"If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." - attributed to Eldridge Cleaver
So what is Jason Garrett? Is he the answer to the Dallas Cowboys' long playoff drought, or is he just prolonging the misery?
This has become a rather hotly debated question of late. It is not so much because of the Cowboys' 3-4 record, but is driven more by how the team has lost those four games. Excessive turnovers, equally excessive penalties, horrible starts, players repeating the same mistakes from game to game, the collapse of the running game, and some questionable play calling. Dallas seems to find new and inventive ways to crush the spirits of the fan base. And most of these are things that many, myself most definitely included, thought Garrett would solve when he took over as head coach.
Todd Archer points out something very pertinent in his recent post on how Garrett's messages seems to be getting lost by the team.
It was 11 months ago when the Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins, 20-19, on Thanksgiving to improve to 7-4 with their playoff fate in their control. The Cowboys had a one-game lead in the NFC East with five to play.
Since, the Cowboys are 4-8 and look nothing like a team ready to make a playoff run with a 3-4 record this season heading to undefeated Atlanta on Sunday.
What has happened? More to the point, what is happening? All indications are that the vast majority of the players are buying into what Garrett preaches. (He even talks in the Archer post about how he feels like a preacher giving the same sermon a different way each week.) But somehow, when they go out on the field, they are incapable of translating the belief into action. The Cowboys have had three horrendous starts this year, and are miserable in turnover margin. The ground game, a crucial element of Garrett's offensive scheme, has fallen by the wayside with DeMarco Murray on the sidelines. And against the Ravens and the Giants, when the Cowboys were on the verge of pulling the game out at the end, they came up literally inches short - or to be more specific, wide left and out of bounds.
The issues are widespread, especially on the offense. The defense, under Rob Ryan, has arguably played well enough to win some of the games that were lost, particularly the Giants game. But the offense, which remains Garrett's baby, has seen far too much in the way of miscommunication, poor execution, and lack of focus. These are elements that fall within the responsibilities of a head coach who also calls the offense. He needs to get it fixed.
The paradox is that the evidence seems to be that he is doing all the things that should be done to fix these problems. Not only is the team hearing about what they should be doing, but they are working on this stuff in practice. After the now infamous bit of bad clock management at the end of the Ravens game, Tony Romo talked in an interview about how the team should have been ready for the exact situation they faced.
"We talk all the time about those situations," Romo said. "We obviously wanted to run another play and we had it."
Romo didn't say it, but the Cowboys do more than "talk" about game situations, especially those in the final seconds. They practice them ... all the time. Every football team, even high school teams, practices two-minute drills and last-second situations.
The problem the Cowboys had was no one but Romo appeared aware of the circumstances.
Frankly, when looking at all the problems the Cowboys are facing, there is only one common denominator that I can find. There is a noted lack of mental awareness that keeps cropping up. Receivers don't run the route the quarterback is expecting. Players miss blocking assignments. Dez Bryant tries to field punts he should let go, or that he was not in correct position to take. Felix Jones forgets that when running the ball, it is a good idea to keep a solid grip on said ball.
I hate to get into a discussion of how intelligent players are, but in this situation, I am talking strictly about football smarts. Not all players have that in equal measure. I think it is one of the things that Jason Garrett values very highly in targeting players in the draft, and in the past few years, he seems to be finding it. Tyron Smith is given high marks for his ability to learn his job. Bruce Carter has stepped up in Sean Lee's absence, and based on a one game sample, did an admirable job calling the defensive alignments. And Morris Claiborne, despite a highly publicized fiasco on the Wonderlic Test, has clearly shown he is quite capable of all the demands of an NFL cornerback, a position where not many rookies excel.
Is it just coincidence that Felix Jones and Dez Bryant, two players who have had significant errors recently, all were drafted before Garrett had control of the drafting process? Maybe, but with Bryant, there seems to be a certain way to use him that is successful. He has over 100 yards receiving the past three games, and only seems to get in trouble when he is making reads and adjustments, or deciding what to do with a punt. Here is one thing that the head coach can fix. Do not put Bryant in those situations.
Felix Jones is another issue, and I have already taken the stance that he needs to used as an example. Cut him, trade him, or just bench him, but make it very clear that it is because he failed at one of the basic responsibilities of a running back, ball security, at a time when all around him were making a huge and largely successful attempt to salvage a game the team needed to win. This is one area where Garrett needs to step up to the plate. He is never going to be a fire-breathing tyrant on the sidelines or in the locker room. If anything, he may be a bit too reasonable in seeing that players are not infallible.
Jason Garrett basically said there was no way Tony Romo could've avoided that pick-6 to JPP on Sunday. How's that for accountability?— Matt Mosley (@mattmosley) October 30, 2012
While Garrett may have been technically right, it is easy to interpret that as making excuses for his quarterback. There are times as a head coach when logic and reason is not the way to go. If you don't want to call a player out, just leave the question alone, or maybe say that the throw did not work out. But don't say there was nothing that could have been done, or at least that could be seen as saying that. It may be time to get a little unreasonable and take it out on a player, like Felix Jones, who may well be hurting the team more than he is helping the team.
That kind of move might quiet the rumblings that have already started about whether Garrett's job in on the hot seat. While the only specific speculation I have seen about replacing him this season have been in a couple of Tweets, you know that the calls will just multiply if the Cowboys don't get things on track soon. Of course, media and/or fan calls for Garrett's replacement are relatively meaningless. The only real opinion that matters is that of one Jerry Jones, and he is standing behind his head coach. So far.
The question is how long will he do so? I think, as I always have, that Jerry Jones is not going to consider a change in direction until after 2013, when Garrett will have three full seasons under his belt. That is also the last year of Tony Romo's current deal, so this may be a big picture kind of decision. If things do not turn around, then I think all bets are off.
Of course, the best way to take this whole discussion off the table would be to win seven or eight of the remaining games. This week against the Atlanta Falcons would be a great place to start. If the Cowboys can find a way to start the game well and not dig themselves a hole, they have the firepower to win. They also have a recent history of ending unbeaten strings. I hope they can pull it off, because I hate this particular subject, and it won't go away until the Cowboys start winning consistently.