Dallas Cowboys: A Leader Away From The Super Bowl

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Dallas Cowboys: A Leader Away From The Super Bowl
(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

One of the greatest works of classical political theory was a work written by Thomas Hobbes called "The Leviathan."  Arguably, this is the single most significant literary work to grace the face of the planet since Plato took quill to parchment.

Among the multitudinous subjects Hobbes decides to touch on, the main point of the book is to justify how direly important a strong and capable leader is to any societal group. To prove this point, he examines human society in what he calls a "State of Nature," which is simply a state of humans living together without a natural power or leader to make the rules or laws that govern their existence.

Hobbes goes on to conclude that humans, regardless of race, color, gender, or age, will end up in a perpetual state of warfare because they will have no higher power to quell what Hobbes claims to be the three main causes of hostility between people:

"First, competition; secondly, diffidence (i.e. a secret inner doubt of one's own abilities); and thirdly, glory."

Now for a great majority of human history, there has rarely been an actual society without any leader or social structure to dictate societal norms and behaviors like the state Hobbes examines in his theoretical "State of Nature," which makes it very hard to examine his hypotheses in anything other then a purely theoretical discussion.

However, for the first time maybe ever, a practical and real world example of a Hobbesian State of Nature has come to pass that clearly shows the development of hostilities among humans in the same leaderless group, the very same hostilities Hobbes predicted would happen when humans congregate with no leader.

Ladies and gentleman, your 2008 Dallas Cowboys.

Football games aren't won on paper.  Everybody knows that. However, if Vegas bookies feel comfortable enough making pre-season odds on who will win the Super Bowl two months before the season, obviously the composition of a roster is a very large component in any teams' success.

With that in mind, the underachievement of the 2008 Dallas Cowboys was beyond unreasonable.  It was beyond unfathomable.  It was beyond unacceptable.

Nobody will argue the Cowboys' level of talent, and, at least on the defensive side of the ball, that talent seemed to cohesively work together to have a very productive season. They produced the NFL sack leader and Defensive Player of the Year runner up Demarcus Ware.

They finished eighth overall in the league in yards surrendered per game and fifth overall in passing yards surrendered per game. The Baltimore Ravens game aside, they gave up far fewer huge plays last season than they have in the past five seasons.

The aggregation of talent on defense for the most part held up their end of the bargain, and absolutely played well enough to propel a team into the playoffs.

This is why the buck stops here at the Cowboys' offense, which ended up being less productive than the likes of the New England Patriots (starting quarterback who hadn't started since high school), the New Orleans Saints (didn't have one healthy Pro Bowl Running back, let alone three), the Miami Dolphins (no comment necessary), and the Sage Rosenfels-led Houston Texans.

A quick look at the Cowboys' offense should drive home how ridiculous that underproduction is, as well as demonstrate how another January spent at home should be out of the question for the 2009 squad.

The Cowboys have not one, not two, but three Pro Bowl caliber running backs in Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice.

Don't think Choice is a Pro Bowl caliber player?  Ask the Steelers defense (who I hear is decent) that question, as no back in the league put up more rushing yards against the Steelers than Tashard Choice did in Pittsburgh last season.

On top of the plethora of talent at that position is the fact that all three backs are so complimentary to each other.  Marion Barber's ferocious warrior-like, between the tackles running style is complimented by the diametrically opposite style of scatback-type, get-around-the-corner-and-go game that Felix Jones plays.

Additionally, Choice is a perfect compliment to both, with better speed than Barber to accelerate around the edge for the big play, and with better size than Felix to take the ball and get meaningful bruising carries between the tackles.

Many teams could create a Super Bowl capable offense with just this talent at running back (see: The Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans). However, the Cowboys also are blessed with a ridiculous amount of talent in the passing game.

Jason Witten is arguably the best tight end in the league, and is one more injury-plagued season from Antonio Gates away from securing that marvelous mantle for good.  He rarely, if ever, drops a pass, has created superb timing with Tony Romo when working the middle of the field, and is phenomenal in the run game when blocking big defensive ends or linebackers running downhill.

To compliment him on the outside the Cowboys have Roy Williams (not to mention the phenomenal talent they had in TO last year). Admittedly, Roy Williams had an infinitesimal effect on the offense last year, but you really can't ignore the importance of timing and familiarity a quarterback has to have with his receivers to create any productive results whatsoever.

The best example of this would be timing routes, in which multiple routes are called for a receiver on a given play, and the receiver has to read the defensive rotation mid-play to decide which of the two or three called routes he will end up running.

Oh yeah, and the quarterback needs to make the same read of the defense, anticipate which of the two to three routes the receiver will end up running before he gets rid of the ball.

