There are a lot of things the Dallas Cowboys do well this year. Their running game is the best in the league. Dak Prescott is silencing his doubters by completing passes at a near record pace, and the offensive line, when they’re not holding defenders, is creating truck-sized holes for anyone and everyone to run through. Hell, even the defense is playing better, as long as David Irving can continue to just dominate fourth quarters the way he has against both the Packers and Bucs this year. There’s a Brandon Carr sized hole in the secondary, but I’ve beat that drum to death.
So what is this Achilles heel I’m talking about?
This isn’t all coaches either. The defensive coaches have done more with less this year than maybe any team in the league. They have one bonafide superstar on that side of the ball in Sean Lee, a couple really good players in Barry Church, Byron Jones and Tyrone Crawford, and then a bunch of “oh yeah, that guy’s still in the league” kind of guys. Many of the rookies look promising, but I chalk that up to coaching as well, or else these guys wouldn’t have been third and fourth round picks (or higher). Rod Marinelli and his crew should be commended.
No, this is about Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan and Head Coach Jason Garrett.
If you watched the Tampa Bay game, you could see the best running attack in the league marching down the field, throwing in some efficient passes along the way, chewing up clock and imposing their will. Then, when you thought everything was going great, Linehan would call a wide receiver reverse, or some such “trick” play that would either lose yardage, or nearly cause a turnover. Scott, if you’re bored, take up Sudoku. The Dallas Cowboys torpedo their own drives through dumb penalties, they don’t need your help with bad play calls. No one buys a ticket to Jerry-World to see Lucky Fucking Whitehead run the ball. A (currently) twelve win season has been built on the back of hard-nosed football from two talented rookies running north and south. Don’t screw it up now by trying to get cute, whether you’re auditioning for a head coaching job next year or not.
I’ve long been an opponent of Jason Garrett’s. In fact, earlier this year I wrote an article taking him to task for his “right kind of guys” that are constantly suspended for substance abuse. While I feel it would be unfair to hold Garrett accountable for poor performance by many of his players in terms of gameplan (that’s reserved for the specific offensive and defensive coaches) I do feel that penalties and uninspired performance (a la Dez Bryant in the second Giants loss) is a “culture” issue and that falls right on the head of Garrett. Early in the season, the Cowboys were able to dig out of second or third and long (which they were usually in because of penalties) but they have shown an inability to replicate that as the months have wore on. Obviously, you would think to counteract this, you would stop committing those penalties…yet they just can’t seem to do it. The defense lucked out in the Tampa game in terms of not having any ridiculous penalties that severely shifted field position, but that’s not their M.O. either. If Garrett cannot clean up the sloppy play, it will burn the Cowboys faster than any receiver with a decent set of wheels does to Brandon Carr.
Garrett is not the worst coach in the league, but he is a coach that is lucky that his team is so talented. We saw what his coaching wrought in a season to forget just last year, when the talent wasn’t really there. The Cowboys have spent a lot to overhaul their team and turn it into the class of the NFC this year. In the coming years, there’s a good chance that they will need to change the driver of this bus if they ever want to get where they’re going.