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As expected, much of the talk this week centered on what was wrong with Tony Romo’s head.
Other talk focused on the Dallas defense. Many thought the Tennessee Titans would repeat their efforts from their week 1 win over Kansas City and give the Cowboys all sorts of trouble.
(Admittedly, I thought the Cowboys would struggle.)
Instead, Dallas ran the ball 43 times and won the time of possession 41:11 to 18:49.
The last time the Cowboys ran the ball at least 43 times was 2010 in an overtime win over Indianapolis. The time before that was in 2005. Sunday’s game at Tennessee marked just the tenth time since 2000 that the Cowboys have run the ball at least 43 times.
Their record in those games: 9-1, including the Cowboys’ 26-10 win over the Titans.
DeMarco Murray has looked dominant in two games, despite losing two fumbles in those games. He rushed 29 times for 167 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.
The last Dallas player with at least 29 attempts? Julius Jones in 2005.
Murray’s previous high in rushing attempts was 26 in a 31-7 win over the Rams in 2013.
Murray now has 285 rushing yards. Until now, no Dallas runner ever had as many as 285 yards after two games. The previous high after two weeks was 277, set by Emmitt Smith in 1995.
At this rate, Murray would finish the season with 2,280 yards. Let’s not go overboard with these stats, but he’s looking like an elite back.
The Dallas defense held the Titans to 314 total yards. The Cowboys also had two interceptions, including a great pick by linebacker Rolando McClain.
This marked just the sixth time during the Jason Garrett era where the Cowboys have won by 16 or more points. The Cowboys managed just one win by that margin last year and did not win any times in 2012 by that margin.
The Cowboys and Redskins are now 1-1. The Giants fell to 0-2. The Eagles face the Colts on Monday night.
I planned to write a long post about my lack of faith in Jason Garrett. I’ll just leave it at that, though.
Instead, we’ll have some fun with Ranker. Here is a list of the team’s worst 10 losses since he took over in November 2010.
In the weekly What-If Wednesday posts, we review some event (draft, game, or whatever) and consider what might have happened if history had been different. This week’s post focuses on Mike Shanahan, who became available as a head coach after the 2008 season.
In real life…
The Dallas Cowboys were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders in 2008. The team had gone 13-3 in 2007 before losing to the eventual champion Giants in the playoffs. The team a deep pool of talent in 2008, and many predicted the Cowboys would take the next step in their evolution.
Some fans and some in the media called on Jerry Jones to fire Wade Phillips after the playoff loss in 2007 because he had allowed players to vacation during the off week.
When the ’08 Cowboys lost 44-6 to the Eagles in the final week of the season and missed the playoffs, few could believe that Phillips would return. And when Mike Shanahan was fired as the Broncos head coach, many thought Jerry Jones should fire Wade and bring in Shanahan.
Instead, Shanahan took a year off before becoming head coach of the Redskins.
What if the Cowboys had fired Phillips after the 2008 season and hired Shanahan?
The argument in favor of hiring Shanahan was that the team needed a high-profile coach to coach the high-profile Pro Bowl players. Shanahan had won two Super Bowl titles in Denver, so it stands to reason that he would repeat his success in Dallas. Right?
1. The Cowboys under Shanahan would have no better success in finding and developing talent.
Between 1996 and 2005, Shanahan had great success, including two Super Bowl titles and seven playoff appearances.
Between 2006 and 2008, the team had no playoff appearances. The team had some talent with quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall, and the likes of Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil, but to the extent Shanahan was involved with personnel decisions, the team was not improving its talent significantly in the last few years.
The Cowboys still had talent in 2009, but several key players were starting to age. The team needed to rebuild its line, find new skills players, and so forth.
It’s hard to believe that Jerry would give up the right to make personnel decisions, so Shanahan likely would just had a voice. And unless his voice made the Cowboys change their draft strategy in 2009, the results probably would have been the same.
2. Shanahan’s magic would not rekindle in Dallas.
The Broncos fired Shanahan after the team started the 2008 season at 8-5 but lost the final three to finish at 8-8. The Broncos missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
So the Cowboys were going to solve their annual December woes by hiring the coach of a team that had blown its playoff chances by losing three straight?
A big part of the reasoning behind hiring someone like Shanahan is that a coach who has been to the top before will know how to get there again. And, to be sure, managers in baseball, coaches in basketball, and even coaches in college football have been able to repeat success elsewhere.
For whatever reason, that has rarely happened in the NFL. No head coach has won a Super Bowl with multiple teams.
Sure, Shanahan’s Redskins beat the Cowboys to make the playoffs in 2012. His record in the other seasons in Washington, though, is 12-24, and he has made a number of questionable decisions during his tenure.
