2010 was a miserable year for the Dallas Cowboys and their fans. It may well have been the most disappointing year in team history.
Never fear silver and blue bloods: a new year has dawned and 2011 will be much kinder to your Cowboys.
That is, if there is football in 2011. Big "if" there.
So, provided there is NFL football in 2011, here are the top ten reasons the Cowboys will fare better and find themselves once more in contention for postseason play and more...
Number One: No more Wade Phillips.
It is not yet clear who will coach the Cowboys in 2011, but it is clear that it will not be the under-achieving, over-excusing, pompom-waving, affable Phillips.
Not long after his dismissal, Wade Phillips went on a Virginia Beach radio station and compared his Cowboys record to that of Tom Landry, saying that he had left with the same winning percentage as the Cowboys' legendary coach of 29 years. That laughable statement is roughly the equivalent of me saying I am as wealthy as Jerry Jones because we both have accounts at Chase Bank.
The truth of the matter is Wade took a team built by Parcells, poised to take that next step, and rode it into the ground. Based on the talent base and the ultimate results, Phillips may actually be the worst coach in team history, with apologies to his defensive backs coach and former Cowboys head coach Dave Campo.
Number Two: Jerry Jones will be compelled to make coaching and personnel decisions that are best for the team, rather than merely selecting the best candidates who are most likely to be "yes" men.
Jerry Jones, in a drunken admission recorded on a cell phone and posted on YouTube, confessed he only hired Parcells to shut the media up and change public perception so he could get his precious stadium built. Of course, once Parcells had had enough of Jones' ridiculous meddling and left town, Jerry immediately hired himself the most capable puppet available: Wade Phillips.
Wade Phillips proceeded to give Jerry his most humiliating moments. The Cowboys suffered a huge blowout loss to the Eagles in the final game of 2009, ending the team's playoff hopes. They lost the last game ever in Texas Stadium to the Ravens. They lost the first game ever in the new stadium to the hated New York Giants. They were utterly destroyed by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2010 playoffs, after winning their first playoff game in 15 years. And they were throttled and embarrassed by the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football, falling to a ridiculous 1–7 record at the time.
Financially, Jones is in it up to his false teeth with that new stadium. He cannot afford to put his ego ahead of the team's success. As badly as he wants to construct things so that this time he will get the credit for success, rather than the coach (he still smarts over the Jimmy Johnson days), he will have to make moves that make sense, or suffer dire consequences. Whether he ultimately decides to stick with Jason Garrett or to pursue one of the proven Super Bowl-winning coaches available, you can bet he will make the hire with the primary concern being whether the coach can take the Dallas Cowboys back to Super Bowl glory.
How will the Cowboys fare in 2011?
Number Three: The Cowboys will get a top ten 2011 draft pick.
While it is always dicey to have Jerry pulling the strings on draft day, it is much more difficult to screw up a top ten draft pick than one in the latter part of the first round. With so many holes to fill—offensive line, defensive line, safety, linebacker, cornerback—there figures to be real value and a potential opening day starter available when the Cowboys make their first pick.
Number Four: The 2011 schedule will favor the Cowboys.
The NFL has worked its schedule so that out-of-division play features matchups between teams who finished in the same place in divisional standings. First place teams face first place teams, second place teams face second place teams, and so on. The Cowboys had a murderous schedule this year because they won their division in 2009.
Number Five: Dez Bryant will continue to emerge.
Dez Bryant was the best first-round pick the Cowboys have made since DeMarcus Ware. In an injury-shortened rookie season, Dez caught 45 passes for 561 yards and six touchdowns. He was the king of the circus catch, and easily the most aggressive offensive skill player on the team.
In addition to his prowess as a big-play receiver, Dez was a special teams standout. He had 15 punt returns for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned 12 kickoffs for 293 yards.
Number Six: The Cowboys will be forced to get younger at inside linebacker.
Keith Brooking has been a pro bowl player. He has been a team leader. He has also been the heart and soul of the Cowboys' defense since his arrival two years ago. Unfortunately, that defense is one of the worst in the league now, and Brooking has clearly lost a step. It happens to the best of them, and he is among the best of them.
The harsh reality is that neither Bradie James nor Brooking have had much of an impact this year, other than being torched on passing routes and gouged by the running game. Both men are leaders. They just have not performed in 2010.
Sean Lee may be part of the answer. He had better be. But there will have to be someone else emerge, as well.
Number Seven: The Cowboys will address the safety position.
Alan Ball works hard. But, as Clark Griswold's father-in-law famously said, "So do washing machines."
The Dallas Cowboys must have help at the safety position. Good safety play is absolutely essential to the success of any defense. Too often, the Cowboys' safeties are seen coming into the picture just in time to wave at a receiver as he races to the end zone. Inept safety play impacts the effectiveness of cornerbacks, because they have to play softer and less aggressively, when they know there is no adequate help over the top.
Number Eight: There will be more Tashard Choice and less Marion Barber.
Marion Barber was once a great change-of-pace back, coming in to relieve Julius Jones late in the game, when the defense was tired. He used his relentless, battering ram style to break down said defenses and secure victories. Then, he became the featured back and has never been very effective since.
Barber is showing signs of slowing down. It may be that his bruising running style has taken its toll on body and mind.
Marion Barber also continues to make boneheaded decisions that hurt his team, like ripping off his helmet after a touchdown or over-celebrating a three-yard run.
Meanwhile, Choice has shown himself to be perhaps the most complete back on the team. He can get the tough yards. He can make the important play in the passing game. He can break off a good run here and there.
Number Nine: Jon Kitna has impacted this team.
Tony Romo is not a fiery leader, like one known for holding his teammates accountable. His most famous quote to date is something like, "Football is fun."
Kitna is a different kind of cat. He is fiery. He is ultra-competitive. He will get in your face just as quickly as he will jump in your arms. He also stands up and takes responsibility for failure, even if it doesn't necessarily belong to him.
Romo and Kitna seem to have a good rapport. You have to believe that Romo has been watching his more-experienced replacement operate. Expect Tony to be focused and single-minded come 2011.
Oh, and healthy. A healthy Romo is absolutely essential to this team's success.
Number Ten: Training Camp will actually take place.
The Cowboys treated the 2010 training camp like a rock band tour, moving it three different times, from San Antonio to California to Dallas. Only a handful of days were actually spent in full pads, featuring full contact.
Coach Wade "Marshmallow Puff" Phillips felt he had the kind of team he could just suit up and run out there and win enough games to keep his job. Competition for starting positions was nonexistent. There was a sense of entitlement that permeated the organization, from the owner/general manager and the head coach on down.
Whomever Jerry chooses to lead this team is bound to change that. (Heck, late-season practices under Jason Garrett have been more intense than training camp was under Phillips.)
It is a new year and hope springs eternal. Off with the old. On with the new.
Raise your glass to the new-look, more successful Dallas Cowboys.