The Season Of _________?

Checking the rear view mirror…


Prior to the beginning of the 2007 season, I was thinking about what would serve as the tipping point for upcoming Cowboys season. As I surveyed the landscape, it was clear (at least to me) that Tony Romo’s play would be the major dependency upon which the success of the season was hinged. I called it, “The Season of Romo”. Looking back, it was somewhat prophetic in that he had a breakout year and the offense was ‘electric’. Lots of things stood out that year, especially on offense, but nothing shined so brightly as the performance Romo put in.


In 2008, I ventured out, once again, into the world of football season nomenclature and touted it as “The Season of Wade”. Once again, modesty aside, the entire season of turmoil and dashed hopes revolved around a divided locker room, a defensive coaching change, claims of impotence around Phillips’ coaching style and an overall lack of leadership and/or ‘team-first’ commitment to winning. Again, lots of things were notable about the past season, but in the end, the vast majority pointed to Wade. Truly, when you add it all up, last year was all about Wade Phillips and the varying degrees of dissatisfaction around how he did not ‘lead’ this team over the proverbial mountain. In fact, his future with the team (fist pounding on the podium notwithstanding) is now in jeopardy as a result of what Wade didn’t do last year.


In retrospect, I completely agree with everything I said. ;-)



Admit it, you know what’s coming…


There is no way I’m going to miss out on the opportunity to roll a turkey (because bowling and football clichés are so cool together). Nope, as the dawn of a new hope-filled season approaches, it is time again for me to lay it all on the line for 2009 and how I see the horizon for Dallas’ upcoming season.


Truthfully, this one was tougher than the first two. I thought about all of the areas that I view as strengths and weaknesses. I think about all of the lynchpin players like Romo, Newman, Ware, Ratliff, Sensei and Hamlin. I wondered if it would again be about Redball and what he could achieve without the big distraction, but also hearing about the need for him to be more imaginative in his play calling. I thought about Folk, McBriar, Kosier and Barber having healthy feet (is it me or does that seem like an inordinate amount of foot issues for one team in one year? Maybe I screwed up and 2008 should have been the Season of Feet?) along with Flozell’s shoulder and whatever laundry list of ailments T-New brings to camp. I thought about the additions on defense and the ‘main subtraction’ on offense and how those things will impact the team. I even thought about Wade’s predicament, likening it to Holmgren’s, and whether this team would pull a ‘Seahawk-esque’ nosedive if things got tough and just plain tank (the verb, not the player) the season.


As a backdrop, I have expectations. I expect the defense to improve, even if it is only marginal improvement. I expect our QB to improve, even if that means only limiting his number of bonehead plays. I expect Ware to continue to surge and for Spencer to develop into a solid bookend as the season wears on. I expect the safeties can be serviceable in center field and generate some turnovers, which is more than anyone could have said in the last 3-4 years. I think the locker room can be more united and that the team will respond, better than in years past, to tough December and January battles. I expect the injury bug to go bite some other team and for it to be less of a factor in Dallas’ fortunes this year. Like everyone, I’m going into 2009 with expectations and if those expectations, whether they are reasonable or not, aren’t met, well…all bets are off. 


In the end though, this came down to one very painful realization…


Last year, the team faltered up front on offense. More than anything else, while the defense improved year-over-year and as the season played out, the offense was unable to sustain its output from the prior year and it all began up front. Never before had people bemoaned the loss of a position coach as much as we did with the loss of Tony Sparano (although you could argue we STILL miss David Lee a whole lot!). One could make an argument that the 2007 front wall was largely injury-free. But in fact, that group lost its Center for 2.5 games in the famous Haynesworth Curb Stomp. That team still generated good protection and opened holes throughout the season until the playoff contest against the Giants.


This year’s O-Line is coming off of a rash of injuries that some would call anomalous. The team lacks proven depth inside and out, but the starters have flashed the ability to take over games (again, see 2007), create a secure pocket and allow the offense to keep opposing defenses on their heels. In the final analysis, the play of this unit represents the single largest variable in forecasting Dallas’ success for 2009. If you believe, like I do, that strong O-Line play has to do with communication, trust, chemistry and smarts, then you probably agree that the role that good coaching plays is accentuated. Here more than maybe any other place on the team, coaching looms largest in the position group’s success or failure (again, injuries notwithstanding). All the talent in the world can’t overcome poor blocking schemes and/or shoddy communication. But great coaching can take a less heralded unit and elevate it to elite status on the field. 


And so…


This season, is The Season of Hud. In a year that is all about the unveiling of a ‘new’ home for the team, I give pause to a man who is anything but new to us Cowboys fans.  That’s right, 66-year old Hudson Houck, the Offensive Line coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Hudson Houck, who first coached O-Line in 1983 with the Rams and has 26 years of NFL Coaching experience. I’m talking about the guy who spent 9 years coaching the Dallas O-Line where Dallas gave up the fewest sacks in the league over that span of time. The same guy who coached the O-Line that helped Emmitt Smith win two rushing crowns. Yes, THAT Hudson Houck.


Gotta Face Facts…


This team, on offense, will NOT be as explosive without T.O. as they were with T.O. (and anyone who argues that with me can go pound sand…I’m not biting). But that could be the BEST thing to happen to the offense, and more importantly, to Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Marion Barber, ‘Tellus Bennett and others. This year’s offense will need to be more methodical, more precise and more controlled, with a greater commitment to the ground game than in the past few years. So, it’s no surprise that the play of the Offensive Line will singularly determine whether or not Dallas can do those things with any consistency. Many people hailed the addition of Houck when Sparano left, assuming there would be no drop-off in play from the Line. Again, keeping in mind that injuries hit that unit in a disproportionately harsh manner in 2008, it still seemed that the backups were ill-prepared to play even in short stints and that the communication and feisty demeanor of the prior year were lacking. Okay, so no whining, no complaining and no excuses (by the way, that’s from John Wooden, and they’re words everyone should live by). The overall play of the O-Line is on Houck. You know it, I know it and happily for us fans, he knows it.


This year, it is on Houck’s shoulders to rebuild the Line’s confidence and recapture the chemistry and tenacity that led to an outstanding regular season campaign in 2007 under the “other guy”. It’s on Houck’s shoulders to ensure that Romo isn’t running for his life because of missed assignments, poor communication or incorrect line calls. It’s on Houck to make sure the holes for Choice and Barber are there to run through and that the edge is sealed for Felix to run around. Yes, so much depends on what Houck and this O-Line are able to accomplish that this could only be…The Season of Hud




As I ponder the possibilities for 2009, it is clear that despite most pre-season publications and sports news outlets picking Dallas to be a 3rd place team in the NFC East and missing a post-season berth, there is an opportunity for Hudson Houck to be our hero. Our man Hud has a chance to take a season, where Dallas isn’t on the national media’s Championship radar screen, and put us squarely into the mix with a great coaching performance. It’s a lot to ask of a man who’s already put many more games behind him than he has in front of him. Nonetheless, this team needs a hero, and I, for one, truly believe Hudson Houck is the man for the job.


In the Season of Hud…


Go Cowboys! 

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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