3. The Rams would have hired Jason Garrett has head coach and fired him three years later.
Jason Garrett nearly left the Cowboys after the 2008 season to become the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Instead, he stayed in Dallas and eventually became head coach.
The Rams were a mess in 2009, finishing at 1-15.
Garrett is smart, but Garrett would not fix that mess. He would have been back on the street after the 2011 season.
4. The Cowboys would have another head coach by now—Jason Garrett.
It is entirely possible that that Jerry would have grown tired of 8-8 seasons under Shanahan had fired him after the third season in 2011.
In hunting for a new coach, Jerry turns to…
Jason Garrett, who was recently fired as head coach of the Rams in our alternative universe.
Tony Romo is currently on pace to set personal records for attempts, completions, and yards (and, um, interceptions) in a season. It is generally well-known, though, that putting the ball in Romo’s hands usually isn’t a good answer for the Cowboys.
The reason why Romo’s stats are up across the board? This Dallas rushing “attack” may be the worst in team history. Yes, much of this is because DeMarco Murray has been injured, but the incompetence is beyond ridiculous.
Dallas currently has 667 rushing yards, for an average of 83.4 per game. That ranks 29th in the pass-happy NFL of today.
At this rate, the Cowboys would finish with 1,334 rushing yards and 8 TDs.
Now consider these forgettable seasons:
1960: Dallas infamously finished with a record of 0-11-1.
That’s an average of 87.4 yards per game, which is better than what Murray, Felix Jones, and company have managed so far.
1989: Dallas infamously finished with a record of 1-15.
The Cowboys traded Herschel Walker after five games and were left with Paul Palmer and pre-Moose-hype Daryl Johnston. The team finished with 1,409 rushing yards.
Of course, that’s better than the 2012 team would have at the current pace.
2010: Dallas started with a 1-7 record before finishing at 6-10.
Dallas has had similar problems running the ball in the recent past. Remember 2010? That was the year that the team started 1-7, leading Jerry Jones to fire Wade Phillips.
The offensive coordinator during those first eight games was Jason Garrett. The rushing stats during those eight games:
605 yards. 2 TDs.
It’s worth noting that the 2010 Cowboys ran the ball considerably better in the second eight games, gaining at least 100 yards in each of those games. The 2012 Cowboys have managed to reach the century mark as a team in only two games. The exact stats may not matter, but the ground game had better improve if this team wants to finish better than 6-10.
Many fans would think that these moves, as well as free agent signings, would mean that things are looking up for the Cowboys in the near future. However, a recent article on ESPN ranked the Cowboys at #14 in terms of the team’s outlook for 2015.
Dallas has just the third highest ranking in the NFC East and ninth overall ranking in the NFC. The team trails both the Eagles and the Giants and even comes in behind the Panthers and Falcons.
The article broke down the rankings into five categories, including roster, quarterback, draft, front office, and coaching. Here is a complete description of the ranking.
Dallas wasn’t bad in terms of QB or coaching, but the team took a hit for its front office and draft. The summary is as follows:
Roster: Age is a concern. And unless they do a good job in free agency and the draft, the talent level will drop off in the next couple of years. They should remain fairly young at WR and RB, and they seem to be rebuilding their offensive line. Defensively, they are not very young and their best playmaker of the future will be rookie CB Morris Claiborne, but a lot of replacements are needed.
Quarterback: Tony Romo is perhaps the NFL’s most underrated QB. Given protection, he’ll put up big numbers, period. Romo can play hurt, but adding Kyle Orton to the roster gives Dallas one of the NFL’s best QB situations.
Draft: The Jerry Jones-led war room has an unpredictable streak, but the Cowboys’ great need picks — in T Tyron Smith and Claiborne in back-to-back years — tells me they may have toned it down. The 2009 draft was bad, but they’ve had good results since.
Front office: Jones may be the most involved owner in the NFL, in terms of player personnel, and every decision goes through him. Although his son, Stephen, continues to take a bigger role in day to day operations. Scouting director Tom Ciskowski is a blue-collar, well-respected guy. They will do whatever it takes to attract players in free agency and aggressively upgrade their roster.
Coaching: Not always a real patient organization under Jones, the Cowboys’ expectations are so high that if success isn’t immediate there can be turnover. However, because this is such a high-profile team with a chance to win every year, they also attract the top coaches in the business and you get the feeling that things have stabilized now that coach Jason Garrett is more comfortable and he has two big-time coordinators, Bill Callahan (offense) and Rob Ryan (defense). The group in Dallas may stay together for a while … if they succeed in the present.
