Another NFL season done too soon in the opinions of many Dallas Cowboys fans has those of us who follow the organization religiously pondering what can be done to turn the recent mediocrity around. Of course, we are also hoping that those WITHIN the organization (cough.. Jerry Jones.. cough) are doing the same thing. Last year at this time, the Cowboys finished 8-8 after losing a “win-and-in” road game versus a divisional opponent. New year, same exact result. At the end of last year, I wrote a column on how to fix the team which can be read here:
If there are any positives to take from this Groundhog’s Day-like scenario it is that the roster appears to be in better shape. One could make the argument that the rash of injuries that plagued this team in 2012 was the difference between 8-8 and possibly 9-7 or 10-6, especially on the defensive side of the ball. For this reason alone, I am happy to report that this year’s version of the same column can be reduced in half. Unfortunately, the top request will mimic the same exact request as last year (fitting I suppose, right?)
Here now are the five ways to fix the Dallas Cowboys…
5. Draft Tyrann Mathieu in the third round…
Three facts: 1.Whoever the defensive coordinator has been for Dallas, the team has been horrible at creating turnovers. In the last ten years, the Cowboys have been in the bottom ten in this statistic five times. 2. While the Cowboys have not done so badly in the first two rounds of the draft, they have been pathetic beyond round two. Only 13 guys picked in rounds 3-7 since 2004 are on the team (13 out of 57). Of those 57 picks, only 28 are still in the league. 3. Since Darren Woodson retired in 2003, the Cowboys have been searching for a play making safety and still have not found one. One solution to all three problems: Tyrann Mathieu.
In only two years at LSU, Mathieu registered 133 total tackles, 16 for loss, six sacks, four picks, 19 passes defended, 11 forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy award which is rare for defensive players. The reason why he should be available this late is because he missed all of 2012 for off the field issues which got him kicked off the team. Normally, I would not want someone like this playing for the Cowboys but after reading this article on ESPN:
I feel he is going to do whatever it takes to avoid this issue in the future. He could even emerge as the emotional leader this team sorely lacks based on his aggressive style of play. In short, the risk is worth the reward and leads into the next fix which is…
4. Get more defensive play makers via draft and free agency…
Building off of the previous mention, there has been a serious void on the defense in all facets in regards to making plays. Until this year, you would have to go back to 2007 to find a Cowboys’ team that had two players register double-digit sacks. Prior to that? 1985! Only once since 1996 have the Cowboys had a player with more than five interceptions and that was also in 2007. That 2007 edition of the Dallas Cowboys was 13-3, by the way, which I don’t believe was a coincidence. Along with drafting Mathieu, I would like to see Dallas go after a free agent safety. There are two solid choices, in my opinion, that could not only make the defense younger, but also more dominating. The first choice would be Jairus Byrd. Byrd, 26, has eight interceptions and seven forced fumbles in the last two years. If the Bills re-sign him the other choice would be Dashon Goldson.
Goldson has nine interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in the same time frame. Both would be significant upgrades over Gerald Sensabaugh, who will be 30 when next year starts and has only two interceptions and three forced fumbles since 2011. To solve the sack issues, while likely unpopular, I would let Anthony Spencer leave and replace him with a cheaper, more productive option in Shaun Phillips. I am leery of guys who have their best years in a “contract year.” A tale of the tape shows Spencer’s highest sack total prior to this year’s 11 was six. Phillips has had seven years with more than six sacks and is not just a specialist. He is the same type of all-around player Spencer is but better at getting to the quarterback. Lastly, I would like to see Dallas a guy who has “done it before” and who better to choose than Osi Umenyiora. Not only would that weaken a divisional rival, but also it would add someone who knows how to get to the quarterback. In the last four years, Umenyiora has accumulated 33.5 sacks, 18 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. That sounds like a play maker to me.
3. Draft a defensive tackle with the 18th pick in the first round…
By now, a few of you are probably wondering why I am so fixated on the defense when there are issues on the offensive side of the ball. The short answer is that it is easier to build a dominating defense. We’ll get to the offensive side of the ball but step three in the process is yet another defensive request. This draft is absolutely loaded with talent on the defensive line, primarily the defensive tackle position. Scout’s, Inc. ranks four of the top 17 and seven of the top 27 overall best players listed in the 2013 draft playing DT. Draft guru Mel Kiper also has a litany of these players on his top 25. The consensus best is Star Lotulelei from Utah but Dallas does not draft high enough to get him. The others are essentially personal preference so I will lean towards someone who got it done in the best conference in college football. My pick is Johnathan Jenkins from Georgia.
You can view his info here: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1888753 but given the fact that we are likely to release Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent removed himself from the picture, the Cowboys do not have a legitimate option in the middle of their line. This addition would solve that problem quite nicely. If Jenkins is not available, Johnathan Hankins from Ohio State or Sheldon Richardson from Missouri would be acceptable choices as well.
