Assigning Blame for Dallas Cowboys' Disastrous Season
The Dallas Cowboys are back to .500 and their playoff hopes have a flicker of life. All they have to do now is win the rest of their games, get a little help from other teams and they’ll be NFC East champions.
That’s as positive as I’m going to get.
With four games left to play, an offense that’s prone to mistakes and a defense that’s on IR, we can officially say that the 2012 season is a disaster. It’s more than likely that the Cowboys are on their way to missing the playoffs for a third straight year.
The question is why are they so bad? It’s not as if they don’t have a talented team.
Who’s to blame for this mess?
The Offensive Line Has Been Offensive
The Cowboys are becoming easier and easier to game plan for. It’s quite simple, just blitz the right tackle. If you don’t get to the quarterback, you’ll at least move the offense back 10 yards.
How many times have you heard “holding, offense: No. 68”? Doug Free has been penalized a league-high 14 times. It’s becoming obvious that he can’t block without holding.
And even when he cheats he still gives up pressure.
The pocket is constantly collapsing on Tony Romo. Rarely does he get a clean snap and time to make his reads. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, there isn’t a QB in the league—especially on who isn't mobile—who wouldn’t struggle with this offense, behind this OL.
Cowboys’ fans should be very thankful that they have a guy who can scramble and create plays. He is the only reason the ‘Boys still have a fleeting chance of making the playoffs.
And it’s not all on Free. Phil Costa, when healthy, has had his problems with the most routine play in football: the snap. This was a major concern early in the season when we saw snaps flying over Romo’s head.
The injury to Costa caused them to lose a seventh-round pick so that they could acquire Ryan Cook. Cook played well until he also got injured, forcing right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau into playing center. Bernadeau did an okay job considering the situation. He’s done a less than stellar job playing the position he's paid to play. According to Pro Football Focus, of the 49 guards who have played at least 60 percent of their teams snaps Bernadeau currently ranks 39th.
You don’t need me to tell you that mediocrity at the line of scrimmage begats a mediocre offense. The stats are there to prove it, with the Cowboys ranking 15th in points scored.
The offensive line is this team’s biggest weakness and they deserve a lot of blame.
Rob Ryan’s Play-Calling
The Cowboys’ defense hasn’t been great and we give them a little bit of slack due to the staggering amount of injuries that have piled up.
You can’t expect any team to be good when they lose both inside linebackers, a starting safety and are constantly having to plug and play linemen.
Still, you have to question some of the packages Ryan has been running. Where is the pressure? Why does he think two down linemen and four linebackers is a good combination? Why is the best pass-rusher dropping into coverage? How did the Dallas' defense allow Philadelphia to amass 423 yards when the Eagles played a rookie quarterback and were without DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy?
We finally have a collection of cornerbacks who, on paper, are supposed to be great in coverage. Why not blitz a little more and let Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne take advantage of forced throws? And why not use some press coverage? Are they not capable of jamming receivers?
Perhaps I’m clouded by my own expectations. Perhaps the bigger picture is playing consistent defense and not giving up the big plays like they did last year. I’m all for that. But I expected this defense to have a little more swagger. I expected them to create some opportunities for the offense.
And that just hasn’t happened.
Knowing when to use timeouts and when to keep them is a football fundamental that seems to elude the Dallas Cowboys.
Anyone that’s played even a little bit of Madden NFL learns right away the importance of clock management and how the misuse of it leads to losses.
We all remember the disaster that happened in the desert last year when Jason Garrett iced his own kicker (via nfl.com). But the problem with that situation is Romo’s decision to rush up to the line and spike the ball, despite having two timeouts left. He, or Garrett, should have used a timeout. Doing so would have left them with 25 seconds and an opportunity to get their kicker closer. Instead, they missed a long field goal and lost the game in overtime.
A similar thing happened this year on the road against the Baltimore Ravens.
Down by two points, the Cowboys had 26 seconds and the ball on Baltimore’s 31-yard line. Romo completed a quick slant pass to Dez Bryant, who was immediately tackled at the line of scrimmage. Instead of using their last timeout and calling another play to get their kicker a better shot, the Cowboys, in a fit of confusion, allowed the clock to run all the way down. They missed the long field goal and lost the game.
Even in the win over the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, Dallas still managed to display its ineptitude at clock management.
With a 1st-and-goal and only 45 seconds left in the half, Garrett decided to call a timeout. The Cowboys scored a touchdown on the next play. That allowed the Eagles enough time to move down the field and kick a field goal. Had Garrett not called a timeout the Cowboys could have soaked up the rest of the clock, and the Eagles couldn’t have scored. Keep in mind that the Cowboys were losing at this point.
That particular field goal ultimately didn’t matter as the Eagles never really stood a chance. (Seriously, when was the last time the Cowboys were favored by 10.5?) But the missed field goal against the Arizona Cardinals last year caused them to miss the playoffs. And had they not missed the field goal in Baltimore this year they’d be tied with the New York Giants for first place right now.
The General Manager
I learned a long time ago that if a business is failing it is usually the manager’s fault.
That’s not the case with the Cowboys, as their business is definitely not failing. According to research done by Forbes they are tied with the New York Yankees as the third most valuable sports franchise in the world.
But in the NFL there is a big difference between a successful business and a successful team.
Jerry Jones has had success. And he's deserving of some credit—three Super Bowls in four years is nearly unprecedented, and only six other teams in the history of the NFL have had back-to-back Super Bowl wins such as the Cowboys had in 1992 and 1993.
Unfortunately, in the 16 years since their last Super Bowl, they have won only one playoff game. How does a team go from being perennial contenders to nearly irrelevant?
It’s become quite apparent that Jones isn’t good at scouting talent and is even worse at buying talent.
In 2000 he traded two first-round picks to the Seattle Seahawks for wide receiver Joey Galloway. With those picks Seattle drafted running back Shaun Alexander in 2000 and guard Steve Hutchison in 2001. Alexander went on to three Pro Bowls and was the rushing leader in 2004 and 2005.
Hutchison went on to seven Pro Bowls and is regarded as one of the best guards of all time.
Galloway tore his ACL and never again returned to relevance.
History repeated itself in 2008 when Jones traded a first-round and a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions for wide receiver Roy Williams and then signed him to a $54 million contract. In 40 games, Williams managed only 1,324 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to pinpoint two situations that went horribly wrong and use them as evidence that Jones is the reason this team hasn’t been successful in nearly two decades. But perhaps the fact that it took six quarterbacks before the Cowboys would finally win another playoff game is sufficient.
And it’s worth mentioning that had it not been for Bill Parcells, Jones wouldn’t even have Tony Romo. Who knows where this team would be if not for No. 9.
Those types of personnel decisions can cripple a franchise for years (see the Oakland Raiders).
It’s not necessarily all about scouting the proper talent either. It’s about not overpaying for unproven talent. Coming into this season the Cowboys had $12.8 million in dead cap space thanks to contracts given to players like Terence Newman, Marion Barber and Leonard Davis. Going into 2013 they’ll face a similar situation and will have to be creative to meet the salary cap.
It’s unfortunate how the Cowboys problems seem to circle each other. For example, Doug Free who has seemingly forgotten how to play football will make $11.2 million in 2013. That’s a major cap hit for a guy that’s costing his team wins. What’s makes the situation worse is that even if the Cowboys were to cut Free, they’d still owe him $8.3 million in guaranteed money (which was paid up front but is amortized out over the life of the contract).
So not only does Jones not have an eye for talent, he doesn’t know how to work a salary cap. And yet he absolutely refuses to hire a general manager to assist him. It’s a shame that the Cowboys biggest problem is the only one that can’t be fixed.