Dallas Cowboys' Early Bye Week Could Save Their Season on the Brink

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Dallas Cowboys' Early Bye Week Could Save Their Season on the Brink
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

"You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take."

Anybody who has ever played sports or been within 50 feet of a cheesy self-help "life coach" has heard this maxim fed to the hesitant like an elixir that will turn the meekest of the meek into Kimbo Slice.

However, I believe that this oft-referenced axiom is greatly over simplifying one fact: You might not make any shots by not taking them, but you aren't exactly missing any either.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Dallas Cowboys, who, for the first time all year, gained decisive ground on their rivals in the NFC East.

How did they do it you might ask?  The strategy was ingenious: simply don't play.

The fact that it took the Cowboys sitting this Sunday out to finally gain ground on both the Eagles and the Giants is hilarious enough for both Cowboys haters and Wade-Phillips-corrupted Cowboys fans alike.

Yet for a seemingly talented team that has generated more stupid flags than an overly-festooned booze cruise, not playing might have been just what the doctor ordered.

Like most (if not all) Cowboys fans, I was beside myself after the "win" in Kansas City, and the overwhelming preponderance of ridiculous penalties had me writing off this season for good.

I know a win is all that matters.  After this weekend, most Eagles fans will confirm those sentiments.

But it was the perpetuation of the lack of discipline, heart, and personal accountability that was so distressing and disheartening.

I started realizing that after every Cowboys first down, after every Cowboys big play or touchdown, I would scan the TV frantically for flags, fights, and involuntary manslaughter.

And this wasn't the "jump around yelling like an idiot for 30 seconds then look up to see if there is a flag" scanning.

This was "I am turning up the volume on the T.V. and staring at the screen in abject terror waiting for the despised 'FLAG' graphic to appear."

After every.  single.  big.  play.

But I wasn't surprised in the slightest, because this has been the product Wade Phillips has been content to march out on the field every single week for AT LEAST the last season and a half.

Contrasting the abomination in Kansas City with the crisp, clean, flawless, and ruthless execution that the New York Giants took to a similarly winless AFC West foe made it all the much worse.

The Cowboys have talent, and I don't think many people dispute that.

However, I cannot tell you a single Dallas Cowboy player that I think is afraid of Wade Phillips, or a starter who would do anything more than stifle laughter if he ever tried to get in their face and demand their attention.

When I played football as a tight end, there were two things that kept me from forgetting a snap count:

1. The embarrassment of being the only jerkoff out of 11 completely stationary people to flinch and then awkwardly try to keep from tipping over, hoping nobody saw my flinch-and-awkwardly-try-to-keep-from-tipping-over move.

And

2. The fear of one of my coaches ripping me out of the game for god knows how long to rip me a new one on the side line because I couldn't remember a single-digit number.

Obviously, I never played in the NFL, but I would argue these two truths are universal to any and every offensive lineman on every level of football.

Now take Flozell Adams, whom I will use as a microcosmic embodiment of everything that is wrong with the Cowboys.

The man is a walking penalty flag. 

He has been penalized in every single Cowboys game I have ever watched him play in (no data to back this up but I'm sure most wouldn't argue this point), and I'm pretty sure he has a "Consecutive Games With A False Start Penalty" streak that would rival Cal Ripken Jr.'s Consecutive Games Started streak.

I do not care how good one single player on a football team is. 

If you expect to create a culture of "no one player is bigger than the whole" atmosphere that have worked for past Super Bowl teams like the Patriots, Giants, and Steelers, you cannot let one player consistently make stupid mental mistakes with absolutely no consequences.

That either sends a message of favoritism to the rest of the team, or serves as a silent assent on the part of the coaches to not punish players for ridiculously stupid mistakes.

Neither are characteristics found on any Super Bowl team that I can think of.

How Flozell Adams hasn't been yanked or benched because of his deplorable output of negative penalties is beyond me.

How Jerry Jones hasn't sentenced Flozell to be frozen in a solid block of carbonite like Han Solo from Star Wars like 300 false starts ago is equally befuddling.

Take the Steelers' Mike Tomlin, who benched Rashard Mendenhall for their Week Two match up after Mendenhall's copious amount of mental mistakes in the week of practice leading up to the game.

Mendenhall is that team's best and most versatile running back.  However, Tomlin has obviously created a culture within the Pittsburgh Steelers organization that does not tolerate preventable mental mistakes.

Consequently, all of the players were fine with the suspension; there wasn't a huge commotion about it with the media, and it has since seemed to refocus and motivate a previously slacking Mendenhall.

Wade Phillips has failed miserably to create a similar culture of accountability, and the result has been exactly what most have witnessed out of the Cowboys for the past two seasons: endless penalties, called back first downs, and more "oh-so-close-yet-oh-so-far" wins against elite playoff teams than you could ever fathom.

(Not just this season either.  Hard to call your team "personally accountable" when there was a multi-game streak in which super star players were blaming their lack of production on secret quarterback hotel-room conferences instead of taking blame themsevles.)

This is the mindset I was in after that Kansas City "victory," and, as you can tell, it wasn't exactly an optimistic one.  But can you blame me?

Due to the grind of the regular season NFL schedule, 99.9999 percent of practice is specialized to prepare the team for the specific opponent they are facing that week. 

Whether watching film or installing new wrinkles in existing plays that would most exploit perceived weaknesses in the defense of the upcoming opponent, in-season NFL practice mainly revolves around X's-and-O's strategy.

What has been plaguing the Cowboys isn't flaws in their X's-and-O's strategy, as it seems every time the offense is able to string together 10+ plays without a flag they end up in the end zone (too bad that has happened, like, never).

Stupid and preventable penalties are what has plagued the Dallas Cowboys, and those are fatal foundational flaws in the identity of the team that will preclude any NFL team from ever being more than the fringe-playoff team that the Cowboys have been.

The bad news? 

There isn't any time to fix such foundational flaws during the week-to-week in-season practices of the NFL.  These are issues that need to be sought out, addressed, and rectified during the seemingly endless days of training camp.

The good news? 

The Cowboys' bye week came ridiculously early this year.

Because they don't play their next opponent for another two weeks, bye weeks are the only weeks of practice during the NFL season that coaches and players can focus on other big picture problems and issues.

Had this opportunity come during Week 12, the Cowboys would have been far too behind in the standings for any ground-breaking changes to make a difference.

However, the Cowboys had the good fortune to go into theirs with a record of 3-2, and get to restart their season against an Atlanta Falcons team that just pulled out a hard fought victory on Sunday Night Football versus the Chicago Bears.

Two weeks ago, after a "win" (yes I love putting that word in quotes when referring to that game) vs. the Chiefs, I was pretty sure the Cowboys' season was over, because good-to-great teams just simply don't make the abundance of stupid mental mistakes that the Cowboys made.

Upon closer inspection, an early bye week, which seemed like a bad thing at the beginning of the season, might be the one thing that can salvage what so far has been a bumpy 2009 for the Dallas Cowboys.

One can only hope that Wade Phillips and the coaching staff took this extra time off to correct some of the easily correctable stupidity that has permeated the 2009 Dallas Cowboys squad.

You know, things like reminding Ken Hamlin he can actually tackle, introducing Tony Romo and Martellus Bennett to each other, and having a child specialist come in and work memory card games with Flozell Adams.

This game versus Atlanta will serve to tell us a lot about the true merit of this Dallas Cowboys squad.

Hopefully the only false start called this weekend will be on my declaration of gloom on the 2009 Dallas Cowboys season.

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