Most of these are fair assessments. Two good drafts do not erase several bad drafts, so the team will have to continue to improve in that area. It would be nice if Jerry would get out of the way, but nobody really believes that will happen.
One gripe about this piece is the suggestion that the roster is old. The Cowboys had three starters over the age of 30 in 2012 (Romo, Kyle Kosier, and Montrae Holland). Two of those three (both guards) are gone. Jason Witten has turned 30, but the other players are also quite young.
On defense, the best players are DeMarcus Ware (turns 30 in July), Jay Ratliff (turns 31 in August), and Sean Lee (25). Terence Newman and Abram Elam are gone, and the team will have entire secondary of players who are under 30. The team will need to replace its safeties and some of its defensive linemen, but that is because those positions require upgrades and not so much because of age.
By 2015, there will be concerns about some of these ages, but the future of the team will likely hinge on the development of Lee, Dez Bryant, Mo Claiborne, and so forth.
When a team talks about a window of opportunity, it is usually in the context of a team that has fallen short in the playoffs. For instance, the Baltimore Ravens might talk about their window of opportunity after reaching the AFC title game in two of the last four seasons and coming within a dropped pass of going to the Super Bowl last year.
When a team has done what the Cowboys have done, there isn’t much of a basis to say that a window has been open, let alone to say that it has begun to close.
Let’s put it this way: would anyone dare say that the Cincinnati Bengals have recently had a window of opportunity to win a title? No. What have the Bengals done recently? They have had two winning seasons in the last three years, and two playoff appearances in the past seven.
The Cowboys? They have won one more game than the Bengals in the past two years and have not had a winning record since 2009. Dallas has been to the playoffs three times in the past eight years.
Well, my window is getting shorter. Time goes by. I do feel real pressure because we do have players not only in Tony Romo, but Jason Witten (and) DeMarcus Ware, to leave out several that are (also) in the prime of their career. And we need to strike and strike soon with those guys.
(Coach) Jason Garrett feels exactly the same way about it and understands how urgent it is. Candidly, you’re looking through rose-colored glasses if we all don’t realize that now is the time to compete on the field.
This is a team that has taken steps in the right direction. It has become younger overall and has some exciting young talent. That is reason for optimism.
But this is also a team with a bunch of holes, including question marks on the offensive line, wide receiver, and safety. And as good as Romo, Witten, and Ware have been, they have not helped this team win more than a single playoff game, let alone three or four in a row in the same season. Realistically, this team looks like it could be a solid contender as early as 2013, but there are too many question marks to expect too much in 2012.
Fox’s Matt Mosley wrote:
Other than Wade Phillips’ 2007 campaign with a lot of Bill Parcells carryovers, it’s been years since the Cowboys could reasonably expect to make noise in the playoffs. Now, Jones is forced to roll out the tired rally cry of how the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants were able to win Super Bowls after 9-7 records in the regular season. Of course, those teams actually built momentum down the stretch and remained hot in the postseason. The Cowboys seem to peak in October and then slump when the stakes become higher.
Exactly. And my point here is not that this team doesn’t have potential or even that I am unhappy with the moves made this offseason. However, “moving in the right direction” and “urgently need to win right now” don’t seem to be very comparable.
As for Jerry, this seems to be just more proof that he is a bigger part of the problem than he is a key to any solution.
Yesterday, it looked as if the St. Louis Rams were going to hire Jason Garrett to be their head coach. Today, however, stories revealed that the job would go to Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo. In all likelihood, Garrett will remain in Dallas.
I indicated in a post yesterday that I would list the offensive coordinators in team history. There have been more coaches who have held that title than has been the case on the defensive side of the ball, but the various coordinators have had different roles. None of the coordinators under Tom Landry had exclusive playcalling responsibilities, whereas all of the coordinators under Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer called the plays. Head coach Chan Gailey was the offensive coordinator, but coach Dave Campo had little to do with the offense. The coordinators under Bill Parcells shared playcalling and game-planning duties with others, while Garrett has called all the shots under Wade Phillips.
Here is a list of the team’s coordinators:
Tom Landry, Head Coach, 1960-1988
Landry devisted the multiple offense, and he retained responsibility over the offense for nearly all of his 29 years as head coach. The irony that most people note is that he was hired as a defensive expert but quickly developed into an offensive mastermind. It is not surprising that he was a capable offensive coach, though, given that he had a background as a quarterback and that he was in the best position to counter the 4-3 defense that he designed.
