Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett on the field before the game against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys Final Game Brings Major Tests For Players, Coaches and Owner


In this, the final game of the season, all NFL Teams are going through the evaluation phase of their team. Some have already locked up their ticket to the post season, some have already been given a death sentence for the season and others are stuck in the middle fighting for a final spot in the dance. Teams in the playoffs are evaluating their team for the end of the season push, to find the momentum to propel them through the grind of the postseason. Teams already out of the playoffs are evaluating talent and coaching staffs for changes in the upcoming offseason. The Cowboys are stuck in Limbo, with a win over the Redskins on Sunday the Cowboys are NFC East champions. A loss would send them home with another 8-8 season and disappointment of missing the playoffs. This game on Sunday will be the equivalent of a collegiate final exam for the major parts of the Cowboys organization. If they pass it means an extension of their season and possibly careers as Cowboys, however if they fail, it could mean expulsion from their current positions.

The Team

We will begin our examinations with the players on the field Sunday, because they have the greatest impact for the game and therefore are the people we should look at closely to determine the future of the Dallas Cowboys.

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) throws a pass in warms ups before the game against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Romo – QB

No one on the current Cowboys roster has been more heralded or scrutinized than quarterback Tony Romo. Beginning with Romo’s dropped snap on a game winning field goal in Seattle in his first playoff game, to the present time, Romo has been plagued with mishaps in big games for the Cowboys. His success in December this current season has masked his previous record in late season games. As is custom in the current assessment of the NFL by the sports media, the focus for wins and losses is put more on the shoulders of the quarterback. Romo’s situation is even more dire because he will be looking for a long term deal in the offseason. After this season Romo will have one more year on his current deal, so he will be available for free agency in 2014. Romo has played well enough this season to deserve a long term deal, but if the Cowboys fail to make the playoffs, and Romo has a disastrous game, or makes a critical mistake late in the game to cost the Cowboys the game, Jerry Jones and the Cowboys brain trust may be forced to evaluate whether Tony Romo is worthy of a long term investment to extend his current deal.

Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett celebrates a score with tackle Doug Free (68) against the Cleveland Browns at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Doug Free – RT

The Cowboys signed Free to a long term contract 2 years ago, and have regretted that signing ever since the ink dried on the signature. Free struggled at left tackle last year so much that they had to move him to right tackle for the much younger Tyron Smith. This season has not been much better for Free, and we have even seen him get yanked out of games due to his poor performances. He seems to get a holding penalty almost every game, which most of the time come on the biggest of plays for the Cowboys offense. Free is a high paid player on the Cowboys next season and could be one of the first thoughts to save cap room would be to cut ties with Free in the offseason. Free will have to do a spectacular job on Sunday to protect Romo and avoid dumb penalties in big moments to prove he is worth keeping next season. The problem is that he has been such a disappointment that even a win and trip to the playoffs may not be enough to save Free’s job for next season.

Miles Austin – WR

Miles Austin has been a steady player for the Cowboys over his entire career, but in recent seasons he has been banged up and non existent in the major moments of the season. Austin signed a big deal a few years ago and the time is running out on that deal, making Austin a very big salary for the Cowboys. The injuries have played a big role in limiting his production, but also the emergence of Dez Bryant has limited the touches for Austin. Everyone remembers the pass last year in the first game against the Giants that Austin just did not have the push off his injured hamstring that would have iced the game, but instead Austin couldn’t run underneath it, and the rest was history as the Cowboys lost that game and eventually missed the playoffs weeks later. Austin will have to prove he is fully capable of making big catches and move the chains or put the ball in the endzone to prove he is worth keeping around for another season.

Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is hit as he throws by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer (93) during the second half at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys won 27-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Spencer – DE/OLB

Anthony Spencer has responded to being “Franchised” last offseason. The Cowboys paid him for one season and is a free agent as soon as the season ends. With all of the injuries to the Cowboys defense, Spencer has been one of the brightest spots in 2012. The problem for the Cowboys is that his play this season may raise the price tag for Spencer come the offseason, but if he wants any hope of keeping the star on his helmet next season, he will have to contain RG3 and show that he can be a force against the mobile, rookie quarterback.

