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At 1-4, is it time for big changes in Dallas?

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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.

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19 Responses to At 1-4, is it time for big changes in Dallas?

  1. starred4life says:

    Who do you suggest? Schottenheimer?

  2. craig says:

    I like and agree with much of the section.
    But…. I would have to disagree with that running the ball would lead to winning games. We apparently don’t have the running threat we hoped we had in our “three headed monster”. Each back has seen carries and failed to do much with them (in spite of most defenses concentrating on defending the pass).

    I hate that people argue that we do neeeeed to run. Time and time again we see playoff (elite) teams that get there solely on one dimension. We see this today with the colts/pats/saints, or we saw a team strive on just the run like the old ravens or last years jets. I believe people get to caught up in trying to balance their plan. We as fans though call this blasphemous and would rather see a team lose than to pass eight plays in a row. As fans we vocalize our complaints that we dont see the run so we must be losing because we don’t balance it out, or we complain that we dont see enough blitzing (or maybe even too much blitzing) and that is why we cant get turnovers. We cannot as fans admit that the other team played better or just got lucky in how a couple of plays turned out. We must make statements like our coach is too relax,or he is to harsh (as Parcells was criticized for just years ago). He is too conservative/aggressive. The fact is that we cant have it both ways on every side. We cant blitz and hold people in coverage, or hand the ball to felix and let austin have a chance on a slant.

    I think the problem is actually the fans and that Jerry Jones listens to them. It is no secret that Dallas is one of the (if not the most) talked about team in sports. If they mess up just one game all of the media (and fans behind them) jump ship, and declare every problem the cowboys have (while probably just watching 15 minutes of the game or highlights.

    As our coaches hear these complaints, the are forced to wonder “Will Jerry Jones fire me because I am an inept coach? Should I just run the ball more to appease the fans and media? At least if I listen to what they criticize me for then I may be able to hold onto my job, because everyone agrees that I should run more (or blitz more, or play action more, or etc…)”. When they start to play like this we may abandon our true strengths. The coaches see more film than anybody of our team, and should best recognize these strengths. We should judge the end results of a season not a few games (game that mind you were all decided by a touchdown or less).

    So while I do not love what our coaches have done (who could), I believe we are the problem, and that whatever happens next (whoever comes in or stays) we should support them (at least for two seasons), so that they feel safe in their job, and can actually do work and what they believe is best for the team, NOT WHAT THEY THINK WILL KEEP THEM THE JOB!

  3. I’m not sure about Vince but I will make my determination after the season, if need be.

  4. Craig–I agree with you on the run/pass ratio. I know Vince (the writer of this post) is a proponent of a balanced offense, but I only support it insofar as it sets up big plays. I’m of the mindset that you pass in running situations and formations, run in passing ones, and utilize running efficiency to set up big plays in the passing game. Yes, running the ball effectively is very important, but running it often is not. Offensive balance is usually the byproduct of a team that has already won, buy the cause for a team to win.

  5. craig says:

    I honestly would not hate if we lined up in the shotgun with barber and bennett blocking every play (well obviously that is an exaggeration, but I do think we could do it twice as much as we do).

  6. Barber is certainly the Cowboys’ best blocking RB, but Garrett would need to be careful to not tip the defense as to a pass due to Barber’s presence.

  7. Vince Grey says:

    Not a fan of Marty overall, though there are some good things about the guy. Those goofy speeches of his (“There’s a gleam, men. A gleam” ?!!???) sound insane at times.

    I’d go with a top assistant coach… after the season. Not a big Cowher fan either. Think he’s overrated.

  8. JJ says:

    Vince,

    I enjoyed your article. Your assessment of Wade’s D is spot on. I must add that I’m one of the few fans of Jerry Jones but I am confused as to whether he is completely insane or saying one thing while thinking something else. For example:

    He thinks the OL is really solid. It’s clear it’s not. I say if they lose within the next 3 weeks, play Costa and Young. See what you have.
    He thinks Hudson Houck is amazing. He stinks at developing lineman. We lost the OL mental edge when Sparano left. Hudson should go.
    He thinks Wade is the greatest DC ever. Look at the Steelers D, it’s constant action. We have no idea how to help our Offense win the field position battle.
    He thinks they have great coaches. I’m not so sure Campo, Wade Wilson shouldn’t join Houck out the door. The 90s are over.
    He thinks our safeties are above average. I’m unconvinced of this.

    What I feel is missing in Dallas is an “attitude” that makes the Cowboys a real scary team to face. I just hope that Jerry really knows what needs to be done and is keeping his cards close to his vest. I believe that a defense and offense are reflections of their coordinators and in the D’s case, it is so. They rely on stats on yards allowed rather than turnovers and are generally laid back. Our ILBs cannot cover in space, our DEs are one dimensional and are safeties are not play makers. Maybe Wade is not playing it safe, maybe he realizes that the Cowboys just are not good enough.