My favorite route to demonstrate this concept is the fade-stop.  Often offense coordinators will send big, rangy wide receivers like Roy Williams on streaks or fades up the sideline.

However, there are two defensive scenarios that dictate whether the wide out should break off that fade route to run a 10 yard curl/comeback or not. The first defensive look would be when the defense rotates a certain way that leaves a huge void between the corner back playing the flats and the safety playing the deep third of the field, like in a cover two zone.

Conversely, a cornerback playing man-to-man that is running step-for-step right on the hip of the wideout as he is running his fade route also dictates when the receiver should break that route off at about 10 yards into a curl.

This will leave the wideout to either catch the ball in the soft spot of the zone coverage, or to catch the ball after the man-to-man corner back takes three or four more steps up field before he can stop his forward momentum and turn around to recover and break up the play.

It should be evident, however, that this is the NFL, and that by no means are these reads black-or-white situations.  It is in the many plays where the defense operates in the shades of grey between those obvious reads that timing and recognition between a quarterback and wide receiver become vitally essential.

Because of the speed of the NFL game, a quarterback usually has a paltry few seconds to read the entire offense/defense, make a decision, and get the ball out of his hands.  A lot of the time, it takes the wide outs longer to run their routes than the quarterback has time to hold onto the ball.

He therefore must get rid of the ball to where he thinks the receiver will be as opposed to sitting back, waiting forever, and having the luxury to throw to where the receiver is after he has made his break.

This fact alone signifies the undeniable importance of timing and recognition between a quarterback and wide receiver.

Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison were not only ridiculously successful because of their God-given talent, but also because they were always undeniably on the same page on every pass they completed.

Because they played so long together, Manning inevitably knew what situations Harrison would break off his streak in, and what defensive looks Marvin would keep chugging up the sideline for the deep bomb.

There was no confusion or murkiness in Manning's reads of Marvin's route running choices in situations like these.

Conversely, quarterbacks who haven't established a similar report with the receivers are hurt in one of two ways.  Either they glance in the direction of the fade-stop, are unsure how the receiver in question is going to react to that particular defensive look, and will quickly look to get rid of the ball elsewhere.  That is a huge explanatory variable in Williams' lack of production last year.

If the quarterback does throw the ball that way, a misread can have disastrous consequences.

If the quarterback thinks the receiver is going to keep chugging up the sideline and throws it deep, only to have the receiver break into a curl right after he throws it, the ball sails majestically into the arms of a sideline attendant, or, more then likely, into the arms of a waiting safety.

If the quarterback thinks the receiver is going to run a curl, and throws the ball short while the receiver fails to turn around and keeps sprinting up the sideline, 9 times out of 10 that will result in an interception with an extremely large return, as the only thing standing between that cornerback on the sidelines and the endzone is the ability of the huge offensive linemen to catch him from behind as he high steps his way to glory.

These are the plays where it looks like the quarterback simply threw the ball directly to the defense, and are almost always the result of a miscommunication because the quarterback thought the receiver was going to do one thing, and the receiver did the other.

Romo had this timing down with T.O. last year, and the offense still failed miserably.  He should finally have this timing down with Roy Williams after an entire offseason of working together, making another season without a playoff win equally as disappointing and unacceptable as the last.

Now there is no doubt Tony Romo has his critics, but two playoff losses in two attempts is nowhere near a sample size large enough to condemn Tony Romo's ability to win the big game.  Romo has a unique skill set and gunslinger attitude that can absolutely win in this league, in both big games and small.

Romo's pocket presence alone is ridiculous.

He is not the speedster like Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb, but his constant awareness of defensive pressure and his Mr. Fantastic-like ability to bend and wiggle his way out of sacks gives the Cowboys three to five extra plays per game on offense that would have resulted in a sack or a throw away with any other more concrete footed quarterback.

He can throw either up top or side-armed (or even underhanded as he channels his legend Brett Favre), and this ability to release the ball at multiple angles allows him to avoid yet even more sacks/pressure in a tight situation, as he can move his arm to throw the ball over, around, or under any descending defensive pressure.

While his decision-making might need some improving, a lot of his mistakes result from an unbelievable drive to keep the play alive and moving, and, to date, more positive plays have resulted from this desire than negative plays, making his gunslinger mentality much more of an asset to the team then a detriment.

To put Romo's performance into better perspective in terms of Cowboys history, if you took Troy Aikman's three highest career single season touchdown totals (23 TD's in 1992, 19 TD's in 1997, and 17 TD's in 1999), they total to 59 total touchdowns.  And those are numbers from three whole seasons as a starter.

