A few days before the 1994 season-opener at Pittsburgh, I found myself in the pickup-truck passenger seat of Troy Aikman. (Sorry to name-drop!) And we were talking about whether the Cowboys' gameplan would include the resistance of throwing at future Hall-of-Fame cornerback Rod Woodson.
"No, not at all,'' Aikman intimated. "Deion (Sanders, then of the Falcons), we avoid him. But against Woodson and everybody else, we just run what we run. And we think we can win the matchup.''
It's now 15 years later. Now it's Cowboys-at-Broncos. Aikman is in the Fox broadcast booth. Woodson's role is being played by Champ Bailey. Michael Irvin's old job has been taken, I guess, by Sam Hurd (?). On the headset now, in control of the playcalling, is Jason Garrett, who was on the headset back then, too.
Does Jason Garrett think this is still 1994?
One quick aside before we proceed here:
I think Jason Garrett is a brilliant guy with a bright future. And the best thing about him is, he's man enough to take the criticism - criticism that he has coming to him after Dallas' 17-10 loss at Denver.
The Cowboys' Sept. 4, 1994 gameplan for the Steelers refused to recognize the excellence of Woodson. Dallas' offensive braintrust (which included starting QB Aikman and his trusty backup Garrett) believed that the Cowboys - having just won two Super Bowls -- were powerful enough to dictate to an opponent rather than be dictated to ... so off those Cowboys went, on a huge and season-opening roadie against a Steelers team that thought the same thing about itself.
Final score, Dallas 26, Pittsburgh 9. The Cowboys ran 41 times for 197 yards but in keeping the ball for 36 minutes, also threw 32 times, completing 21 of those for 245 yards. They treated the great Woodson as if he was just another guy.
Which is sort of what Garrett and Wade Phillips and Tony Romo attempted to do in Denver: Attack Champ Bailey as if he's JAG.
Final two plays of the game, two do-or-die plays from the 3-yard line. Dallas has no timeouts, no Roy Williams and no Marion Barber. Dallas does have as pass targets Tashard Choice, Miles Austin, Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd and Jason Witten.
Guess which one of those guys DOES NOT run a pass route?
Jason Witten - more accomplished as a get-open/muscle-for-a-ball/clutch-pass-catcher than the other four fellows combined, is instructed to stay in to pass-block. From there, the Cowboys decide that Sam Hurd, split right, is the do-or-die option.
Against Champ Bailey.
Bailey vs. Sam Hurd. The Cowboys liked this particular matchup so much ... in fact, liked (Your Cowboys Receiver's Name Here) so much that they threw at Bailey 16 times. Result? Champ recorded eight tackles, one interception and what seemed like a skillion passes-defensed.
As I was flipping channels on Sunday, I caught a moment of Jets-at-Saints in which the analyst raved about NY cornerback Darrelle Revis. He said Revis is now an elite corner, and then he struggles to name anyone on his level.
"Champ Bailey used to be in that class, but I'm not sure he is anymore,'' the voice said.
Maybe the Cowboys' gameplan was based on the same sort of dismissive thinking. And, hey, I'm not sure Bailey is what he used to be a few years ago. But I'm pretty sure the Cowboys' offensive approach isn't as justified as what it used to be - circa 1994 - either.