Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett talks a lot about the “process” of establishing a team identity, and how it’s ongoing – play after play after play. Sunday’s showcase between the Cowboys and Packers at AT&T Stadium offers Garrett’s players an opportunity to further establish their identity as gritty, grinding overachievers.
That’s right. These Cowboys are overachieving again at 7-6, just like they overachieved the past two seasons at 8-8.
We didn’t actually learn anything new about this team’s identity during Monday’s 45-28 thrashing in Chicago. We knew the Cowboys were a bad road team, and now they’re 2-5 on the road. We knew the four-man pass rush can’t generate consistent pressure, and journeyman backup quarterback Josh McCown had a career day. We knew this secondary has had trouble defending big, physical receivers, and Chicago has a pair of them who did pretty much whatever they wanted. We knew this defense can’t stop the run without linebacker Sean Lee in the lineup, and the Bears ran wild after a stinger sent him to the sidelines.
Everything we saw Monday night, we’ve seen before. It’s not the coaching; it’s not the scheme. It’s the personnel. The Cowboys roster simply isn’t as good as that of the Bears, or the Broncos, or the Saints, or any of the other division leaders.
Think about it. Put your passion aside for a moment. If you believe the Cowboys have the talent to win, and it’s the coaching staff or the scheme that’s holding them back, then reason dictates you believe Jerry Jones is a capable GM. The GM’s chief organizational responsibility is talent, so if the talent is there, then Jerry’s done his job. If you believe this team’s talent is underachieving, don’t blame the losses on Jerry. You can’t have it both ways.
The truth is, this roster is thin. This roster was overmatched in Chicago – if you believe otherwise, then you believe Jerry is a good GM. This roster is made competitive by an elite coaching staff and the play of Tony Romo – if you believe otherwise, then you believe Jerry is a good GM.
I’ve argued Jerry is a much improved GM since he hired Garrett, as evidenced by his use of premium draft picks on the offensive line, his reluctance to trade draft picks for short-term veteran help, and his willingness to let Jason Hatcher walk – a 32-year-old defensive tackle coming off a career year is dead cap money waiting to happen.
Jerry may be a smarter GM today than he was three years ago, but it’s going to take time to undo all the harm done by former GM Jerry during the Wade Phillips era. In 2007, the year Bill Parcels left the war room, Jerry traded second, third and fourth-round draft picks to Philadelphia for the opportunity to draft Anthony Spencer 22nd overall. The next year he traded a first, a fifth and a seventh to move up three spots and nab Mike Jenkins in the first round. A year later he traded out, giving a first, a third and a sixth to Detroit in a trade for wide receiver Roy Williams.
That’s five potential starters and four potential contributors traded for three players with dubious value. Takes a long time to come back from decisions like that. The Cowboys roster is getting better these past three seasons, but it’s still a long ways from elite.
And yet, with three games to play in 2013, the Cowboys control their own destiny. Win out, and they win the division. Disappointing as it was, the Cowboys’ playoff prospects didn’t change after Monday night’s beat down in Chicago. Beat Green Bay at home, Washington on the road, then take the season finale against Philadelphia, and the division is theirs. Those are all very winnable games, particularly for a team that is 5-1 at home.