Every season, it's the same story for the Dallas Cowboys. They have a bevy of talent on paper, but they are always less impressive than the sum of their parts and keep failing to meet expectations.
A tremendous collapse against the Matt Flynn-led Green Bay Packers served as a convenient reminder that the most atrocious piece of the Cowboys puzzle is their ridiculously inept coaching and leadership.
Up 26-3 at the end of the first half, the Cowboys ended up losing 37-36 to a Packers team that couldn't seem to trip over themselves without scoring a touchdown in the second half. For the Cowboys, who have dangerous running back DeMarco Murray, the running game was almost entirely abandoned—even against a defense coming in ranked 25th against the run.
It Isn't All Romo's Fault
As is entirely fitting for narrative-loving fans and media, a late interception by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo iced the game. We can all go back to calling him a December choker, right?
Well, maybe not.
Romo on second INT - Cole cut his route off and I thought he was going to carry it out. @wfaasports— Joe Trahan (@JoeTrahan) December 16, 2013
Bleacher Report's own Brad Gagnon recently took a look at Romo's numbers in December, and the result wasn't what many people would suspect. Since 2009, Romo is top five among all quarterbacks in completion percentage (65.8), touchdown-to-interception ratio (24-7), yards per attempt (8.1) and passer rating (103.5).
Gagnon also referenced ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon, who pointed out that Romo in December is about as clutch as a fat old elf in a big red suit:
Here is the entire list of quarterbacks who have a better December passer rating than Romo since 2009: Aaron Rodgers. That's it.
Yet the Cowboys are only 6-7 in December games started by Romo in that span. Sorry, but it's pretty silly to point the finger at the franchise quarterback with a 106.3 passer rating in those games. To put that rating in perspective, it's more than 10 points better than his norm, which ranks fifth in NFL history.
So seriously, it's not all Romo's fault. We remember the horrific interceptions and the game's ending with that famous look of bewilderment in his eyes, but we don't remember the times he does exactly what he's supposed to do.
Pro Football Reference tracks both fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. In those categories—you know, the things people say that Romo never does—Romo ranks sixth and eighth, respectively, among all active quarterbacks. In the entire history of the NFL, he ranks 23rd and 39th.
Things could be worse.
Romo might not be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, and he'll probably never be, but the narrative that he's the beginning, middle and end of all of the Cowboys' problems is just foolishness. He's a more-than-effective quarterback who is continually near the top of the NFL in any key category that one could ask of him.
Just because the buck usually has to stop with quarterbacks in the NFL doesn't mean it has to be Romo's fault.
The Cowboys' Troubles—Both Long- and Short-Term—Start at the Top
Spoiler alert: The Cowboys suck because Jerry Jones is a terrible owner.
Sorry for sugarcoating that so much, but come on, we're past the point where this is even up for debate. He and his son—Stephen Jones, the executive vice president—have run this team into the ground in epic fashion. They run it like their own personal fantasy team, with little idea of what it takes to actually construct the foundations of a winning franchise.
Just look at the coaching staff Jones has assembled. We'll talk more about these guys later, but head coach Jason Garrett, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin are all guys who peaked years ago—some more than others. Their schemes are less innovative and more ineffective. They are too predictable and old hat to be of much use.
Kiffin is still running much of the same schemes that he's been running in both college and the pros since most players were in high school. Do they even need to do film study anymore, or is scouting the Cowboys defense like playing your little brother in Madden? From the numbers, the latter seems pretty likely.
Yet the Cowboys are anathema when it comes to the the hottest of coaching and coordinator candidates. Because Jones seems to have no idea how a salary cap works, the Cowboys aren't players for quality free agents. Even if they were, would top players really want anything to do with a team that hasn't been going anywhere in years?
Regardless, Jones is more than willing to give himself a vote of confidence, via Charean Williams of the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
The facts are that I really do think the way things have rolled out that I’m getting to do some of the best work that I’ve done, relatively speaking, in my career of these last several years.
Who am I going to believe, you or my lying eyes?
Seriously, Jones can say whatever he wants, but he's done a terrible job, and the fact he can't realize that is damning for the Cowboys as long as he keeps on deluding himself. If Cowboys fans want to know how this is going to work out, just ask Oakland Raiders fans about the last decade with Al Davis, because things are starting to look almost identical.
Pick your poison: Do you want to blame the offensive coaching or the defensive coaching for this latest loss?
No, again, you can't just pick Romo.
My initial gut reaction is to always blame the Cowboys defense. It's ranked 32nd in the league against the pass and had a matchup against the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers that should've been a cakewalk. For much of the game, in fact, it was.
Remember that whole "up by a ton at half" thing we talked about?
So, the question is: Did Kiffin make as many (or as effective) halftime adjustments as Packers head coach and offensive guru Mike McCarthy?
Here's your answer:
If you're wondering exactly what that is, it's a stark reminder that Kiffin probably spent more time at the half Skyping with his grandkids or taking his fiber supplements than scheming to win a ballgame. The Packers scored a touchdown on every possession in the second half.
Every single possession ... Flynn at quarterback ... Yuck!
How do you not stop the Packers even once? Yeah, the personnel isn't exactly top notch—again, that's Jones' fault—but they aren't getting any better either. That's Kiffin's fault. (Remember, though, the fact that Kiffin has a job is also Jones' fault.)
Then again, let's ask this question from a different angle. How in the world did the Packers even have five attempts to score touchdowns in the second half?
"Bill calls the plays," Jason Garrett on the playcalling at the end of the game. #leadership— Newy Scruggs (@newyscruggs) December 16, 2013
Think back to Thursday Night Football as the San Diego Chargers iced the game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Chargers ran bread-and-butter rushing plays and kept the ball out of Manning's hands. It wasn't anything special. It certainly wasn't because Ryan Mathews is some all-world back. No, it was simply taking advantage of a defense that was having trouble stopping the rush.
That's a problem the Packers always have. So, what did Callahan and the offense do?
Who is most at fault for the Cowboys' long-term lack of success?
Murray only had 18 rushing attempts overall and only seven in the second half. The Cowboys had two second-half drives last under two minutes and two interceptions when they had no business throwing the football.
For the Cowboys fans reading this, that should inspire absolute anger in the pit of your belly. If any Nebraska football fans are around, they are probably just shaking their heads. Callahan completely failed as a Cornhusker head coach because he had no idea how to flip from the pass to the run page of his playbook.
It's all of the boring drudgery of the West Coast offense, without the personnel or innovating play-calling to make it work.
But Jones doesn't really seem to be worried. He has his own personal relationship with Garrett and his family, so the head coach doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Kiffin was lauded as a fantastic hire before the season and will likely get more time to install (read: ruin) this defense. Callahan looks like the most likely scapegoat, but come on, does it really matter?
This team is flawed from the very core, and the architects can't stop patting themselves on the back long enough to realize the foundations are crumbling.
Blame Romo if you want, but he's not even close to the biggest problem in Dallas.