As the last seconds on the game clock Sunday night ticked down to zero in Super Bowl XLVII, I was already turning my thoughts to next season. Seconds after the end of the game, I tweeted out, “Next year, Cowboys!” (@LostinAR). A good friend of mine (not a Cowboys fan) replied, “Ever the optimist”. Yes, I guess I am. You have to be if you follow the Cowboys.
The good news is that the official end of the 2012 season capped off by Super Bowl XLVII is the unofficial beginning of the 2013 season. The league year doesn’t officially start until March 12th, but as of that moment, all teams start over at 0-0 and are full of Super Bowl dreams, the Cowboys included. The Cowboys are tied for the #1 seed in the NFC (with 15 other teams)! Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens, but in today’s fast paced world full of 24-hour news, the internet, Facebook, and Twitter, the celebration is over pretty quickly as people’s attention turns to other things.
Jerry Jones has made good on his promise to make things “uncomfortable” at Valley Ranch. The effectiveness of all the changes is certainly debatable and we’re not done yet. Change for the sake of change often alters the pathway but you end up in the same old place. That remains to be seen for the Cowboys. But, the Ravens success can yield a couple of nuggets of wisdom. Here are just a few in my opinion:
1. Coaches matter - John Harbaugh made a bold move firing his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, late in the season and promoting Jim Caldwell to the position. The Ravens offense and most notably, Joe Flacco, caught fire. Within a matter of months, Flacco went from being second guessed, considered “not elite”, under performing, couldn’t win a championship – to a flawless post season and the MVP award of the Super Bowl. There is no doubt more to the story but the simplest conclusion is that Jim Caldwell changed the offense to better fit the tools and skills of his offensive players. Did Flacco suddenly become a better, more skilled player? Unlikely. But, the play calling set him up for greater success. Jason Garrett could learn a thing or two it appears from Harbaugh and Caldwell. Tony Romo is at least as talented as Flacco.
One of these guys is a Super Bowl MVP (Hint: It’s not Romo!).
Did everyone happen to watch Flacco before each play? He would scan the defense to identify what they were running, make one call, and run the play. Watch Romo, and he appears to be switching plays, calling the “Mike”, getting players lined up correctly, watching the play clock, etc. Garrett’s system is clearly asking him to do a lot more than just play football. I see the same thing with many other NFL quarterbacks. They seem to be doing a lot less than Romo at the line of scrimmage.
2. An offensive line is important - The other key change the Ravens made was to shuffle their offensive line. Only 2 of the 5 players in the Ravens’ line played the same position all year. When the line struggled, they moved players around. Michael Oher was switched from left to right tackle. Keleche Osemele was switched from right tackle to left guard, a position he had never played. Result? A total of 4 sacks in the post season. Granted these guys are likely more talented than what the Cowboys have, but instead of moving people around and trying to improve, Garrett and “genius” Bill Callahan kept trying to get the same guys to “just be the best today” or whatever robotic platitude Garrett chose to use.
3. You don’t have to dominate the regular season to win the Super Bowl - the Ravens were 10-6 and had to win every game in the post season on the road and playing as an underdog. The Packers and Giants have demonstrated the same concept in past seasons. In the NFC, it appears one of the worst things you can do is earn the #1 seed in the playoffs. It hasn’t been kind in the modern day era of NFL parity.
The Cowboys play in the always tough NFC East. Their regular season record is less important than overall health, playing well at the right time, and winning enough games to qualify for the post season. Until they are mathematically eliminated (the last regular season game in both 2011 and 2012), there is still a chance.
4. Luck still plays a role - No, I don’t mean Andrew. At the end of the day, the Ravens won, but there were some miraculous plays – not the least of which was the long touchdown to tie the game against Denver with about 30 seconds left that put the game into overtime. Football is a game of inches – sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t. The Ravens get full credit for the wins because it took courage to make that call, great skill to execute it successfully, but pulling it off despite the fact that the other team was expecting it is luck. The right play called at the exactly the right time.
So, “wait until next year” starts today. The Ravens have shown how it can be done. I’m already dreaming that Jerry Jones is making all the right moves and 2013 will be our year. See you in New York in Super Bowl XLVIII. Go Cowboys!