At 1-4, is it time for big changes in Dallas?
By Vince Grey
My friend Jonathan likes to say “stats never lie.” Personally, I’m more of the mind that, while technically true, stats can be (and always have been) cherry-picked and manipulated to support or rebuke any particular point of view. I prefer to go with my eyes and gut based on 40-plus years of playing, coaching, and watching football.
Our Cowboys now sit at 1-4. Yes, statistically, they are “winning” in a lot of key areas, like outgaining their opponents, often by substantial numbers, and in yards-per-play. Statistically, they still have a chance of making the playoffs. They also have a chance of finishing 1-15. Anyone think there’s a shot in heck of that happening?
Frankly, I’m stunned at this. If you had told me before the season started that a Dallas team with a healthy Tony Romo would be 1-4, I would have bet the house you were on mind-altering drugs (one of the many reasons I don’t bet. . .I kind of like my house).
While there are odd years where 8-8 or 9-7 will get you in the playoffs (as well as odd years where 11-5 leaves you at home), most seasons you need at least a 10-6 record to have a shot. That means Dallas needs to go 9-2 the rest of the way.
That’s asking a lot, even for a disciplined team with great talent, and this team is definitely not in that category. Statistically possible? Absolutely. Realistic? Eh… not so much.
So, what now? First, identify the problems.
Let me start by getting two things out the way. Jerry Jones isn’t the problem. Is he perfect? Not even close, but he’s learned a lot as time has gone on and currently I would put him no worse than in the top third of NFL GMs.
Tony Romo. Again, not perfect, but he’s a legit top 10 NFL quarterback. That’s good enough to win a Super Bowl with the right players and scheme.
Talent. This team obviously has a lot of it, but there’s one key area I’ve long thought was vastly overrated and that’s the offensive line. With the exception of Doug Free, this is an aging, ponderously slow group that’s been together for some time, but still doesn’t play very cohesively as a unit. People look fondly to the early-mid 90’s Dallas lines, but those guys were athletic and huge. Defensive players are quicker and faster than ever. This O-line, and the coaching of it, needs a serious overhaul.
Coaching. Okay, enough. I concede the point. I’ve defended the man because I thought (rightfully so, in many cases) that the media had it out for the guy, but Wade and his group probably need to be replaced. The constant stream of penalties and mental errors—although made by players and not coaches—has gone on long enough. Clearly, this staff lacks the stones to discipline players harsh enough to get their attention. Time to get tough. Players who can’t stop making dumb plays need to be sat down. Someone needs to be cut. Something.
My second (and really primary) issue with Wade is his defensive coaching. Some will be surprised by that statement, as defense is Wade’s “specialty,” but here’s my thinking: Wade’s goal on defense is to prevent the other team from scoring. He wants to make the opposing offense drive 70-80 yards—with no big plays—for a score, figuring most of the time they’ll fail. The defense plays super-conservatively to accomplish this task, with the defensive backs playing loose to prevent a big gain.
That’s an admirable goal, and one that, on the surface, sounds completely logical. If the other team can’t score much, you’ll win, right?
Well… no. Not really.
This is the NFL. Teams are going to score points. You can play perfect defense and still get killed by a talented quarterback who’s on his game that day, or gashed by a great running back.
In this league, it’s all about turnovers–who forces them and who doesn’t. People jump all over Romo for his costly picks, and while I’m not defending them, they’d be nitpicky afterthoughts if the defense got three or four turnovers to our one or two.
In my opinion, Wade’s conservative, somewhat passive, defensive calls are badly hurting this defense. I see what the Jets are doing with less defensive talent and it makes me sad to see all the horses we have being held back.
One last word on the final “problem”–Jason Garrett. Honestly, I’m still on the fence here. At times I see brilliance. Other times, like when he completely abandons the running game, I see arrogant stupidity. That said, I believe his true offensive “vision” is often badly hampered by poor offensive line play. I’m willing, at this point, to give him the benefit of the doubt.
So there are my solutions. Replace Wade with a competent head coach who won’t tolerate the mental errors. Bring in an aggressive defensive coordinator and turn loose the hounds. Fix the O-line with more Doug Free (young, athletic) types.
Go to the playoffs. Win the Super Bowl. Easy as that.