Typically, I don’t get too down after losses. I tend to be an optimistic fan that always believes the team isn’t out of the hunt until they are mathematically eliminated. It’s a long season and no one loss is worth more than another. But Sunday’s lost to the Saints just may have been the most depressing loss for me in some time. And it has almost nothing to do with the outcome and the pathetic score, but more about what’s to come. If you follow a team closely for some time, certain games allow you to “peek through keyholes” to see what the future might hold for a team. And I’m not a psychic, but you should be worried if you are a Cowboy fan for the short term, but even more so for the long term. Here are some of the reasons why it might get worse for the Cowboys before it gets better.
The defense is incredibly banged up and losing Sean Lee for even a few games is going to severely handicap this team. Other than Tony Romo, there isn’t a more important player on this Cowboys team. The defense has set franchise game records for points allowed at home (51), points in a fourth quarter (24), total yards (625) and 1st downs (40) in three separate losses. Injuries have devastated this defense, but what’s new? Last season we saw a bunch of players lost for the year as well. But sometimes, the coaches and players need to step up when their defensive stars have fallen. Whether it’s bad luck, or just bad defense, the Dallas Cowboys can’t stop anyone right now.
The offense has the potential to be what the New Orleans offense is, but the team has no identity. Some weeks they want to air it out 50 times. This week, it was clear that they wanted to run as much as possible. The Cowboys have a bunch of nice individual players, but the scheme and game plan don’t use the players to their full advantage.
But not all the blame lies on the scheme either. There were opportunities for players to make a difference in the game Sunday, but none seemed to rise to the occasion. Terrance Williams was constantly left one-on-one in single coverage and could not win consistently Sunday. After a hot start from Williams, he has fallen off significantly. Jason Witten had a chance to start a drive off to a quick start with a 25 yard reception that he dropped. Dez Bryant was constantly double covered, but he could only come up with one catch for 44 yards.
The media and some of the veterans (Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware ahem) have zapped the passion and fire away from Dez Bryant. After weeks of ridicule and media blame, Dez Bryant looks like an emotionless player. The passion that separated him from everyone else on the team seems to be gone. Dez was the fire the lit this team emotionally and now with all the cameras on his every move, he has been relegated to just another gray-faced player. Any hope that Dez Bryant was going to be the next emotional leader like a Michael Irvin has disappeared. For whatever reason you may believe, Dez Bryant will not be able to lead this team because of knee-jerk reactions from the media and some teammates in a loss in Detroit. That one game has likely altered the career path of Dez unjustly.
Another long term problem might be Jason Garrett. I have been a fan of Jason Garrett and the way he treats the players and the way he has captured the respect of the players. He has been the most influential person in helping Dez Bryant mature. I also believe that Jason Garrett is also the reason the team has drafted better in the past few seasons. But I fear that he will always be out-coached by better coaches. As a head coach, he is 2 – 11 against Sean Payton, Bill Belicheck, Mike McCarthy, John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and Andy Reid. Most would consider those some of the top coaches in the league. If the Cowboys would happen to make the playoffs, do you see Jason Garrett giving the team a coaching advantage? How could you when Garrett’s teams are 4-22 against opponents with winning records? In today’s NFL, the talent pool is spread so evenly, that the best coaches seem to be the ones who win.
And if the Cowboys can’t make the playoffs and have some postseason success this season, it is going to be tough in 2014 with the team’s current cap situation. The team is projected to be – over the cap. And while we know that cap figure could be considered a “moving target” and it’s not exact, the expiring contracts of Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant are quickly approaching. It’s also not to be forgotten that the contracts of Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware increase substantially in the next few seasons.
But back to the Saints game. As I watched the game unfold with Dallas letting the Saints gash them anyway they wished, I had flashbacks to the Green Bay Packers loss in 2010. The Cowboys lost that game 45-7, mainly because the team quit unfairly on Wade Phillips. But on Sunday, I saw a team fighting and playing hard for the most part, yet I had a similar feeling. Is it time to make a move? And I don’t necessarily mean just Jason Garrett, but the entire team. At some point with this team, it became okay to be a mediocre team. Being a .500 club means that you will never really feel out of the playoff hunt, but you never feel really in it either. The Cowboys hit an iceberg Sunday Night against the Saints. It’s up to them to decide if they want to fight to stay afloat, or to let things become worse and sink.