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How the Dallas Cowboys Can Clean Up Their Mess as Quickly as Possible

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How the Dallas Cowboys Can Clean Up Their Mess as Quickly as Possible
Sharon Ellman/Associated Press

This isn't the first time the Dallas Cowboys have been somewhat of a laughingstock, and it probably won't be the last. Dysfunction is Jerry Jones' middle name, which is why few of us are surprised that Dallas has gone 8-8 in three consecutive seasons despite a roster laced with top-end talent. 

And that is why it's equally unsurprising that Jones has made a mess of his coaching staff, promoting and demoting at the speed of light while refusing to fire anybody despite such tremendously disappointing on-field results. 

I don't know if Jones listens to anybody, aside from maybe his son, Stephen, who may or may not be exacerbating the problem in Dallas. He certainly isn't listening to us, but we're still going to prepare a step-by-step plan for how this franchise can save itself and finally start living up to expectations. 

 

1. No coach should be safe

Frankly, Monte Kiffin should be gone. The Cowboys this year had the third-lowest-ranked defense in NFL history in terms of yards allowed. Yes, the unit was ravaged by injuries, but the 73-year-old's prehistoric Tampa 2 scheme just didn't get the job done. Time to start fresh. 

Same goes for Jason Garrett, who should have run out of excuses in 2013. Tony Romo is the fifth-highest-rated quarterback in NFL history, Dez Bryant is one of the game's most dominant receivers, DeMarco Murray had the highest average in the league among backs with at least 150 carries and the offensive line was much improved. How the hell do you go 8-8 again? Remember, Garrett runs this offense.

The only upside regarding the over-the-top tweaking the franchise has been guilty of is that  it now has plenty of interim head coaches and coordinator substitutes in the waiting. If the Cowboys stumble at all early, they have to be prepared to replace Garrett with either Scott Linehan or Rod Marinelli.

There are too many cooks in this kitchen, and they all should be cooking to save their jobs from day one.

 

2. Use that top pick on a pass-rusher who can contribute right now

There truly aren't a lot of holes on this team, but the pass rush simply has to be better. Dallas has no money to spend on free agents and will have enough trouble keeping Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer. That's a problem, because Hatcher and Spencer are two of the team's top three pass-rushers. 

What has happened to the Dallas pass rush?
Sacks (rank) Sack % (rank)
2011 42 (7th) 7.2 (9th)
2012 34 (20th) 6.2 (16th)
2013 34 (25th) 5.2 (31st)

Pro Football Reference

But even if the Cowboys do somehow keep both, it's time to refuel up front. Age is catching up to the 31-year-old DeMarcus Ware, whose numbers have plummeted of late, and Hatcher and Spencer are also on the wrong side of 30. 

You can't have too many good pass-rushers, especially with the passing offenses in the NFC East, and Dallas has to assume at this point that some of its veterans are going to break down at various points. With that in mind, there's no way it makes sense to use the 16th or 17th overall pick* on anyone who can't bring down the quarterback right from the moment he arrives as a rookie. 

The Cowboys have the puzzle pieces in place elsewhere on offense and defense. They paid Romo huge bucks last year, and they've got Murray, Bryant and Terrance Williams. They used their top pick in 2013 on a center to shore up the line, and Tyron Smith is a stud. They can't give up on Morris Claiborne yet, based on what they invested in him. Same goes for Brandon Carr. Barry Church is solid, and Sean Lee and Bruce Carter will start once again in 2014. 

Could they use reinforcements in the secondary and linebacking corps? Sure, but they can mask all of those defensive deficiencies if they can get the pass rush back to where it was when the Cowboys had the seventh-most sacks in football in 2011. 

*At the NFL Scouting Combine, a coin flip will determine whether Dallas or the Baltimore Ravens get the No. 16 overall pick. 

 

3. Find some balance on offense

Garrett has said time and again that he intends to run the ball more, but he's never delivered on those promises. Dallas' offense is lopsided, and it seems as though that won't change until Garrett is gone. 

Teams that have run fewer than 26.5X per game since '07
Yards/attempt NFL YPA rank
1. Dallas Cowboys 4.3 11th
2. Tampa Bay Bucs 4.2 17th
3. New Orleans Saints 4.2 18th
4. Green Bay Packers 4.1 21st
5. St. Louis Rams 4.1 23rd
6. Detroit Lions 4.0 24th
7. Cleveland Browns 4.0 27th
8. Indianapolis Colts 3.8 30th
9. Arizona Cardinals 3.8 32nd

Pro Football Reference

He has a history and shares a philosophy with new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan, but that, along with Linehan's very title, suggests that the former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator won't exactly influence Garrett to run the ball more often. 

Linehan, who also loves to chuck it, will be calling the plays rather than offensive line coach Bill Callahan. If the team didn't run enough under Callahan, there's no reason to believe that'll change with Linehan and Garrett holding trump cards. 

But if the Cowboys are going to turn a corner, they'll have to understand that they've been putting undue pressure on Romo and the offensive line. Murray is underutilized and the offense has become too predictable. It's that simple.

Here, an epiphany may be required. 

 

4. Spend money on sports science and the training staff

The Cowboys are one of three NFL teams that have been hit harder than everybody else in the league by injuries the last two years. The Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts have been hit just as hard and have fared quite a lot better, so that's not an absolute excuse, but the point is that life would be a hell of a lot easier if not for all of those injuries, especially on defense. 

Most games missed by starters, 2012-2013
Team Total Record Playoff appearances
1. Green Bay Packers 153 19-12 2
2. Indianapolis Colts 149 22-10 2
3. Dallas Cowboys 133 16-16 0
4. New York Giants 129 16-16 0
5. Carolina Panthers 122 19-13 1
6. Jacksonville Jaguars 118 6-26 0
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 118 11-21 0
8. Arizona Cardinals 116 15-17 0
9. Detroit Lions 110 11-21 0
10. Denver Broncos 105 26-6 2

Pro Football Reference/Dallas Morning News

It's been suggested that the Cowboys might practice too long and hard during the regular season. An abnormal amount of hamstring injuries could point to that. 

Guys like Murray, Ware, Lee and Claiborne are so crucial to this team's success, but there's little evidence that they can stay on the field enough to carry the Cowboys to the playoffs. Sure, age is a factor for Ware, but how do you explain what has happened to the rest of them? And don't forget Carter and Miles Austin in that analysis either. 

The Cowboys have to take a close look at their division rivals in Philadelphia. The Eagles were one of the healthiest teams in football all year, losing zero players to injured reserve during the 2013 regular season and only one starter all year. Chip Kelly's sports science regimen has been lauded in the City of Brotherly Love, but this is a copycat league.

Dallas has to invest in sports science and should spend some money on consultation regarding its training habits in order to cut down on injuries. It could be a game-changer. 

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