In a mere two and a half seasons as the Cowboys starting quarterback, Romo has thrown for 19 touchdowns in 2006, 39 touchdowns in 2007, and 26 touchdowns in 2008 for a grand total of 86 total, a smooth 27 more total touchdowns than Aikman threw....in the three best touchdown-producing years of Troy's career.

That figure above all else should demonstrate that Romo is the real deal and a force to be reckoned with, interceptions and all.

History has also shown that quarterbacks with a similar style can win Super Bowls, most notably Brett Favre, and, to some extent, Steve Young.

For all of the negative things people say about Tony Romo, they are mostly refusing the recognize the bevy of positive traits and skills he brings to the Dallas Cowboys, as the Cowboys wouldn't be a perennial playoff contender without Tony Romo at the helm.

To recap, last year the Cowboys offense had a stable of Pro Bowl Caliber Running Backs, a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, one of the best wide receivers (statistically) ever to play the game in T.O., arguably the best tight end in the game, and a Pro Bowl studded offensive line.

Yet they failed to even reach the playoffs.

This year, the Cowboys will have all of the same pieces in place (swap T.O. for a fully up-to-speed Roy Williams).  How can this team avoid the same fate as last year's group?

By finding the only thing the 2008 team was missing last year: a leader.

Strong and successful teams oftentimes find this Hobbesian Leviathan in their head coach.  Bill Belicheck or Bill Cowher are the ultimate examples of this, as they are leaders that are both respected and feared.

Wade Phillips, for all his defensive prowess, is probably respected and liked by a majority of the roster, but definitely not feared.

This is why Jerry Jones felt the need to emasculate him repeatedly in front of teammates and the media by being the final source of information on the Dallas Cowboys on any issue, to the point where he felt the need to not let any members of the coaching staff whatsoever talk to the media at all this summer.

Other great teams look to experienced and accomplish veterans to fill the same role. 

Michael Jordan on the Chicago Bulls beautifully elucidated this concept, because while he left it up to Phil Jackson to design the X's and O's, Jordan's teammates on the Bulls weren't afraid of incurring the wrath of Jackson when they made a mistake. They were terrified of Jordan, because it was Jordan that brought the hammer down before they could even get off the court to reach the relative safety of Phil Jackson's "anger."

It is now becoming apparent what any competitive team needs in a leader: both a sense of respect and a sense of fear, because those feelings will synergistically combine to translate into a team-wide desire to succeed out of both respect for the leader and out of a fear of letting the leader that unites the locker room down.

Tony Romo, for all his strengths, still hasn't been seen to become the fiery on-the-field leader of a Tom Brady or a Ben Roethlisberger, and, on the offensive side of the ball, it is very rare for anybody besides the quarterback to be able to take that leadership role that is so natural for any quarterback to step into.

Team leaders can also be found on defense in many different positions.  Ray Lewis is unquestionably the leader of the Baltimore Ravens.  Brian Dawkins fulfilled a similar role on the Philadelphia Eagles.  Brian Urlacher on the Chicago Bears.

However, Dallas' best defensive players just haven't seemed to be able to rise to command a similar amount of respect as the aforementioned gridiron defenders that have led their teams to Super Bowls.

Demarcus Ware is unquestionably the best defender on Dallas' squad.  He was a few Brett Favre-freebies away from breaking Strahan's sack record last year, but I can't remember him saying one memorable comment or taking one single motivating jab at the under-performance of his team as a whole.

Terrence Newman was probably the most vocal defensive player, but by no means could you say he commanded the attention of the team like Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher can.

Zach Thomas was the most seasoned and accomplished, but even he seemed content to sit back and let the bus swerve off the road instead of taking a stand and demanding more effort and discipline to avoid said car wreck.

Last year, the Cowboys were without a leader both on the coaching staff, and without one on the field.

They were, by all regards and definitions, the first tangible example I can remember of a Hobbesian State of Nature. 

Surprisingly enough, the ramifications of such a state that Hobbes predicted hundreds of years ago were surprisingly accurate, and most, if not all, came to pass on the 2008 Dallas Cowboys.

As Thomas Hobbes believed, without a strong and capable central leader (or "Leviathan" to use a Hobbesian terms), these causes of hostility propel man into a perpetual state of warfare due to the natural equality in both mind and body of every man in existence.

This might seem like a stretch, but, to paraphrase, Hobbes attributes the equality of strength to the fact that the weakest of men can always kill the strongest of men through either "secret machination or confederacy."

In other words, any pipsqueak can place a land mine in the entry way of any World's Strongest Man contestant's doorway, or gather up 50 other pipsqueaks to take the behemoth down by force.

He also argues that all men are more or less equally wise, because wisdom is a function of experience and time, and time is something that is bestowed roughly to all men equally.

This gives all men an equal amount of experience on this Earth, which equates to equal amounts of wisdom in Hobbes' eyes.