  9. bW says:

    I don’t buy into the disciplinarian thing that fans love to site. Singletary is a disciplinarian…calls players out, has lots of fire, but his team sucks bad and making the same stupid mistakes we are (I’m in the bay area so I see and hear a lot of the same things we are saying bout the boys).
    People love Cowher for some reason….yeah hes fired up and a disciplinarian and it took him what…15 years to win a SB? I’d take Dick Lebeau over Cowher.

    Its more than shouting and making players pay for mistakes.

    I’m not a Wade hater obviously but my biggest problem with him is what I agree with your article. His scheme doesn’t produce turnovers….his blitz scheme is too obvious and gets blocked a lot.

  10. Yeah I’m not a fan of disciplinarians either. . .simply coaches that make players feel accountable for mistakes. I’d prefer Dungy over Cowher or Gruden.

  11. VINCE GREY says:

    Disciplinarian or “players coach”, the bottom line is, the guy has to have the respect of his players. For whatever reason, Wade and this staff do not.

    On one other point, my desire to run the ball more (Effectively) is this: I think JG asks Romo to do too much at times. I think Tony’s a very good QB, but I’m not sure at all that he’s a GREAT QB, and yet the Cowboys often ask Tony to be just that.

    IMO, there are no more than two truly great QB’s (Meaning guys who can carry an offense by themselves with virtually interchangeable parts) and that’s Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Even Drew Brees is “only” a very good QB who happened to play great last year. He’s coming back down to earth this season.

    Don’t get me wrong, you can win a SB, even several, with a less-than-truly-great QB, but you have to put him in the right system, with other top players, and not ask the guy to be more than he his.

    As for Wade’s defense, last night’s debacle against the Giants (And the rest of the team, other than a few guys, deserves plenty of blame as well) says to me this group has all but quit.

  12. moses says:

    I think the GM gambled a lot this year.
    It is JJones that makes the call on personnel.
    We went in with a scatter shot FG kicker hoping that he would “learn” to be accurate.
    We went in with 3 CBs. Ball is a converted CB, but he is a S now.
    We have known that the OL was aging about 3 years ago. We keep trying to get more and more out of them. I don’t think Houck has done a very good job. The OL is constantly confused.
    We replaced Anderson, a strong blocking FB, with Gronk and he is not as good.

    We had a decent coach in Parcells. JJones kept overriding what he wanted and he left to Miami. Compare the direction of the two teams and their talent level. Miami is getting it done with a lot less.

  13. I’d agree with Vince’s assessment that this team has quit. I don’t think it did before last night’s game, but with Romo gone, I don’t see them coming out fighting moving forward.

  14. craig kocay says:

    JB- what would be a cool topic is “How the cowboys can make the most of the season”. While this is a sad topic, at least it is something to look forward to in many ways.1) The pressure is finally off, and should be lessened next year.2) All the romo skeptics will finally see what the team looks like without him, maybe resulting in some monkeys off his back.3) We can use this year as a time to experiment around with new formations, shuffling players around different spots, giving backups starting experience, or playing with ideas of radically new game plans. *— side note—* for this to ever happen JJ would need to create some sort of incentive to get the coaches to try this stuff out, because as it stands the coaches would further advance themselves (in the form of a better job by another team) by sticking to what they have practiced, playing starters, and trying to win every game this season, instead of trying to become a better put together team for next year.
    4) while we hate to say this now, we do have a possibility of having some very high draft picks. Would it be worth losing a game or two to secure a pick? (How many lineman/safeties/quality players for a top five pick?)
    5)If we showcase choice/barber we may be able to increase trade value of one or the other.

    I know it is early in the season but this would be a fun topic to play around with as the season goes on, and options become available.

  15. Those are all awesome points Craig and I will definitely do an article on that topic.

  16. bW says:

    Craig,
    If Romo skeptics didn’t see how important and good Romo was when The Brad took over for him in 08, I don’t see how they will be convinced this time either.

    your other points are interesting though.

    Except I personally have no interest in losing games for picks. I don’t care if winning “meaningless” games will cost us a spot or two in the draft. I want the Boys to win every time out…no matter how dim that possibility is.

  17. bW…agree completely on both points. Johnson played just about as poorly as I’ve seen a pro QB play…Kitna is light years ahead. And even if the Cowboys were to somehow (hypothetically) get the 10th pick with a win in the 16th game or the 1st pick with a loss, I’d want a win. You play to win the game, right Herm?

  18. craig says:

    BW,

    I too would love the cowboys to win every game.

    I would hate for them to trade wins to sell tickets or some other trivial reason, however, losing a game near end season to move up 4 spots (so that some team may trade away everything in search for say a jake locker), could lead to many more wins in the future.

    While i would love to win now and win later, i dont think this is necessarily the way the world turns. WE DO have a rather strange upside to our record though, and in the long run (if managed the right way) could lead us to more wins down the way.

    So yes I would trade a win or two this season so that I could have and extra 8 or so wins in years to come.

  19. I see both views. I want Dallas to win each and every game, but IF they do lose, I can see the silver lining of obtaining a better draft pick. To me it is wins first, pick second, even at the end of a poor season. With that said, I might “trade” a win or two for a better draft pick AFTER the fact…but I would never root for my ‘Boys to lose a game beforehand. Make sense?

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