Fair warning – like Theron said to the Queen in the movie ‘300‘, “You will not enjoy this. It will not be over quickly”. If you are one of those “you just have to believe”, rose-colored glasses wearing, “homer” Dallas Cowboy fans that can’t stand to hear a single negative word uttered or you’re not a “real fan”, then stop reading now. This is going to be way too honest of an evaluation of the 2011 season and the state of the Cowboys for you to bear. Here goes.
2011 Season – Like me, most Cowboy fans were hopeful but did not know what to expect from Jason Garrett’s first full year as head coach. There was certainly promise based on the successful finish in the back half of 2010 and there was little doubt the Cowboys had talent at some key positions. But, once the lockout officially ended and it was clear we would have a season, most fans were a little shocked at the 3rd place NFC East finish many experts were predicting. Rob Ryan was hired as Defensive Coordinator and immediately began promising big things. Romo was returning from injury. Roy Williams and Marion Barber, two under performing players had been cut loose. We knew this team with a little good fortune could perform better than third and could make the playoffs. We drew a tough opening game on the anniversary of 9/11 in New York against the Jets and knew that would be a good indicator of where we stood. When we built a big lead in that game, most Cowboy fans immediately started thinking this team was going to be special.
But, it wasn’t meant to be. That game ended badly and our season ultimately ended the same way in the same stadium 17 weeks later. The 3rd place finish that was predicted was exactly right and looking back over the season, it’s not just the 8-8 finish ( a mere 2-game improvement over a dismal 2010 effort) that disappoints, but how we got there. There were almost no games this year where the Cowboys dominated and their fans could sit back and enjoy a thorough butt kicking. Every game - even the wins – seemed to be nail biters and mostly left you exhausted. We did play better than last year at times but it never really felt like it as a fan.
In a recent article, I noted that had the Cowboys been able to close out games where they had a 4th quarter lead, they could have been heading into the season finale against the Giants with as good as a 13-2 record. But, you could just as easily flip that thinking around and note that had they lost some of the close games they actually won, they’d have finished the season as bad as 4-12. That is probably closer to a real measure of this team’s ability than 8-8. We won 8 games against teams with a combined record of 48-80 (.375, an average record of 6-10). The 8 losses – some of them not even close (i.e. see either Eagle game) – were to teams with a combined record of 73-55 (.570 or an average record of 9-7). As Jonathan Barger, another staff writer here on The Landry Hat noted yesterday, we had a single win in 2011 against a team that made the post season (San Francisco before they knew they would be as good as they are and before ANYONE knew it would be a good idea to actually cover Jesse Holley).
So, the Giants probably did us a favor by ending this frustrating, disappointing, maddening season. Had we somehow figured out a way to beat NY and get into the playoffs, I think it would have been a very short stay and the playoff loss could have been pretty embarrassing. This is just not a very good football team. They don’t play with any heart and go through the motions most of the time. Good riddance to 2011. I wish I could say that 2012 and beyond will be better, but I just don’t see how with as many issues as this team has.
- Jerry Jones – RIP Al Davis but rest assured that your legacy lives on in Jones as a meddling owner who thinks he’s a “football guy” despite the mounting years of evidence to the contrary. Let’s face facts. Jerry’s one shining moment in the NFL was when he and Jimmy Johnson (mostly orchestrated by Jimmy according to some historical accounts) totally swindled the Vikings in the Herschel Walker trade. The Cowboys received a net of 4 players (one RB refused to report to Dallas) and 8 draft picks. They used those picks to draft Emmitt Smith and build a team around “the triplets” that delivered a dynasty in the early 90′s. The Cowboys won 3 out of 4 consecutive Super Bowls with that team despite losing Jimmy Johnson to Jerry’s ego after back-to-back wins in 1992 and 1993. Since our last Super Bowl win in 1995 (16 years ago), the Cowboys have wallowed in mediocrity. They are 130-136 in those 16 seasons – a rough average of 8-8. Way to go Jerry! No reason not to come out this week and give your GM (himself) a vote of confidence. He is the only owner that also acts as the General Manager and has no intention of “screwing up the mix” by hiring an outsider. Why would you want to change that impressive run? Frankly, we Cowboy fans deserve better for our loyalty. But, it’s Jerry’s team so don’t expect any changes on that front.
- Jason Garrett – I like Garrett much better than Wade Phillips. It was intensely painful at times watching the camera flip over to Wade standing on the sidelines looking confused or like he had acute indigestion. Wade was “a player’s coach” which translates to mean that he was soft on his teams and their performances often showed it. Garrett is more business like and analytical. It was an obvious upgrade when he took over the head coaching reigns mid season in 2010. But, now I fear that he may be too calm and analytical and his teams approach the game like robots. There is no passion, no gutsy play, no fire. His “be the best you can be today” slogan is wearing thin when the best is getting embarrassed by the Eagles or the Giants repeatedly. If Jason Garrett were William Wallace in Braveheart and told the Scottish warriors “just be the best fighter you can be today” and “we are excited about the challenge before us”, then it would not have ended well and would have been a much shorter movie.
- Twenty players – out of a 53-man roster – have contracts expiring this year. And, the Cowboys reportedly have little to no salary cap space. For some, it will be good riddance as they never developed into the players the team had hoped – Anthony Spencer and Martellus Bennett come to mind. Others are just past their prime – Keith Brooking and Bradie James, for example. Shedding dead wood is good – as long as you have something to replace them with. Which takes us back to our stellar GM…anybody feel confident this one is going to work out well? Where is Herschel Walker when you need him?
So begins another long, cold off season. Another round of playoffs and Super Bowl with no Cowboys. More having to wear your Cowboys gear while being mocked by others instead of wearing it with pride. I hate this time of year. What’s worse is that I don’t see any way that the current regime will deliver anything else in the foreseeable future. I’ll continue to hope, continue to watch, hoping for another Herschel Walker deal, and cling ferociously to the promise of “next year”. Once again, there’s always next year.