2. Emphasize “clean” football…
Here is where the focus shifts to the offensive side of the ball. “Clean” football means limiting penalties and turnovers, especially in the red zone. One of the biggest issues on this team is the amount of turnovers under Coach Garrett. In three of the five years he has run the offense we have had 29, 30 and 33 turnovers in a season. To put that in perspective, the top five teams in the league who had the fewest turnovers tallied between 14 and 17 total turnovers and all were playoff teams. This team is doubling the amount of the turnovers that winning teams produce. That has to stop. The other killer on this team is penalties.
Even though this issue is not specific to just the offense, it is specific to clean football. Dallas has been one of the six most penalized teams in the NFL for the last six straight seasons, averaging over seven penalties per game in that time span. Unacceptable. The first sign that this may be turned around is the firing of Rob Ryan who doesn’t exactly scream “discipline,” but more needs to happen. I would like to see that anytime a player was responsible for a penalty or turning the ball over in practice, that player be replaced for two or three sets of plays. We should also implement the same concept Atlanta does, where they lead off their weekly preparation with “low lights” of all of the penalties they had in the previous game. If a reduction in playing time or peer pressure doesn’t work, fines or outright cutting of a player may need to occur.
1. Hire an offensive coordinator…
Two and a half years of the Jason Garrett dual responsibility experiment and things are not any better. If you want to hitch your wagon to Garrett as the head coach, then he needs help. In my opinion, there were three glaring issues with the offense. We already discussed the issue of the turnovers. The next issue was the consistently slow starts. Dallas averaged 7.8 points per game going into halftime. Only four teams were equal or worse. Their combined records were 12-52. Lastly, there has been little to no improvement in scoring. In the five years Garrett has been the offensive coordinator, Dallas has scored 362, 361, 394, 369 and 376 points, working out to approximately twenty-four points per game. This has been good enough to be perfectly mediocre.
Instead of just wishing for a new coordinator, I am going to take it one step further. I am going to list a few candidates I would really like to see hired. One name that will seem glaringly missing is Norv Turner. The reason why he is not listed is more realistic than anything else as it seems he and Jerry Jones do not have a positive relationship. He has also mentioned multiple times that he probably will not be returning to Dallas since being fired as San Diego’s head coach.
The Bronze Medalist
Mike Solari – Currently Offensive Line coach – San Francisco 49ers
– Aside from a brief stint working for Alabama University, Solari has been in the NFL since 1987 working almost exclusively as the offensive line coach for the Cowboys, Chiefs, Seahawks and 49ers. During his time with the Chiefs (1997-2005) his offensive lines were responsible for producing top five rushing attacks in 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2004 as well as top five passing offenses in 2000 and 2003-2005. He also has experience as an offensive coordinator, running the Chiefs offense in 2006 & 2007. Recently, his unit in San Francisco has improved their rushing attack from 19th in 2010 to 8th in 2011 and now 4th in 2012.
The Silver Medalist
Hue Jackson – Currently assistant to Special Teams and Defensive Backs – Cincinnati Bengals
– Jackson has been in the NFL since 2001 with stints as the offensive coordinator with Washington in 2003, Atlanta in 2007 and Oakland in 2010. While the ’03 Redskins and ’07 Falcons were dismal teams, they also had no talent whatsoever. In 2010, his offense was the sixth best in the league including the second best rushing attack in the NFL for that year. Hue was then named head coach of the Raiders in 2011, where he led them to their best record in nine years and to the verge of the playoffs. As a positional coach, Jackson coached the Redskins running back unit in 2001 that was eighth best in the league. He then coached the wide receivers in Cincinnati from 2004-2006 where his unit finished fifth and sixth in the league in his last two years. Jackson was also the quarterbacks coach in 2008-09 where he tutored Joe Flacco in his first two years with the Ravens, taking their passing game from 28th in 2008 to 9th in 2009.
The Gold Medalist
Bobby Turner – Currently Running Backs coach – Washington Redskins
– Turner was the running backs coach at Ohio State University from 1989–90 during which time they had the top rushing attack in their conference, averaged almost 30 points per game and made bowl games in both years. He moved on to work as running backs coach, offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Purdue University from 1991–94. Even though there was little team success, he was still responsible for an offense that scored almost 24 points per game while only working with one NFL caliber player in Mike Alstott. Turner has since worked in the NFL from 1995-2009 as Denver’s running back coach, holding the same position in Washington since 2010. Since 1995, his teams have been in the top five in rushing offense eleven times. Since we recently fired our running backs coach and Jerry loves multi-taskers, this would theoretically make the most sense.Hopefully we make all five of these changes but even if two or three of these changes are made, we could finally see a playoff appearance for Dallas… maybe even a deep run.