagued the Cowboys were injuries that sidelined promising rookie running DeMarco Murray, poor play on the offensive line because of youth, transition and disappointment from left tackle Doug Free who did not live up to the $32 million contract extension he received in the offseason.
The struggles on defense were even more damning for a Cowboys team largely because they were unable to fully grasp and understand the new system put in by coordinator Rob Ryan, leading to weekly breakdowns in communication.
But there were also failures in personnel. Linebacker Anthony Spencer, a former first-round pick, continued to be a disappointment. He notched just six sacks and did not provide a pass-rushing force opposite DeMarcus Ware. The pass defense was downright atrocious for the second straight year. They gave up the second most yards in team history, largely because of the inability to cover by cornerbacks Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. Newman counted $10 million against the cap in 2011 and by the end of the season he was nothing but a target to be picked on by opposing defenses.
Cornerback, linebacker and the defensive line will be areas the Cowboys will target in the draft and free agency as well as offensive guard.
Jerry Jones said the Cowboys will look at everything in offseason.
But he believes the Cowboys will be better because of the experience Jason Garrett received in his first full season as head coach.
Jones is also excited about the progress the Cowboys can make in their second season under Ryan, especially with them having the benefit of an offseason to continue to learn his system.
"I like philosophically what is happening on defense," Jones said. "If you look at some of the better defenses, they match up to what Rob does philosophically. He will have an offseason to institute what he does."
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