The Naive Optimist: Why 2010 Isn’t Destined for Absolute Failure

First, let’s look at what the Dallas Cowboys are up against.  13% of teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs.  Only three teams have ever started 0-2 and proceeded to win the Super Bowl.  If the cowboys were to venture to 0-3, the odds of them making the playoffs dip to a dismal 2.9% chance to make the playoffs.  That’s a fallacy of logic, however.  Are people seriously considering the 2008 Detroit Lions who went 0-16 on par with the 2010 Dallas Cowboys.  The Lions, along with numerous other teams who were bereft of talent, weigh down the statistic.  Certainly 0-2 is bleak, and 0-3 would be tantamount to a suicide watch, but this is a team that can win 10 straight games.  So 0-7 is truly the point where panic is appropriate.

Next week, the Cowboys face a 2-0 Houston Texans team in Houston where the crowd will be as excited for a single game like they have ever been before.  Some fans have posted that the Cowboys “OPTIMISTICALLY” will finish at 4-12 on the year.  It’s good to have optimism, but it is better to have rationale and comprehension.   Regression to the mean is a mathematical principal that states that even though early outliers may exist, e.g., flipping a coin 10 times and having heads 9 of the 10 times.  As the flipping continues towards 100 and even towards 1000, the numbers will eventually even out nearing 50% heads and 50% tails.

Bill Parcells has famously said that you are what your record is.  In 2008, the Cowboys were 9-7 and suffered injuries at safety, quarterback, offensive line, cornerback and running back.  While the Cowboys weren’t great, they also weren’t a playoff caliber team.  This 2010 Cowboys team could be 1-1, but their play has been dreadful at times and consequently they are 0-2.  When you look at their level of execution, it’s a bit surprising that they are only 0-2.  However, it is foolish to believe that they won’t improve throughout the season.  The team as presently constituted is capable of winning against any team in the league, but they do have to execute.  Execution will be improved.

Last year the Cowboys lost a game to the NY Giants due mostly to self inflicted wounds. If you cut yourself deep enough and often enough with papercuts, and you can die.  They also went into overtime against a rebuilding Kansas City Chiefs team. If not for a stellar performance by Miles Austin, the Cowboys start the season at a moribund 2-3.  After the bye that season, they then proceeded to win 8 game and lose 3 to finish at 10-6.  In previous years, they were accused of starting strong and finishing weak.  2009 the Cowboys finally bucked the trend and won in both December and January.  They are poised to do the same again in 2010 despite nearly every Cowboys fan jumping ship.

It’s Garrett’s fault.  It’s Wade’s Fault.  It’s Jerry Jones’s fault (my personal favorite).  It’s Romo’s fault.  It’s a lack of a running game.  It’s the lack of running plays.  It’s the defense’s fault for not setting up the offense with turnovers.  Assigning fault/blame is different that identifying a problem and developing a plan to minimize the effects of a deficiency.  The Cowboys players, leaders, and coaching staff are making every effort to focus on why the poor play exists rather than pointing fingers.  Allow the process to take its course and we will see improvement.

Last year I remember thinking that the media and the pressure of quarterbacking for the Dallas Cowboys broke what it was that made Tony Romo special.  Then Romo made a miracle touchdown pass to Patrick Crayton in the back of the endzone against the Atlanta Falcons.  I was pre-mature in my concern and most fans are jumping the gun this year too.

Earlier in the 2010 pre-season, the Cowboys were embarrassed by Houston in the third game of the pre-season.  The Cowboys showed up to play with the intensity expected out of a pre-season game; the Texans did not.  The Houston crowd was as loud as you will find for a pre-season game.  Needless to say, the Cowboys were unimpressive.  Believe it or not, the way the above scenario plays out actually behooves the Cowboys.  The Texans will have a false unspoken bravado that the Cowboys are simply not in their league.  Their two wins against the Colts and the Redskins bolsters this opinion like a flying buttress.  The Cowboys are in a must win situation.  The Texans are in first place, a position they are unaccustomed.  Additionally, the Texans played deep into overtime the week prior against the Redskins.  While it may seem like only an additional 10 minutes of game play, historically, teams have a losing record the week following an overtime game.

Am I betting the house on the Cowboys?  Nope.  Am I betting a steak meal with a pitcher of beer?  Maybe.

Regardless of how week three turns out, the Cowboys at worst will be 2 games out of first place in their division with 13 games left on the schedule.  But as of right now, they are only one game out of first place in their division.  And if we want to be incredibly optimistic, if the Cowboys beat both the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints in their respective match ups, they are only 1 game back in regards to home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

There OBVIOUSLY is room for improvement in the Cowboys play.  Most of that will come from the offensive line playing together as a group.  Everyone assumes that there is a Madden quality to the offensive line.  You plug in a new player and the line doesn’t miss a beat.  It’s simply not true.  The offensive line needs to develop chemistry, unspoken communication, and a feel for each others respective responsibility and when it is appropriate to provide aid to your neighbor without abandoning your responsibility.  Without any of the aforementioned, you are playing alone in a team game in a position where you have to function as a collective.

Let’s not forget some bright spots to the 2010 season.  Roy Williams has actually been playing well in the two games.  In an alternate universe, he caught the game winner against the Redskins, and his fumble was blown dead because his forward progress was stopped against the Bears.  Austin is playing at his 2009 pro-bowl level, and Dez Bryant appears well on his way to receiving his rookie of the year trophy.  Don’t forget about Martellus Bennett‘s effort either.  8 receptions in 2 games with zero WTF moments.

One additional point.  0-2 is 0-2 regardless of how you lost the games.  Both games were lost within the margin of a touchdown.  They are especially painful because the games are so close.  They evoke emotion which can blind the average fan.  In baseball, some players say it is better to lose by 10 because it isn’t as emotionally draining as a one run loss.  In football, containing your emotions is often the most difficult function to being successful.  Being down 10 late in the 3rd quarter may have a coach throwing deep down-field to the detriment of his team.  Being down 0-2 early into a season may have a fan burning his jerseys.

Take a deep breath.  It’s not naive to be optimistic that the Cowboys still have a legitimate chance to win their division, the NFC Championship, and the Super Bowl.  It is naive to believe this team will not improve at all over the next 14 games.

Topics: Atlanta Falcons, Bill Parcells, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Dez Bryant, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jason Garrett, Jerry Jones, Kansas City Chiefs, Martellus Bennett, Miles Austin, New Orleans Saints, NY Giants, Patrick Crayton, Roy Williams, Tony Romo, Wade Phillips, Washington Redskins

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