Gerald Sensebaugh – S

The safety position has been a weakness for the Cowboys all season long. Sensebaugh is a hard hitter, but not much of a coverage player. He was resigned last year, but his deal is not big enough to make any kind of dent into the cap room if the Cowboys are to cut him in the offseason. The Cowboys will likely be looking to free agency or the NFL Draft to address the safety position, so if Sensebaugh wants to keep his job, he will have to avoid being beat deep or give up big plays in the passing game. He will also have to prove his worth by keeping an eye on RG3 and not allowing him to run wild. If the Cowboys defense is able to contain RG3 and the Redskins offense it would make a big statement to keep Sensebaugh from being replaced in 2013.

Coaches

For the second straight year the Cowboys coaching staff has Dallas in position to play for its own destiny on the final week of the season. Most teams would be happy to have a shot at the playoffs in the final week, but most teams are not called “America’s Team.” 8 – 8 does not cut it in Dallas and the bulk of the blame falls on the head coach and the defensive coordinator when the team fails to make the playoffs.

Jason Garrett – Head Coach

No one has been a bigger critic of Jason Garrett than myself during his tenure as the Offensive Coordinator and Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys. I have even fired him on 12 different occasions during the past two seasons. I have been very critical of his play calling, his ability to get the team ready to play a full game from opening kick to the echo of the last whistle, and his in game management. While most people in the media have praised Garrett for his handling of the team after the death of Jerry Brown at the hands of his own teammate Josh Brent in a DUI situation, I do not think that excuses the head coach for his failures this season. To be the head coach of the team means accountability for the entire season, and a second straight 8-8 season is just not good enough for a Cowboys team that has a single playoff victory in over a decade. Last season in the same scenario, the Cowboys failed to show up in the first half, they fell behind 21 – 00 at halftime. If history repeats itself on Sunday, Garrett is held responsible for the failure to get his team ready to play in the biggest games of the season. Garrett has been a very predictive offense play caller. Since taking over as head coach his play calling has been very “vanilla” and it has caused defenses to be able to diagnose what is going to be run prior to the play. The last criticism of Garrett, is his in game management. I still have not forgiven him for “icing” his own kicker last year versus Arizona, and watching him on the sidelines with challenge flags and clock management has been shakey at best. If Garrett gets his team to win on Sunday and become NFC East Division Champs, not all of Garrett’s sins will be washed away, but he will have a shield for the bullets that will fly if the Cowboys go another season without a playoff victory. Even if the Cowboys lose, I could see Jerry Jones giving Garrett a pass because of his handling of the Jerry Brown / Josh Brent situation this season. If Garrett is retained despite losing, we may see him be stripped of his play calling duties next season, or an assistant coach may be brought in to help with in game management next season. If the Cowboys lose to the Redskins some form of change will happen with the Head Coach, but a win will give him a stay of execution for at least one more year.

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan reacts on the sidelines after the fumble was confirmed in overtime against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium. The Saints beat the Cowboys 34-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Ryan – Defensive Coordinator

The defense of the Cowboys has been improved in Ryan’s second season at the helm. This season has been difficult for the Cowboys because injuries have left the team ravaged. The linebacking corps have been hurt by the loss of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter for the season. Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff has battled injuries all season and the Josh Brent situation has left the middle of the defense at a loss the entire season. The most important part of the Cowboys defense is their best player, DeMarcus Ware, who is having his own struggles with injuries late in the season. The one place injuries have not hurt the Cowboys has been in the secondary. Unfortunately for Ryan and the Cowboys, the secondary has been improved, but still a weakness. The upgrades of the secondary are not directly related to anything Ryan has done, the improvements can be correlated with the free agent signing of cornerback Brandon Carr and the First Round Draft pick Morris Claiborne. Again going back to the 2011 game against the Giants on the final day of the season, the Cowboys defense got ripped in the first half. In the present season, the Redskins and RG3 tore apart the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. If the Cowboys defense gets blown out again, Rob Ryan will be sitting on thin ice for a return in 2013.

