Certain themes about the Dallas Cowboys seem to show up in the media on a regular basis. The Cowboys roster is generally thought to be one of the most talented in the NFL. That's not a universal assessment, but more often than not, when you talk about pure talent on a team, the Cowboys are lumped into the top group. The problem with that is that the recent editions of the Cowboys may have talent, but they've yet to win big. Only one playoff win in their recent run isn't exactly the kind of payoff you'd expect if you are sitting on one of the most talent-laden rosters in the league.
Let's assume the Cowboys do have all the talent that a team needs as many experts believe. If that's the case, then the finger-pointing begins in other areas for their lack of big-time success. And that finger almost always points at the coach first. So it was with the Cowboys when Jerry Jones finally made the decision to dump Wade Phillips in the middle of last season. The early returns on that move have been positive, as Jason Garrett took over the team and immediately made the Cowboys into a much better football team. So much so that he got the full-time gig and will be leading our team into the 2011 season.
But the finger-pointing isn't done.
A recurrent theme about this particular collection of Cowboys is that they have no real leadership among the players. Quarterback Tony Romo has suffered the lion's share of this burden, as quarterbacks usually do when it comes to the question of leadership on a NFL team. I've written before about this subject with the basic idea that we really don't know enough about what goes on with Romo behind the scenes to make an accurate determination. But I do like the fact he's taken on the responsibility of organizing the player-led workouts this summer, and I think it does speak to how his teammates feel about him that they were so well attended. It's also encouraging that Romo took on the head coach role during the workouts.
Still, not everybody is a believer. Brian Baldinger at NFL.com calls out the Cowboys for a lack of leadership. Not just any leadership, but the kind of in-your-face, get-your-act-together leadership that many fans clamor for. This kind of leadership is visible, and sometimes makes us feel better when things are going wrong because it makes us feel like somebody cares and is trying to do something to make it better. Here's the key statement from Baldinger:
"There’s a difference between being a pro — and Ware is a great pro — and being a leader. He’s not a great leader," said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger.
"When you watch [DeMarcus] Ware, Jay Ratliff, Jason Witten, you watch these guys practice great practice habits. They take care of their yard. But when it comes to crunch time, are they the guys who grab guys by the throat and say, ‘This is what we need to do to win the game.’ I know Keith Brooking is a great pro. There are questions about Tony Romo in the huddle. Because when Jon Kitna was in there, players on the offense said he was a better leader than Romo. That’s coming from the Cowboys themselves."
This one is always tricky to me. How much does leadership play in the fortunes of an NFL team? And do you really need the kind of fiery, emotional leadership that Baldinger describes? Or if you are prepared through the week, and if you have the right practice habits married with a solid gameplan, does that kind of stuff become moot?
It's unlikely we'll see a change in behavior among the players, although we'll definitely have a change among the coaching ranks. Jason Garrett will use his icy cool demeanor to prep his players each week and will use his no-nonsense approach to demand accountability. On defense, we'll likely get the polar opposite in Rob Ryan's fire-breathing, I'm-one-of-the-guys approach.
So do the Cowboys need more leadership among the players, or will new leadership on the sidelines be enough?