The Dallas Cowboys face huge questions again this season. After a thorough and demoralizing dismantling at the hands of the Chicago Bears, Jason Garrett and company have two weeks to try and figure out how to right this ship. Fortunately, the Cowboys have a perfect plan to look back on. One these coaches and players were involved in. They know how to go out and play an excellent game against a high-caliber opponent.
It's time to throw out the adjustments. Go back, get out all the plans and preparation the team put in for the opening game victory over the New York Giants, and let's see what they can do with that. There is one fairly universal principle in life that I believe applies here just as it does anywhere. When something works, and works very well, keep doing it.
The Giants, while not a flawless team, are still a very good one, with a superior quarterback and a feared defensive front. And the Cowboys beat them convincingly. Since then, they have only been convincing in not playing at all the way we expected after that huge performance.
While there are certainly mistakes being made by many players, there were also mistakes made in that first game, such as the Jason Witten drops. But the game plan worked superbly.
So I am saying that the onus now is clearly on the shoulders of Jason Garrett, Rob Ryan, and the coaching staff. It is time to get away from trying to scheme for the opponent. It is time to look at what the players wearing the Star can do, and find a way to let them do it.
Unquestionably, the best drive Dallas had in the Chicago game was the touchdown drive just before halftime. The team went no-huddle, and Tony Romo marched the team down the field effectively. Maybe the team needs to work on using that more. Quit with the long, convoluted chess matches before the snap, using up all the play clock and trying to get the defense to tip their hand. Instead, just go out and dictate the pace, coming at the other team relentlessly and not letting them have time to make adjustments. Romo is very good at reacting on the move, and maybe the team needs to put him in a position where he doesn't over-think things.
The team still needs to get DeMarco Murray back on track. This is more difficult, but again, even without the one breakaway run against the Giants, he was effective in that game. Find the most productive plays for him, get the offensive line firing out, and see if he can't get some positive yardage. And if not, then go to the uptempo passing game to loosen things up. Murray will be much more dangerous when Dallas is playing with a lead, and the team needs to find a way to make that happen.
Defense is the same. There was a remark made during the game on Monday that the base Dallas defense was handling the Chicago offense better than when the team went with blitzes and fancy packages. Maybe this can also be used as an approach, especially with Jay Ratliff, Kenyon Coleman and Anthony Spencer expected to be back in the lineup and Gerald Sensabaugh having a couple of weeks to get fully up to speed. Rob Ryan has an impressive array of talent now, but they have to be used properly.
Blitzing has not been noticeably effective for his team as I see it, but the defensive line is playing well and DeMarcus Ware is still racking up sacks. Focus on rushing four or five, using the line and outside linebackers. Let Spencer read and react, protecting against the run and then coming if the pass develops. Don't force him or Ware into coverage - that is why you have Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, fast, heat-sensing-missile linebackers who can seek and destroy all over the field. Let them and the new secondary players handle the receivers, and let the linemen and edge rushers take care of the quarterback.
Above all, don't get too cute. Work on basic plays on both sides of the line. Execute, execute, execute. Look at a couple of hidden things from the game. The offensive line did have better pass protection much of the time, with the biggest issue seeming to be some hugely disappointing breakdowns from Mackenzy Bernadeau. And the team finally eliminated the penalty problems. They had only two flags dropped on them. They were getting some of the basics right.
This loss instead was because of a huge, steaming pile of mistakes. Receivers, cornerbacks, linemen, and the quarterback all made some bad errors, some due to poor judgement, others flaws in execution, and probably both at times. I can't be sure, of course, what was going on with the players, but it seems likely that they need to simplify their focus on doing a few things very well, and not trying to do everything.
If I were Garrett, I would throw out all but about 25 passing plays and 20 running plays. If one works, pull it back out later in the game. If one doesn't, get away from it. If one breaks down due to execution, have a little come to Jesus meeting on the bench and try it again later. This team needs to get some confidence it itself and what it can do. It is time to quit being cutesy and start being hard-nosed. Ryan needs less adjustment, because he still has a pretty good defense that should be healthier in two weeks, but I still would keep it a little simpler. Pre-snap movement is confusing to the offense, but I think blitzing should be used very sparingly.
That, of course, is all one fan's opinion. But something needs to change before heading to Baltimore. And I think this is a good way to go.