The Cowboys are in trouble. They’re coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Giants in which they clawed their way back from a 23 point deficit only to have Dez Bryant’s game-winning touchdown catch in the final minute called back because his fingertips were out of bounds as he landed. They have been anything but consistent all season; playing different football every different week. The problems multiply as the season goes on, and eventually you begin to realize that even if the Cowboys were to win their division and make the playoffs they would be as flimsy a threat as they were in 2008, when they were the no. 1 seed and were ousted (by the Giants) in the divisional round. It would be difficult for me to tell you that there is hope because, after all, I’ve seen this movie before. We all have.
However, there actually is hope for this team. They can turn it around and salvage what is rapidly turning into yet another completely disappointing season—which would make it arguably the 9th straight completely disappointing season for “America’s Team”. Here are 3 changes the Cowboys must make if they want to reverse the losing trend in Dallas:
#1: Fix the offensive line, and fix it immediately.
I know it’s been said a thousand times before by thousands of people, but this offensive line is not getting the job done. It seems to me that this problem has been a major one for years, as it has never properly been addressed. There was the 2010 week 1 loss against the Washington Redskins in which Tony Romo threw a game-winning touchdown to Roy Williams as the clock wound down to zero, only to see it get called back due to a completely unnecessary hold by left tackle Alex Barron (the play was a rollout to the right, so the hold would have been completely ineffective anyway). Then there were the numerous issues last season regarding center Phil Costa and his inability to grasp the concept of a snap count; he also had a tendency to hike the ball over Romo’s head. Similar to how I’ll never understand why a career quarterback would ever have trouble throwing a spiral, I’ll never understand why a career offensive lineman would have trouble hiking a football.
Barron is long gone, but Costa is still on the team. They drafted top lineman Tyron Smith out of USC last year to help fix this eternal issue—this year permanently moving him over to the left side—but, Romo is still having trouble communicating with them. There aren’t as many infuriating false start penalties this season, but Romo is too often forced to waste the play clock trying to fix these issues on the fly. This is the part of the team that paces the game; if they’re not functioning well then the rest of the offensive will not function well. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan is a good coach with a variety of experience. Replacing one undrafted lineman with another undrafted lineman is pointless, and since they’re not growing on trees either, Callahan should get this unit into shape if he wants to keep his job.
#2: Get Miles Austin more involved.
The best season the Cowboys have had recently was when they finished 11-5. That was the season in which undrafted wide receiver Miles Austin came out of nowhere and took over the league. Posting 1,320 receiving yards, he proved himself to be just as crucial a cog in this offense as tight end Jason Witten. That kind of air attack was next to unstoppable and reminded older Cowboy fans of the Triplets days, when Troy Aikman would routinely stretch the field to Michael Irvin.
Opposing defenses always know that Tony Romo’s safety blanket is Jason Witten. He’s one of the most reliable and consistent skill players to have ever worn a Cowboys uniform; but he’s a tight end, and this isn’t the type of offense that should center on a tight end. Miles Austin is big, and while he’s not terribly fast he is noted across the league for having very strong legs. He’s a hard man to bring down, and he’s a pretty good route-runner to boot. Michael Irvin was one of the best route-runners of all time; it was the focal point of his game, and it did wonders for their offense.
Witten will always be there when Romo needs him, but if Miles Austin isn’t implemented more as a go-to wideout then not only will defenses continue to press the weak offensive line, but it will make it that much more difficult to get potential-superstar Dez Bryant involved. I remember when this offense was great, I remember when this team scared people, and I remember Miles Austin being a big reason why.
#3: Keep Jerry Jones out of the locker room.
This is by far the biggest change that has to be made. Since 1989 (the year Jones purchased the team) there have been only two coaches that refused to allow him into the locker room before and after games or during halftime. The Dallas Cowboys have had six head coaches since Jones took over, but only Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells made sure to keep the owner out of the locker room. Johnson won two Super Bowls and Parcells (who has two Super Bowl rings himself) put together the framework that has kept the Cowboys somewhat competitive over the last five years. Johnson was a college coach from Florida who likely kept Jones at bay for the same reasons he would have not appreciated the dean of the University of Miami standing behind him as he rallied his team at halftime.
This is a problem that supersedes just this season and threatens the entire franchise. It disrupts team discipline, and it realigns loyalty from the bottom-up. When Jerry Jones is standing in the room he’s the boss. The players aren’t looking to please their head coach, they’re looking to please Jerry Jones. After all, he IS the owner and therefore pays everyone’s salaries. It was never a question for Parcells as to whether or not Jerry Jones should be standing with the team as if he coaches them. The answer was unequivocally absolutely not. Of course, therein lies the real problem… that Jerry Jones is also the general manager of the Cowboys and has been so for 23 years now. The man has far too much pride to fire himself, so he remains general manager. He would never have tolerated so much losing from any GM for as long as he has tolerated it for himself.
That kind of cognitive dissonance resonates, and Jones doesn’t seem to realize that everyone knows who he is regardless of whether or not he shoves it down their throats. Loyalty to your coach is the heart of the game, but loyalty to your team’s owner is pure vanity. If Jones doesn’t just step back and allow the problem-solvers he has hired to solve the problems then current head coach Jason Garrett will suffer the same bland fate as his predecessors Wade Phillips, Chan Gailey, and Dave Campo. Even an accomplished coach like Barry Switzer had trouble winning under Jerry Jones (after he won a Super Bowl with Jimmy Johnson’s team, of course).
Now, I’m not saying any of these changes would ensure a successful Cowboys team performs successfully. I’m not even saying that any of these changes will actually be made, but without them there is no hope for this team as it is currently assembled. That means years of potential are being flushed down the toilet as I type this. All of the hype and all of the promise… gone.
Gone as if it was never there in the first place.