Saturday, August 28th in Houston, Texas. The Cowboys were rolling into their fourth preseason game--the Texans their third. By that time, everyone knew that the Dallas offense had been featuring a "vanilla" approach to its gameplan. The team, as Head Coach Wade Phillips said, was tired. Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys. They were the focus of the media, the fans, and judging by the "flavor" of the playbook, the Dallas coaches.
Preseason is over, but commentary regarding the team's ineptitude during its play is not. After having dropped their first two regular season games, the Cowboys have yet to shed the criticism that followed after each preseason game. The offense, especially, has yet to respond in a productive enough manner to defeat its defensive opponents. The 0-2 start to the 2010 season has every pundit analyzing what is wrong with the Cowboys. Are the Cowboys focusing too much on the same thing?
Fans and local media are generally subjective when it comes to the respective teams they follow. Against Houston during the preseason, Dallas played mistake-heavy football. The consensus, as it remains through Week 2, is that the team "beats itself". But perhaps this subjective approach is wrong. Perhaps the Cowboys are just getting beat by their opponents. I guarantee you Redskins and Bears fans are not completely attributing their teams' victories over the Cowboys as the "Cowboys beating themselves". In that preseason game, you could see that the Texans were playing to win; they were playing to beat the Dallas Cowboys. Preseason or not, the Texans fans love when their team defeats their cross-state rivals. With each and every first down the Texans gained, seemingly every fan stood up and roared while emphatically giving the Michael Irvin-inspired sign for a first down. That night, you could sense that the objective screamed Texans vs. Cowboys, not Texans vs. Texans.
When a team is losing, it seems natural that they review their mistakes and try to learn from them. Last week, the media asked Coach Phillips whether the team was addressing penalties and mental mistakes after the Cowboys provided them plenty of each in the loss to the Redskins. There never seems to be a lack of writing material when this team commits as many errors as the Cowboys did. Phillips obliged saying that in practice they worked on and will continue to work on techniques to prevent such mistakes. During the telecast of the Bears game, we found out that he even sent players who made the same mistakes during practice to the locker room. Subjectively, the discipline from the coaches seems to be there. But now that the regular season is in full swing, shouldn't the objective focus fully on the opponent?
Obviously, we fans want the Cowboys to remain contenders for as long as the NFL remains in tact. This is why we obsess about the draft and which new crop of undrafted free agents, if any, will round out the bottom of the 53. These are the players that could assure the team has quality talent for years to come. But 2010 is here, and it is the top of the 45 that wins and loses the games for the team. With all the talk of talent at certain positions and lack thereof at others, none of that matters when the talent from the opposing team plays better than that of the Cowboys.
Chemistry. Being on the "same page". Identity. Leadership. Discipline. We have all seen each of these terms used often when discussing the Dallas Cowboys; they seem to pop up more often when the team struggles. These terms, though, are used to describe every team in the NFL. So why do we, Dallas fans, concern ourselves so much with how we use these terms? Well, we are grasping at straws looking for answers to how to cure the hangover caused by losing. My fear is that these terms, these concerns, are the focus of the players and coaches that make up this version of the Dallas Cowboys. Instead of battling the Redskins, the Bears, the Texans, the Cowboys are battling themselves. It's subjective in almost a narcissistic manner.
Here I am throwing out another term to describe the Cowboys: narcissistic. Before chucking your tomatoes, forget the negative psychological connotations to this term for the moment, as I am referring more to the mythological tale by the great Greek poet Ovid in his Metamorphosis. Narcissus, a hunter, was the target of much love and respect for his good looks, yet he failed to reciprocate that to anyone but himself. Once Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, caught wind of Narcissus' ignorance of others, she gave him what he wanted: eternal love for his own self. This led to his demise as he sought only the love of his own reflection.
Lecture over. Back to football.
Now that the Cowboys are at the bottom of the standings to begin this season, they have two options in how they can climb out of this 0-2 hole. They can stay subjective by working on the issues that plague them: penalties, miscues, managing self-destructive tendencies, etc. Or they can take an objective approach to the season by focusing their full attention on the Houston Texans.
Most of you would agree that every team brings their "A+" game when they play the Cowboys. You saw it yesterday. Jay Cutler was on, putting the appropriate touch on end zone passes and gunning them through traffic. The Bears defense was on, flying to the ball as if it every inch mattered. Lovie Smith, Mike Martz, and Mike Tice, were all on, adjusting the strengths and weaknesses of their respective units. Like the Redskins the week before and the Texans during the preseason, the urgency exuded by Dallas' opponents produced wins for their teams. Their respect for the Cowboys leads them into a passion for wanting to defeat them. Just as Narcissus' rejected suitors pined for vengeance, teams bring an almost playoff-like football to the Cowboys.
All or nothing every week. That's how teams play the Dallas Cowboys. They seem to be the arch nemesis of every team in the NFL that plays them. As it is now, they appear to be their own arch nemesis as well. If the Dallas players and coaches expect to get to the actual playoffs this season, then that's how they have to play right now. They have to play playoff-caliber football to match that of their opponent's. They have to stay objective. Save the subjective "fix-our-own-mistake" stuff for the bye week and offseason.
This week's objective is the Houston Texans--not the 0-2 Dallas Cowboys. The 2-0 Houston Texans.