As an almost lifetime Dallas Cowboys fan (36 years), I have seen many players and seasons come and go and have always been supportive-even during the 1-15 years, or the Steve Pelluer and Gary Hogeboom era. They were tough times to watch but none as painful as this season. What seemed to be a potential breakout year again fizzled as the Cowboys couldn’t ever gain consistency, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In what seems to be turning into a signature event for the team, Dallas once again played flat in a play in game where if they win they are in the playoffs, and there seems to be a trend forming that took place after the Chan Gailey era in Dallas.
First let me get to the To Do list.
1. Revamp the defensive personnel. Anthony Spencer, Terence Newman, and Gerald Sensabaugh have to go. Don’t resign Spencer or Bennett and cut Newman and Sensabaugh outright. They are all taking roster spots from people who actually might contribute. Spencer plays opposite 19.5 sack Demarcus Ware and can’t beat a one on one to get to the quarterback. Bennett can’t get open, Sensabaugh’s instincts don’t jive with Rob Ryan’s scheme it seems and Terence Newman stopped guarding and tackling people when Bill Parcells left. Any secondary that is not helped by a pass rush is in trouble. DC Rob Ryan has had to blitz to try and cover the secondary this year and they got burned more than they were successful. Time to upgrade.
I am not trying to be cute. If you are a cornerback in the NFL and you get hurdled by a tight end and a fullback in the same game, your number is up. The first hurdle was a third down where Terence Newman could have stopped the play for a small gain and forced a punt, but he got hurdled by the Giants Tight End and a couple of plays later, Victor Cruz burned him and Sensabaugh, who got caught up on a third and short, and Cruz went 74 yards for the score. Poor defensive play that could have been avoided had Newman done his job and tackled someone.
Die hard Cowboy fans know we have been needing a pair of safeties who are playmakers and attitude setters and they haven’t been found.
2. Re-orient the offense to play to Dez Bryant’s strength’s. I have said all season to friends and family that Dez Bryant needs to play in the slot. He is unguardable in that position and is not scared to go over the middle because of his size. Additionally, he can stretch the deep middle which Jason Garrett’s offense does not attack. With Dez pushing the deep middle third, Laurent Robinson and Miles Austin can work the sidelines with effectiveness. Players like Bryant have the ability to force teams to play man to man and keep a safety over the top. If a team plays zone, use Bryant along with Witten in a two tight end style attack that wreaks havoc on the defense’s front seven personnel. Again, that keeps the Free Safety in the middle and creates one on one’s on the outside.
3. Draft and sign quality players with attitude and intelligence, i.e. Sean Lee. Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware jumped offsides three times between them last night and those types of plays are killers for defenses especially on third down. Eli Manning took full advantage of that with his hard count last night. More to point though, the Cowboys defense needs guys who play their position with intelligence and can read the offense. Sean Lee is the type of player they need to find more of. He is a middle linebacker who makes plays (tied for team lead in interceptions).
4. Scrap the 3-4. I know they ran both defenses this year, showing 4-3 sometimes, but they are still predominantly a 3-4 defense but more importantly a 3-4 defense that doesn’t put pressure on the QB and is inconsistent in stopping the run despite its 7th best ranking against the run. The Giants run the ball effectively, the Redskins run the ball effectively and the Eagles have a very good running back and a running quarterback. Dallas has proven that it can’t win inside its division (going 0-2 vs. both NY and Philly this year) and if it doesn’t shore up the front seven and create pressure on the QB with the front four, they will never go anywhere. I like the 3-4 but if you don’t have 4 stud linebackers and two stud safeties, you are in trouble. The Cowboys don’t have near that.
5. Sign a proven veteran quarterback as Romo’s backup. Stephen McGee has potential and if he is the guy then give him snaps so he can come in and win games when Romo goes down. If not, find a veteran and continue to let McGee develop.
6. Hire a General Manager. It is time for CEO, President, and General Manager Jerry Jones to just be an owner. Give Garrett a football guy to work with and let them build it and get out of the way.
This goes to the point I started at the beginning. Every time Mr. Jones hires a coach who picks his own players, sooner or later it goes awry and that coach leaves. After that, there is a period of time where the roster begins to suffer and the team declines. I think we are seeing that play out again right now. If we dig a little deeper and look at the trends, we see that Wade Phillips went 13-3 with Bill Parcells’ players, the next year they were 9-7, then went 11-5 when they got their first playoff win in a long time by beating the Eagles in back to back weeks, but since then, the impact of Wade’s tenure (along with Mr. Jones’ influence) can be seen. The Cowboys were horrible last year until Garret was hired and since then he has been managing Wade’s roster, and attitudes created under him, and they are roughly a .500 team since that point winning or losing close games all the time.
That tells me a couple of things. First, that the roster decisions post Bill Parcells’, by and large have been mediocre and Second, that Jason Garrett needs to rid himself of the holdovers from that time and keep fighting like he has been. The Roster needs purged and it may have happened if there had not been a strike, but I feel that if it doesn’t happen this offseason, the Cowboys will go the way of the Dave Campo years. The end result of all this is that they are wasting Romo’s career by having him take all the heat for a mediocre team. I think Jerry knows this now and I believe he knows he has the right person leading his team.
7. Give Romo a steady running game that includes a zone blocking scheme. Look, Tony Romo finished the season with a 102.0 quarterback rating, the highest of his career. He also has the highest fourth quarter rating of any active quarterback (Brady, Brees, Rivers, Manning, Manning to name a few) so we know he can play. What some of us have come to realize is that Tony Romo is a very good quarterback on a very mediocre team. When he plays well and the game plan and the play calling is sound, Romo looks like a Hall of Famer, but when it is not, he struggles. What Tony needs is a running game like the one that Troy Aikman had with Emmitt and Moose and I feel that Garrett understands and wants that. Romo needs that, as does any quarterback.
We have seen franchises built this way-the Indianapolis Colts come to mind with the way the handled Peyton Manning. Manning was considered a wunderkind of a quarterback who couldn’t go deep in the playoffs and if they did it was because he played exceptional. Remember the divisional playoff game against the Ravens on the Colts Super Bowl run. Manning was good but couldn’t get in the end zone and they kicked 5 field goals to win. The next week, they took control of the AFC Championship game against the Patriots on the last drive of the first half and won in a nail biter. They went on to beat the Bears and Manning is forever immortalized. Romo situation is similar. If he is great they win and he covers all the ills of the team but as the season goes on and teams begin to peak, Dallas struggles in December because they are a one man show. Any quarteback looks pedestrian when he is pressured relentlessly. I don’t care who it is or what he has done. Look at Aaron Rodgers this year against the Chiefs. Pressure is a quarterback killer. Romo is no different.
The Dallas Cowboys need to get back to playing Cowboy football. Aggressive running, a good screen game, a balanced passing attack and a stingy defense that can play tough in a base scheme. Tom Landry didn’t blitz much and Jimmie Johnson didn’t either. They both had great offensive lines, defensive lines and linebackers. Time to get to back to what works.