The Enormous Task Of The 2011 Dallas Cowboys

Normally, I would do a look ahead to the opponent for the week and also run my forecast for the Cowboys, but this is one week that neither of those really work.  It is expected that the Cowboys are going to sit as many starters as possible and play as many people still fighting for a position as they can to finalize the cut to 53.  The Miami Dolphins will likely do the same, and however they approach the game, it is basically very introspective on our part.  And since there is only the slightest connection between this game and how the team will likely do in the regular season, the Forecast just makes more sense for the New York Jets season opener.

It feels like a slight lull in the storm we have been in (a tip of the hat there to BTB member tanstaafl's reprise of a great post of his), and as usually happens when things slow a bit, I got to thinking.

Have you thought about how big an undertaking the Cowboys have taken on this year?  Some of you certainly have, but  I just wanted to go over exactly what the team has done and what it had to overcome to accomplish it.  We have been dissecting and analyzing the various parts constantly, but I am (sometimes) a big picture guy, and I wanted to look at the whole ball of wax.

The picture at the head of this article was taken on the day Jason Garrett officially became the permanent head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.  Note that date.  January 6th, 2011.  Prior to that, he was the interim head coach, but on this day, he officially took the reins and could start putting his plan into effect.

This, of course, happens all the time in the NFL.  But this year, there was the lovely little interlude coming known as the NFL Lockout (coincidentally, like a storm, it had certain characteristics involving low pressure).  This is not something new head coaches normally face.

All Jason Garrett could do was put his coaching staff together.  And plan.

We all had a lot of faith that JG had a plan.  He had shown some glimpses of what he wanted to do during his stint as the interim head coach, and from the first day he dropped the interim off his title, he started explaining the Cowboy Way, his concept of a guiding philosophy for how the team would be led and the standards it would hold itself to.  He made it clear he wanted to have a long term, strategic blueprint to follow.  But I never guessed during the long, agonizing months waiting for the new CBA to be negotiated just how sweeping his plan was.

He had to have known almost from day one that he was going to demolish and reconstruct the offensive line.  I think he knew going into the draft that Marc Colombo (coincidentally now on the Miami roster) and Leonard Davis needed to be cut as soon as the new season started.  If the decision was not final shortly after JG took over, it probably was locked in on draft day when the Cowboys got three O linemen they apparently liked in a draft where fixing the offense was clearly the priority. 

But at the time I have to think that Montrae Holland and Andre Gurode were still seen as part of the solution.  Tyron Smith may have been seen as a possible starter, but surely going into the new season the thinking was still to have four veterans on the line.

Meanwhile, going back to the weeks between JG's getting the full time gig and the start of the lockout, a new defensive coordinator is hired and several key members of the staff are replaced.  Rob Ryan is bringing in his new and very difficult system with no real time to teach it to the veterans.

This is where a couple of things happened that were possibly unique to the Cowboys.  First, there seem to be reliable reports that several of the defensive players got copies of the RR playbook to study during the lockout.  I don't know if this kind of thing happened on other teams, but I haven't seen any reports of it.  Then, Tony Romo organized and led player practices.  This also happened at some other teams, but everything I have read on this confirm that the Cowboys had the best attended and best run player workouts in the league.  And those bootleg playbooks got shared so that the veterans had at least a little idea what they would have to be ready for.

Technically, it would be some kind of violation of labor law for the management and coaches to have coordinated any of the player organized activities.  So I am sure none of that happened.  At all.  Nope.  Nothing to worry about there.

The team activities do speak to a very high level of motivation on the part of the players and an early acceptance of what the new coaching staff wanted to accomplish.  And they also show a lot of leadership from Romo and other players, as well as good chemistry on the team, despite this comment by a writer at NFL.com.

I'm not sure Dallas has the chemistry and leadership to end up in the playoffs, but it certainly has the individual talent to be in the conversation.

Just as a side note, I have noticed that there are two kinds of writers/reporters in the national media.  Some do actual reporting and look at what is currently going on, and some just fall back on the old memes.  This quote is almost certainly based on the writer's concept of the Wade Phillips era.  There is a lot of that going around.

Once the lockout finally ends, the cuts that have already been decided on are made.  At this point, I quite frankly expected that all the drama and excitement for the Cowboys would center around Ryan's defense and how he was going to make it happen.  Remember, the draft was used primarily to address the offensive needs, and there were serious concerns about the salary cap which limited going into the free agent market, so the Big Robowski was going to have to make his system work pretty much with the players on hand.  I think this is why we have not seen any big cuts on the defensive side of the ball.  The team is taking every last opportunity to make sure they put the right defensive players on the field.  Remember, Jason knew his offensive personnel from four years of experience.   Rob was walking in completely cold.  It is very reasonable to assume he needs a little more time to evaluate and decide (although I still am mystified by why Igor Olshansky is still getting time on the field - some things seem so obvious).

Then Montrae Holland comes in rested and well fed.  Too well fed.  And Andre Gurode has surgery on his knee shortly before camp.  That has really made me curious.  Was he trying to see if he could recover enough to avoid the surgery?  Otherwise, the timing seems, well, a bit stupid.  Only a player who felt some sense of entitlement would . . .

Oh. 

Here is where the element of decisiveness comes in.  With Holland and Gurode both out, the new guys, or Yuglies as they have been christened, got a lot of practice reps and playing time in the preseason games.  Garrett, Houck, and the rest of the coaches had, to this point, five weeks to figure out if the team would be better off with two rookies and a second year UDFA to protect the star quarterback and open holes for the running game.  The staff looked at their performance and at the offensive philosophy, which places a premium on agility and mobility rather than just size.  And they made the call that the team would have a better chance of winning with the Yuglies than with Gurode or some free agent veterans.  I emphasize the chance of winning, because I do not in any way buy in that the Cowboys have thrown in the towel on this season and decided they are rebuilding.  Kegbearer has already laid out an outstanding argument on this topic, and I am fully on board with him.  Jason is building for the future.  But the future is now.

Let me say one thing again.  Five weeks.  From a dead stop, the team has made major changes on offense and installed a radically different defense in the past thirty-five days.  The total time will be forty-six days when they play the Jets.  I see this all being done with a remarkable coherence, following a very clear plan, but also with a flexibility and adaptability that lets the team maximize its assets and put the players in the best position to succeed.  Don't try to make a huge, relatively immobile guard fit a pulling, downfield blocking attack.  Put someone there who can reach the second level in time to do some good.  Looking at this as a whole, it may be one of the best jobs of reshaping a team under very adverse conditions the NFL has ever seen.

On September 11th, we will find out how well this has all worked.  But I feel good about this team.  Most importantly, when I look at the decisions made so far, I don't see any alternatives that would have been better in either the short or long term.  I am still waiting to see what defensive cuts are made (Igor. Igor.  Igor.  Igor.) and who will wind up as the placekicker.  If those decisions make sense to me, then no matter what the final win total is at the end of the season, I will be satisfied that this staff did everything it could to make this the best Cowboys team possible.  This year and years to come.

If I still harbor dreams of playing into February, well, it is the Season of Hope.

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