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Why are the Dallas Cowboys getting worse?

Tim's picture

This is not intended as a call for firing the Head Coach, but you'll be forgiven for reading it that way.

There are certain things we can examine from week to week and game to game, and assign most of the blame to specific individuals for the losses or most of the credit for the wins. But everybody can have a bad (or good) week. What I'm concerned about here is the long term trend.

In Week 8 of the 2010 season, the Cowboys put in consecutive performances against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Green Bay Packers that were so heartless, effortless and embarrassing that even the excuse of losing his starting quarterback in Week 6 was not enough to save Wade Phillips' job. The team had clearly quit on him.

Enter Jason Garrett, whose first seemingly impossible assignment was to take that listless team, led by a backup quarterback, on the road against the division rival Giants – the very team which had knocked Romo out with a broken collarbone three weeks before. As we all know, the Cowboys not only won, but dominated that game. A major change in attitude had clearly occurred. The team closed out the season 5-3, playing two games with not just the back-up, but third string developmental prospect Stephen McGee starting two games.

There was reason to be optimistic coming into 2011. The offense was on track, racking up yards and scoring points, and a new defensive coordinator was in place to fix the terrible defense that had bled points and big plays the year before. Romo, who had put together a career year in his last full season (2009) was back, and #1 pick Dez Bryant had a year of experience under his belt. A few early season losses (Jets, Lions) could soon be chalked up as exceptions, rather than the rule, as the team reeled off four straight wins, entering December with a 7-4 record, with Romo playing some of the best football of his career and a division title within the team's sight – and control.

Then the wheels came off. The Cowboys closed the season 1-5, beating only the 4-12 Buccaneers.

Now, in 2012, Garrett's second full season as Head Coach, everything seems to be going in the wrong direction.

Tony Romo is having the worst season of his career – by far. You don't have to be a Romo hater to recognize that – and you don't have to be a Romo fan to acknowledge that this is definitely NOT the "same old Romo." The numbers speak for themselves. A quarterback with the lowest career interception percentage in franchise history now leads the NFL in interceptions, and has more interceptions than touchdown passes, which he has not even come close to doing previously (the closest was 2006: 19TD, 13INT.) His passer rating is in the bottom third in the league, despite a career rating in the top five in league history. His TD percentage, at 3.2, is 40% below his career average and barely half of what it was last year. His yards per attempt are also a career low.

It could be protection, but with 13 sacks, he's been put on the ground less often than two thirds of NFL quarterbacks. There's more to protection than preventing sacks, but it's a pretty good benchmark.

What about the team's running game? Right now, Dallas ranks 29th in rushing yards, and 32d – dead last – in yards per attempt. That's down from ranks of 18 and 9, respectively, in 2011, and 16 and 15 in 2010. It's true that DeMarco Murray is injured, but at the start of the 2011 season, Felix Jones, first round pick, was the starter. He's not injured. He's just bad. What happened to the guy who averaged 4.5 and 4.3 per carry the last two seasons? Even leaving off his spectacular first two seasons, Felix is going the wrong direction.

Dez Bryant, chosen in the first round to much fanfare, was supposed to be a playmaker, and the third season is supposed to be the one where Wide Receivers, generally, begin to play to their potential. Instead, Bryant seems to be going the other direction. As a receiver, he has fewer yards per catch, fewer yards after catch, more drops, and seemingly more mental mistakes. While most fans and analysts agree that his carelessness with the ball is reason enough to pull him from punt return duty, there is an even bigger reason: he ranks 48th in the league in punt return average. He ranks second on the team, behind Dwayne Harris. In exchange for his carelessness and turnovers, he's giving the team next to nothing in terms of game-changing plays. And it is not because teams are kicking it away from him. He has already returned 12 punts, compared to 15 in the each of the last two full seasons. His 5.5 yard average is down from last year's 6.9, and well below the 14.3 he averaged his rookie year. He also scored two TDs as a rookie, something he hasn't done since.

In Garrett's first full season as Head Coach, he cut most of the veteran offensive line, a decision that was hard to fault. The 2011 season, with 4 of 5 linemen new to their positions, was a disaster. In 2012, including flipping the tackles, we once again replaced 4 of 5, and with the injury to Costa, all five are new to their positions. Is the offensive line better, in any meaningful way, than it was in 2010? Football Outsiders ranked the Dallas OL 12th in the league in 2010, 9th last year, and right now has them ranked 18th in the NFL. It's Garrett's line, and Garrett's assistant coach, and the performance is going the wrong direction.

The Dallas defense, which is playing reasonably well, ranks second to last in the league in interceptions. Last year they were 17th in interceptions, and in 2010 ranked 7th best in interceptions. Dallas has yet to score a defensive or special teams touchdown.

The core players at skill positions have not changed much, and positions that were considered weak were supposedly upgraded. Yet it seems that, across the board, the performance of this team is getting worse every year.

I don't know if it's Jason Garrett's fault. All I know is that we are two years into this thing now, and everything seems to be moving in the wrong direction.

philyew3
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OK, with news breaking that Sean Payton's contract in New Orleans has been voided already and he's a free agent at the end of the year, I'll take Payton over Garrett any day of the week, and twice on Sundays, even if he's coaching Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys.

philyew3
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Lots of good stuff there, as usual, Tim.
It's late so I'm going to keep it short. I was looking back at the archives of the old Cowboys Usenet discussion group today. Mostly at posts from the 2000 season. We were discussing about how Dallas were likely to go into the tank for 3-5 years unless Jerry Jones pulled his head out his a$$ and got someone to make sensible football, rather than financial decisions. Despite how gloomy were the prospects, it didn't occur to us then that they would be going into the tank effectively for 12 years...and counting! 
After all that, we still have the same overall problem: Jerry Jones thinks that he is a football man and can conjure up a return to the success he chanced upon when he first took over the franchise.
As I think I've said before here: the problem is that whoever coaches in Dallas, they are still going to be coaching Jerry Jones' Dallas Cowboys. That's a team with its future all behind it.
Why is it that Garrett repeatedly professes all the virtues we see as absent from this team, and yet very little seems to happen to drive them onto the field? Somewhere along the line, either (1) Garrett fails to communicate his basic message, (2) the players are too inept/stupid to translate the message into actions, or (3) Garrett simply doesn't carry enough clout to enforce his will. With all that we have seen over Jones' 24 seasons in control I think we can conclude that while 1 and 2 may be the case, 3 definitely will be.

philyew3
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