An equality of strength among men will lead to an equality of fear of being overtaken and a doubt in one's ability to defend himself, and he will therefore be forced to take the offensive and take out his competition before they choose to turn on him.

Therefore, because there is no leader in a State of Nature, this equality in strength and wisdom will lead any society into a perpetual state of warfare where the arts, sciences, and culture in general can never be realized.

All of the above came to fruition in the debacle that was the 2008 Dallas Cowboys' season.

The first Hobbesian qualification for a disaster in the State of Nature would be equality in strength and wisdom. 

This situation is not true on many NFL rosters given the age difference of teams simultaneously starting rookies and 10 year veterans, but this applies amazingly well to the Dallas Cowboys, who were a team of talented and accomplished veterans with similar amounts of experience who wanted the ball.

Was T.O. a better wide receiver than Marion Barber was a running back?  It's an understandably tough question to answer, but that is exactly the point.  Hobbesian equality of all members of any given societal group will eventually, given the competitive nature of man, lead to hostility and warfare.

On the 2008 Dallas Cowboys, the elephant in the room for the entire season was how to get T.O. the ball, and trying to figure out why T.O. wasn't producing at the level fans have become so accustomed to.

This leads to the second Hobbesian qualification of perpetual warfare: diffidence i.e. inner insecurities about one's own abilities to defend himself against equally matched opponents, causing him to go on the offensive before he let's himself be attacked.

On the Cowboys, concerns over T.O.'s production led to concerns that Romo was forcing the ball to Witten too much.  This led to concerns that the running backs were getting too many touches, or not enough touches depending on who you asked.  This led to finger pointing at the offensive line for committing too many penalties or messing up the pass protection schemes.

As Hobbes correctly predicted, without a leader to reign in all the fingerpointing and accusations, the 2008 Dallas Cowboys ridiculously descended into a perpetual state of warfare against each other, choosing to offensively attack other equally skilled veterans at other positions instead of focusing on making themselves better and wait to have the metaphorical finger pointed at them.

Jason Witten was unequivocally the strongest part of Dallas' offense last year.  As things started to unwind, this led to a "confederacy" of the slightly weaker producers of T.O., Roy Williams, and Patrick Crayton, who planned to address this slight inequity with "secret machinations" such as meeting with coordinator Jason Garrett to discuss Romo's possible secret meetings with Witten to work the other receivers out of the gameplan.

All of this contention was a result of the third component of perpetual warfare in a Hobbesian State of Nature: the quest for glory.

All of the Cowboys' immensely talented offensive components wanted the ball, wanted more touches, wanted to win, ultimately because of the glory inherent in all those things.

It was when this supposed glory started to slip from the horizon that what should have been a Super Bowl contending team slipped into a Hobbesian State of Nature which only a capable and respected leader could have brought them out of.

One of the most beautiful quotes from The Leviathan directly addresses why there will always be bickering for touches on a leaderless team with as much talent as the Dallas Cowboys:

"For such is the nature of men that howsoever they may acknowledge to be more witty, or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be so many as wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men's at a distance."

Marion Barber will never say T.O. is a bad receiver.  Roy Williams will never say that Jason Witten is a bad tight end.  But it is the "nature of men" to recognize the best skills in others, but refuse to admit that those skills are more effective or more productive than the very ones they themselves possess.

All the components on the roster are there.  There isn't any glaring weakness on the offensive or defensive side of the ball on this squad, as evidenced by the Cowboys being more than content to not have a draft pick until the third round this year.

However, when the alleged glory that was so prematurely bestowed upon this Cowboys squad started to falter last year, the locker room erupted into a perpetual state of warfare that didn't end until the 44-6 drubbing at the hands of the Eagles that sent them home for the season and made all the bickering and fighting 100% irrelevant.

As Hobbes so eloquently states:

"Hereby it is manifest that without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man."

The Cowboys need a leader to unite that locker room, because the NFL is by nature a perpetual state of warfare itself.  Anybody who has seen a Cowboys game in Philadelphia and had beer dumped on them or been denied access to the restroom by Eagles fans will gladly agree with this statement.

However, this needs to be a war of team vs. team, and not teammate vs. teammate.

The Cowboys have all the components in place to be great.  No longer should they be contented to watch so many teams with so much less do so much more.

However, like many of the great heroes and heroines of ancient Greek mythology confined to the depths of hell to perform tortuously redundant and repeated tasks for all of eternity, until someone in that locker room decides to step up and unite this team of warring but talented athletes, the Cowboys will be condemned to the Hell of their recliners at the end of each season, damned to watch leader after leader attain the glory they thirst for so greatly for countless Januaries to come.

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