 

Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (left) talks with Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II prior to the game at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Owner

Obviously the owner cannot be fired, he runs the team and can do whatever he wants with his organization. Jerry Jones has made some questionable decisions in his tenure as the owner of the Cowboys. The biggest peeve of the Cowboys fan base has been Jerry’s decision to be both Owner and General Manager. He has made some good decisions and some very bad decisions. Most of his decisions get criticized because he brings in players for the box office draw, rather than the production on the field. The amount of disappointment for Cowboys fans has been building since their last championship in 1995, and if the team fails to produce Sunday, Jerry Jones may be forced to take a long hard look at getting a professional to come in and handle the player personnel. Even if Jerry does not remove the title of GM from his door, he may bring in a consultant to help him make moves for the future of the Cowboys. This season is a direct example of why Jerry needs a professional to direct him in the players he acquires for his team. While the Cowboys have good starting talent, injuries have left them with weak players filling in, and the amount of injuries has been a big obstacle for this team to overcome. This game on Sunday will show us what kind of talent Jerry has assembled in “Big D.” If the Cowboys win, it validates Jerry as the GM, but if the team fails, the blame goes to everyone especially the guy at the top calling all of the shots.

Conclusion

For the second year in a row the Dallas Cowboys will play in the final game of the NFL season. This will be the second year in a row that they are playing a “de-facto” playoff game in the final week of the season. Last year, the Cowboys failed to show up to the game until after halftime, losing to the New York Giants 31 – 14, ending their season 8-8. This year they get to avenge the failure of last season by beating another NFC East rival in the Washington Redskins. The Cowboys enter with an 8-7 record and a win would allow them to end in identical 9 – 7 records with the Redskins. The Cowboys would win the division because their record within the division would be better than both the Giants and Redskins. Winning the NFC East and having a home playoff game would be the prize if they win on Sunday, but if the worst happens and the Cowboys lose to the Redskins, the blame game ensues and the decisions for improvement become the talk of the town. Cowboys players such as Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Doug Free, Anthony Spencer and Gerald Sensebaugh have more than just a playoff shot riding on this game. The players have their careers as Cowboys in jeopardy if they fail to produce on Sunday. The coaching staff has just as much riding on this game, because of the debacle last year and the recent history of the Cowboys playoff woes. Jerry Jones, as the owner, will have to do soul searching and looking in the mirror if the Cowboys fail on Sunday as well. For most teams being in the race on the final day and playing the marquee game in week 17 is a big accomplishment, but in Dallas, it is unacceptable to just be close to the playoffs. If this team goes to 8 – 8 for the second year in row, changes need to be made. This game on Sunday will begin either the road to the playoffs, or the long road to recovery and changing directions for many people within the organization.That being said, “Let’s go Cowboys” on Sunday and hopefully all of this is moot as we prepare for a playoff run!!! Enjoy the game on Sunday.

Tags: Changes Cowboys V Redskins Featured Jason Garrett Tony Romo

  • ctcowboy1968

    Chris, you have a lot of football experience and knowledge. A fellow CT man. But I can’t agree with some of your assessments.

    1. There are no upgrades to Tony. He is a top 5 – 7 QB in this league. Rogers, Brady, etc are not coming to Dallas. There are very few QBs in this league that could have survived this year behind our awful OL (maybe 3). Tony carries this team. Without Tony this team is in last place for many years to come. He must get a contract extension. BTW, since he became the starter, statistically he is the top 3 QB in the NFL over that time.

    2. I agree about Free. Trade or cut him in the offseason. Possibly give him one more training camp. Nah, kick his ass out.

    3. I don’t agree about Miles. He is still an excellent WR that has been misused by JG (wrong routes) and is hurt to much. Between the emergence of Dez, JG stinking it up and Miles’ injuries, Miles’ contract needs to be downsized. He is no longer a $9 million/year player. JJ doesn’t know how to manage his money or the cap. I would really like to see him stay a Cowboy, but not at that price.

