In my last blog entry, I cautioned the optimistic Cowboys fan to refrain from letting their perception of Jason Garrett go to their heads. After all, despite the team's rejuvenation in the last half of the season, he's partly accountable for what happened in 2010.
But now that he's the head coach with a draft under his belt, I thought it fair to explain why there's good reason to be hopeful his tenure in Dallas will be a prosperous one.
JG is smart, Princeton smart. I know it's a tired description of him, but it's true. It's not that he probably has an above average IQ, it's the fact that intelligent people tend to learn faster than most. That means gaining a quicker grasp of new concepts and applying the lessons learned from past mistakes before most others can.
Obviously, there's one name that jumps out: Rob Ryan. Remember that the defense in 2010 consisted of virtually the same personnel as the unit that finished 2nd in points allowed the year prior. That 2009 unit conceded less than 16 points per game while last year's unit gave up 27.3 per game. That 11-plus point difference on defense turned an 11-5 playoff team into a 6-10 disaster.
So what changed between those two seasons if the defensive players stayed the same? One could argue it was a mixture of losing confidence and toughness, and being too predictable. That's something Rob Ryan should remedy in 2011.
And don't forget the addition of returning Strength and Conditioning Coach Mike Woicik. He's been credited by both Emmitt Smith and Daryl “Moose” Johnston for preparing them for the physical grind of a regular season. He was with the Cowboys when they won three Super Bowls during the 1990s, and with the Patriots when they won three Super Bowls in the early 2000's. Coincidence? Moose doesn't think so.
Like him or hate him, Jerry wants to win.
Critics said he'd never again bring in a “strong-willed” coach who could stand up to him like Jimmy Johnson did—he hires Bill Parcells.
Jerry said there wouldn't be a player on the team that JG doesn't want—they draft players according to JG's team mold (read more about that here).
Jerry has never taken an OT in the first round and was rumored to be itching to trade down, a common practice of his during the draft—they stand firm and select OT Tyron Smith at No. 9.
Whether or not you agree with the pick isn't the point; the fact that Dallas' ultimate decision maker stayed true to JG's apparent philosophy is. This strongly indicates that Jerry truly listens to and trusts his head coach. And that's something every coach needs in order to be successful.
Since JG was hired as offensive coordinator in 2007, the Cowboys have consistently had one of the better offenses in the NFL. With Romo coming back fully healthy and the added weapons from this year's draft, the Cowboys should have one of the best offenses in the league in 2011.
A quick look at the team's recent rankings:
2010: Top 10 in points scored (mostly with Kitna at QB). In fact, their points per game average increased from 22.6 in 2009 to 24.6 last year.
2009: 2nd in total yards per game.
2008: Top 10 in passing yards per game.
2007: 2nd in points per game and 3rd in total yards per game.
One of the first things JG did when he took over for Wade Phillips was put the team in pads on Wednesdays. Although seemingly innocuous, this change allowed the team, and in particular the offensive line, to attain a more physical mindset that aided a struggling running game.
He also installed digital clocks so players had little excuse to be late to meetings and increased the general tempo of the team's practices. The cumulative effect of these small changes instilled a higher level of expectation through accountability and attention to detail. It's that kind of attitude that will set the tone for the upcoming season.
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