Last year, after finishing 8-8 for the second year in a row, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett remarked, to the derision of some, that “invisible progress” was being made. That in fact even though the record did not change from the year before, the team had improved. So, as the 2013 campaign winds down, and before we know the resulting record, it’s apparent to me that this “invisible progress” has now become visible. Detailed below are reasons that I believe this to be the case.
The play of quarterback Tony Romo: There is no doubt, at least to me, that Romo’s “gunslinger” style of the past helped the Cowboys to win games. There is also little doubt that this style of play also caused the Cowboys to lose games due to interceptions at inopportune times. This year we have seen Romo’s interception rate go way down as we have also seen several drives at the end of games secure a win.
One might argue that the interception at the end of the game against the Broncos was just the same old Romo losing the game at the end. But to make that case you would have to completely ignore the fact that running back Phillip Tanner ran the wrong route, which caused there to be an extra defender in the area that, by the way, made an extremely athletic play to intercept the ball. The bottom line is that Romo has been coached into playing a more careful game and the results are apparent. And we must not discount the positive effect of Romo being involved with putting together the offensive game plan.
Garrett’s kind of guys: It comes as no surprise that Garrett has criteria for players he wants on this team. The guys he wants give 100% all of the time and have a positive attitude. That is why you see players come off the street to help this weakened by injury defensive line. We have seen this team cut defensive lineman and add new ones on nearly a weekly basis. Part of that is no doubt because some of these players are not good enough. But the other part of that is that players that do not have the proper work ethic coupled with the afore-mentioned positive attitude will not be allowed to hang around. If it’s not there they won’t be either.
When you talk about Garrett making the Cowboys a team with his kind of guys, you must address the draft and rookie free agent signings. Since Garrett became the head coach the perception of the Cowboys draft has improved by those outside the organization and quality players like Bruce Carter, Dan Bailey, Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar, Dwayne Harris, Ron Leary, DeMarco Murray, Tyron Smith, Terrance Williams and last but not least, Travis Frederick have become Cowboys. The selection of Frederick in particular, late in the first round of the last draft, was the subject of ridicule by those outside the organization. That ridicule has subsided as Frederick’s performance this season has been even better than expected.
In any discussion about Garrett’s kind of guys the situation with Jerimiah (Jay) Ratliff has to be discussed. Garrett has shown some patience with guys that give 100% on the field, but don’t necessarily have that positive attitude. I would categorize Ratliff as a member of that group. His relationship with the team took a negative turn when he got into an argument with Jerry Jones over, as far as I can tell, Jones expressing the fact that the Cowboys sure miss him on the playing field. Maybe it’s just me, but when someone gets that angry over such comments, it appears they are being defensive because they really were well enough to be out there.
Fast forward to this year as Ratliff continued to not be well enough to play, way beyond the timeline that was originally anticipated. The Cowboys became frustrated enough they finally cut him and guess what, he signs with the Bears and is soon well enough to play. And all of this was after the Cowboys showed enough faith in an aging player to give him an enormous contract extension. I, for one, am glad to see a player like that gone. There ought to be some legal recourse for the Cowboys when the player could have played, but apparently didn’t want to. We will have to wait and see what happens on that front.
Coaching: There are many that think Garrett is just a yes man to Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones. But if that’s the case, there would not be several assistant coaches with head coaching experience on his staff. A weak coach would be too worried about being replaced by one of these experienced coaches and not take the risk by having them on his staff. Fortunately that’s not the case with Garrett. As a result they are able to tap into the wealth of experience possessed by defensive line coach, and former Detroit Lions’ head coach, Rod Marrinelli. There is no way the Cowboys defensive line would be performing like it is if not for Marrinelli’s ability to teach and his enthusiasm.
Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan is also a former head coach and now serves the valuable role of calling plays for the Cowboys offense. His value should not be underestimated as offensive line coach as well. And improved coaching of the receivers comes from former college head coach Derek Dooley.
I still think this is a team that finishes the season 10-6 and wins the NFC East. Time will tell and even if the season doesn’t end that way, it’s obvious that progress has been made, which makes it quite visible.