    4. I don’t agree about Spencer. He has been the D leader and a beast since Lee and Carter went down. He has earned his new contract and he must be resigned. I was not a big fan of his until this year. Prior to this season I was calling for him to be released and Butler to replace him. That doesn’t work. Butler is an excellent situational player. Butler gets stomped when he tries to play full time for either Spencer or Ware. I know Spencer is a big risk since he admitted taking plays off in the past, but many things are a risk in life. He must be resigned. With a tough coach like Ryan to ride his ass, we should be ok.
    5. JG has to go. He is awful. He sucks. He is stupid. He can’t manage the clock or game situations. He is not qualified to have this job. I can back up all of these statements with several examples. Even if the Boys win the SB, JG should be fired.

    6. Rob Ryan needs to stay. He has done an excellent job with a boat load of players that were pulled off their couches. Chris don’t complain about this secondary, without pressure on the QB by the front 7, no one can expect them to cover for 8 second. Even you and I could get open.
    7. Nothing is going to change regarding JJ. I used to think that he would do anything for this team to win, but now I realize that everything he does is for his ego. The sooner JJ goes away the better.
    BTW, you, Cowboy fans, and the media have it all wrong on D Ware. He is NOT the best player on this team. He isn’t even in the top 3. He may not even be in the top 5. I really like him, but he is over rated by everyone. He is not a dominating impactful player. The last game he dominated was against the Eagles 1 1/2 years ago in a blow out loss. He disappears for long streches of games and has been eliminated by lousy T’s and back up OL (ie, both Bear games in the last few years just for starters). Great guy, love him on my team, but NOT the best player or the most important player.

    • Dietz

      Good points, I expect nothing less from a Connecticut Cowboys fan… but let me take this one by one…

      1) I didn’t say that The Cowboys should move on from Romo, what I said was they need to evaluate if they want to extend him beyond 2014… as great as Romo is he will be 35 going on 36 when his current deal ends, so thats the problem with extending him long term. If playing with Romo only gets an 8-8 record and missing the playoffs, maybe riding out the contract and trying to find a younger guy to take over is an option for the long term success.

      2) We agree on Free, he is terrible and has just been a bad signing… what can you do…

      3) You say you don’t agree with me on Miles, but then in the next sentence ask him to take a pay cut… Try taking money away from a guy and see how receptive he is to that. I agree Miles is not a big problem on the field, but to go forward and clear cap space, Miles is a guy who has been dispensable by the emergence of Dez Bryant.

      4) We actually agree on Spencer… I stated in the article that he is one of the better guys for the Cowboys this year… The problem with that, is that he was franchised this year so he is an unrestricted free agent, and because of his play he could price himself out of the market that the Cowboys can offer him.

      5) I totally agree with you on Garrett… like I said I have fired him 12 times in the last 2 years alone… But the more I listen to media reports, I am coming to the conclusion that no matter what happens Sunday Jerry will stick with Garrett for at least one more year… I do not advocate that tactic, but I am just preparing myself for another year of JG…

      6) To me, Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan go hand and hand… If the Cowboys get rid of one, they have to clean house and get rid of the other. As much as I hate Ryan and his sideline antics, he deserves less of the blame, but if he were to be gone, I would not cry over spilled milk…

      7) Just like i said in the article, we can hate JJ and his football decisions, but as a business the Cowboys are greater than ever as far as a money making operation, and that is thanks to JJ. He ain’t goin anywhere, I just hope he evaluates this team and the players and gets rid of the yes men around him and gets someone in the organization to take an honest assessment of the talent and create a plan for moving forward….

      8) As far as your DeMarcus Ware comments, Ware is the best player on the Cowboys defense. The reason he does not take over games recently is two fold… one he has been playing through injuries, and two he is the only guy to worry about, which is why Spencer is taking advantage of being on the opposite side and getting the one on one match ups…

      As far as this article is concerned, This is not a plan for the future, it is showing the tough decisions that need to be made in the offseason. It is basically a guide to use this final game to watch the players, coaches and owner carefully tomorrow night to make a decision on where to go in the future. Moving on is a difficult thing, and hopefully we have another week or more before these decisions have to be made…

      Thanks for checking out the article… and thanks for the response… Hope you enjoy the snow in CT and stay inside until the end of a Cowboys victory tomorrow.