Jim Myers: Offensive Line (1962-72); Offensive Coordinator (1973-74); Offensive Coodinator/Offensive Line (1975-76); Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line (1977-86)
Myers was the former coach at Iowa State and Texas A&M when he was hired by Dallas in 1962. He held the title of offensive coordinator, but his primary responsibility with Dallas was as offensive line coach and not as playcaller.
Dan Reeves: Offensive Backfield (1970-72, 1975); Special Teams (1974); Quarterbacks/Receivers (1976); Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Backs (1977-79); Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks/Receivers (1980)
Reeves focused on several positions during his time as an assistant with Dallas. Like Myers, however, Reeves never had playcalling duties with the Cowboys. On the other hand, he did install the Cowboys’ offensive system when he arrived in Denver in 1981.
Paul Hackett: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks/Receivers (1986); Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks (1987-88)
The Cowboys hired Hackett in 1986 to inject some new life into the team’s offense. This move was not initiated by Landry, who resisted the new offensive coach. Dallas had a little bit of success with the playcalling team of Landry and Hackett, but after the team’s collapse in 1986, Landry resumed control the offensive playcalling.
Dave Shula: Offensive Coordinator (1989); Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks (1990)
The first offensive coodinator under Jimmy Johnson was Dave Shula, son of legendary coach Don Shula. The move was a disaster as the Cowboys finished near the bottom in yards gained and points scored in both 1989 and 1990.
Norv Turner: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks (1991-93)
In three seasons with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, Dallas improved from the worst offense in the league to an offense ranked in the top five in most categories. It helped, of course, that the team’s talent got progressively better.
Ernie Zampese: Offensive Coordinator (1994-97)
Zampese was formerly with the Los Angeles Rams when he took over for Turner after the 1993 season. Little changed in the offensive philosophy between the Turner and Zampese eras, but the talent level started to decline after the 1995 season. By 1997, the offense needed a change in direction, leading to Zampese’s dismissal.
Chan Gailey: Head Coach (1998-1999)
Gailey assumed the role as both head coach and offensive coordinator when he arrived in 1998. He completely changed the offensive philosophy in Dallas, including the blocking scheme, and for the most part the transition was successful. Emmitt Smith had a resurgence in 1998, and the team improved from 6-10 in 1997 to 10-6 in 1998. Dallas started well in 1999, winning the first three games. However, an injury to Michael Irvin ended his career, and Gailey’s offense struggled for the rest of the season.
Jack Reilly: Quarterbacks (1997); Offensive Coordinator (2000-01)
With the success of the Rams’ timing-based offense in 1999, the Cowboys decided to reinstall a form of the offense that had been in place for most of the 1990s. It failed. Troy Aikman was but a shell of his former self, and the experiment of using Joey Galloway and Rocket Ismail blew up when Galloway was hurt during the first game of the season. Reilly remained as coordinator in 2001, but that season was also a failure.
Bruce Coslet: Offensive Coordinator (2002)
The Cowboys decided to install a West Coast offense in 2002 to take advantage of Quincy Carter’s skills. Former Cincinnati head coach Bruce Coslet was brought in to install the offense, but that season was largely a disaster. Carter was benched, and the team could only manage two wins in the final nine games unded Chad Hutchinson.
Maurice Carthon: Offensive Coordinator (2003-04)
When Bill Parcells arrived, he brought with him former Giant fullback Maurice Carthon to serve as offensive coordinator. Offensive playcalling duties were divided among several coaches, so it was difficult to tell how much Carthon was responsible for the improvements on offense in 2003 or the struggles in 2004. Carthon left in 2005 to become the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator.
Sean Payton: Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks (2003-04); Assistant Head Coach/Passing Game Coordinator (2005)
Payton never had the title of offensive coordinator per se, but he was the passing game coordinator for one season. He was a behind-the-scenes guy under Bill Parcells, but his talents as an offensive mind showed later when he was the head coach in New Orleans.
Tony Sparano: Tight Ends (2003-04); Running Game Coordinator/Offensive Line (2005); Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line/Running Game (2006); Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line (2007)
Like Payton, Sparano never had the offensive coordinator title, but he was heavily responsible for game-planning in 2005 and 2006. And like Payton, Sparano showed his talents when he moved on to become head coach of the Dolphins in 2008.
Jason Garrett: Offensive Coordinator (2007-present)
Even before the Cowboys hired Wade Phillips as head coach, Jerry Jones brought Jason Garrett in to run the offense. Garrett looked like like a genius in 2007, leading to offers for him to become a head coach. However, the Dallas offense struggled in 2008, and many blamed Garrett’s scheme and playcalling for the problems. Garrett interviewed for positions in Detroit, Denver, and St. Louis during the current offseason, but those jobs went to others.
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