4 Reasons the Cowboys Won't Win the NFC East
Could the Dallas Cowboys win the NFC East in 2014? Of course. So could the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and New York Giants. It’s not like these are peewee football teams and some have zero opportunity to win.
But if we’re looking at things probabilistically, you can’t like the Cowboys’ chances of stealing the NFC East crown from the Eagles. Philadelphia is a much better team in more ways than one—a team with a well-defined, data-driven focus that will serve them well long-term—while the Cowboys make decisions in an unscientific, dogmatic way.
If we were to relate the two teams to poker, the Eagles would be like a suited ace and king, while the Cowboys might be a 5-7 off-suit. Could the weaker Dallas hand take down the one in Philly? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s likely.
I still think the Cowboys have a semi-decent shot to win in 2014, due almost solely to the Tony Romo-Dez Bryant combination, but in all likelihood, it will be another year of mediocrity in Dallas. Here are four reasons I think that the Cowboys will have another rough year.
Let me start with the good about Jason Garrett. I think he does a nice job of finding hard-working players who put the team ahead of themselves. Identifying players who will maintain motivation is really important in a game as competitive as professional football.
But the problem is stagnation. Where are the Cowboys getting better? Has Garrett tested various components of his coaching and the Cowboys’ play-calling to ensure improvement? I think you probably know the answer.
This problem really extends to the front office. The Cowboys let their analytics guy walk to Cleveland and subsequently found no replacement. That’s a problem when you’re trying to improve as a football team. If you can’t test what’s working and what’s not—if you’re making decisions based on your gut—how can you expect to evolve?
It comes down to accountability—something Garrett preaches but doesn’t seem to force on himself. How can we know that? Well, he talks about the importance of execution. Execute, execute, execute.
The other team is trying to execute too, though, so the one that’s going to be the most successful over the long run is the one that’s continually given the highest probability of succeeding. It’s Garrett’s job not only to teach players how to execute, but also to create a roster in an optimal way and then to put those players in positions with the highest possible success rates.
Who thinks he does a good job of that?
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is like a “bizarro” Jason Garrett. He tests nearly everything to make sure what the team does is efficient and optimized. He questions conventional football wisdom and, more important, has the courage to go against the grain.
He has a flexible system that accommodates all sorts of players as opposed to creating an extremely rigid scheme that subsequently becomes extremely fragile when “the right kind of guys” can’t be properly located.
The Eagles are going to be long-term winners as long as Kelly is in town. And the scary part is that, because his philosophy is falsifiable and self-correcting, he’s evolving and getting better as a coach.
Tony Romo's Back
Like I said, the Cowboys always have an outside shot to win because Romo is a good quarterback—one whose game is high-variance enough that he can get hot and the team can win some shootouts. As long as he’s healthy, they’ll at least have a chance.
But is he fully healthy? He might be, but his bad back might also mean that he has a higher likelihood than normal of getting injured again. I’m not a doctor, but back injuries seem to linger.
If we were to estimate the Cowboys’ chances of winning the NFC East with Romo at, say, 25 percent and Romo’s probability of getting injured at 20 percent, the Cowboys’ “real” probability of winning the division would drop to 20 percent (assuming the team needs Romo to win).
In short, the possibility of a Romo injury, if higher than normal, just decreases the Cowboys’ chances of winning all that much more.
Well this one is pretty obvious. The Cowboys have a poor defense. Like, really poor. Maybe the worst in the NFL.
The biggest problem is a probable lack of a pass rush. How in the world are the Cowboys going to get to the quarterback? Defensive tackle Henry Melton has a ton of potential, but defensive tackles aren’t typically big sack artists. Are George Selvie and Tyrone Crawford going to dominate on the outside?
We can argue all day that the Cowboys need Romo to play at a high level to win, but you can’t ask him to continually score 30 points in every game. Even great quarterbacks occasionally have poor outings, and the Cowboys need to be able to win a 21-17 game from time to time.
When your chances of winning a game when you score 30 points are, say, 75 percent instead of 90 percent, that’s a huge problem.