  • bridg

    Good discussion.

    Ware is wearing out and hurting … no surprise nor blame.

    Romo IS the Dallas Cowboys; exciting, frustrating , so close

    to greatness ( or becoming the next Oakland Raiders ) Delete that empty descriptive “elite” from the football lexicon ;

    Tony is the strongest magnet in the NFL. Hate him or love him but fans can’t

    dismiss him.Pay Romo whatever it takes J.J., you won’t lose on that pick.

    Free and Jones, Jenkins and Tree are gone and goners.

    Austin is a keeper, just too much talent and awesomeness to lose. Injury prone

    but thats the risk you have with thoroughbreds.

    JG is a worry; supposedly has a system he’s trying to sell but Dallas isn’t the sharpest knife and his playcalling sometimes seems so simple that it’s complicated; false starts and offsides, delay of games and time-outs ensue. If we lose Sunday he goes; otherwise a one year extension and a new hire at OC.
    I love the Cowboys and all I ask is that they leave it all out there on the field for the full 60 minutes or longer if that’s what it takes. How about that?

    • Dietz

      Bridg – Good notes and your points are well taken, I will agree with you that Romo is a good QB and the word elite has been overused by the media. The only thing I see, is if the Cowboys lose Sunday and miss the playoffs, why extend Romo… He is already under contract for 2013 and will be 36 in 2014… I would like Romo back, but if we continue with 8-8 seasons something has got to change… You are right about the guys that are gone like Free, Felix and Jenkins… Miles Austin is a tricky scenario… I would like to keep him, but he would have to restructure the contract because the Cowboys need Cap flexibility. If he is unwilling to do so then because of the growth of Dez late in the season Miles is cuttable, not ideal to let him leave for nothing, but the cap room is important, and there may be cheaper options that are not as injury prone… its a gamble, but not critical… Garrett is an enigma… If it were up to me he would have been fired a long time ago, but i don’t think Jerry wants to admit failure and will stick with him. If they lose and stick with Garrett, a guy like Norv Turner, or another offensive coordinator needs to be brought in… or an associate head coach to relieve Garrett of his other duties to focus on play calling…This post is not supposed to be a end all be all, it is just to make you aware of what to look for on Sunday and what evaluations need to take place before we discuss changes in the offseason.

  • kurumba

    If Garrett and even Ryan are kept on, then here are several reasons why its scary to follow such a LOSING mob 1. Romo & Garrett always state [and Witten too] how close every game is and how every game comes down to the 4th Quarter. This is NONSENSE!!! Sure this applies to some but NOT to all games!!! I have never heard Belichick & Brady say this RUBBISH nor do I hear The Harbaughs or Atlanta players saying this. 2. The constant falling behind in HOME GAMES. Look if you struggle to win at Home then FORGET PLAYOFFS!!! Garrett has never satisfactorily explained why the team is almost always LOSING BADLY at Home. Why give someone “another year” when they continually do this??? 3. The lack of punch and energy in any form of running game. Morris runs for 10,000 Brown of Philly for 200. Garrett runs for an aneamic…. 45 yards Ha Ha!! 4. Garrett’s lack of motivation and energy to the players. When the dead guys influence wore off so too did the players’ fiery approach to the games. The last two games were very poor. 5. The CONTINUAL FLOOD OF INJURIES. Is this due to poor coaching, again??? Which team gets all these injuries??? Toe, shoulder, ankle, back spasms et al… are the players TOO SOFT or is it due to poor training & preparation??? No explanation has ever been provided. So if Garrett who has been here at least 5 years continues on then expect a Norv Turner II to emerge. Next year 6-10 or worse for those stupid enough to keep supporting this HUMAN FAILURE!!!