I'd say the defensive line was solid, albeit soft at times this year. The goal of the defensive line in a 3-4 defense is to a) stop the run and b) plug the "big" gaps so the linebackers have rush lanes. If your line manages to put on a rush, it's icing on the cake. Spears and Canty were "meh" on the ends, and didn't really do anything to merit a hug. However, Jay Ratliff was a beast all year long in the middle. For an "undersized" nose in a 3-4, Ratliff was positively measty all year long.
What to do?
Re-stock the cupboard. Canty, Spears and Johnson's contracts are all up this year. In my opinion, Canty is the only one who might deserve a new contract. Look for some stockpiling to go down during the draft.
If you had to pick an overall brightspot this season, wouldn't you pick these guys? Ware, Thomas, James and Ellis were exactly what you needed them to be this season. Ware and Ellis put the heat on the quarterback, with Ware leading the league with 20 sacks. James and Thomas were the heart of a run stop game (granted, a run defense that got really tired and blown up at the end of th year). Rookie, Anthony Spencer, did what rookies should do and was able to contribute. Kevin Burnett was the stud in the nickel packages in coverage.
What to do?
Zach Thomas is old and isn't coming back. Burnett and Carpenter's contracts are up this year. If you're going to sign either, it's gonna be Burnett. James is pointed to as the leader of this team, and as you can tell, he's not got the control you want to see. I'm dead serious when I say that Jerry needs to throw a pile of money at Ray Lewis. That gives you leadership, an awesome gap filler for Thomas and a man that will stab the next Cowboy who goes against the team.
Inuries. Injuries. Injuries. Williams. Watkins. Newman. Jones. All of them were injured (or suspended) for a big chunk of time. However, Dave Campo's unit was still able to do a pretty decent job as a MASH unit. Anthony Henry continues to be the underrated star in the secondary and plays wherever he's needed. Rookie brightspot, Orlando Scandrick did very well filling in for injured cornerbacks, as did first rounder, Mike Jenkins. Once Newman got healthy, he reminded everyone why he was a top 10 pick and is one of the best in the game.
What to do?
Here's where things get tricky. Do you commit to Roy Williams as your strong safety and believe he's got enough support from Ken Hamlin? Roy ain't what he was and Hamlin is no Woody. Pacman isn't coming back because he didn't contribute a damn thing. Do you go with Newman, Henry, Scandrick and Jenkins as your core? Don't be surprised if the Cowboys move to get a ball hawk strong safety and replenish the corner reserves.
Let's be honest, without the defense, this team wouldn't have won 9 games, it would be more like 6 or 7. Once Wade took over the play calling and gave Brian Stewart Maurice Carthon's old headset, you saw new life get breathed into the crew. Yes, it was the defense that gave up the big plays at the end of the last few games. However, with the offense doing nothing and the defense on the field for a majority of the game, you can only bend so much till you break.
Bright spots: Jay Ratliff, Orlando Scandrick, Terrance Newman, DeMarcus Ware
Low lights: Adam Jones, Bobby Carpenter