In general, you cannot fully solve a problem unless you have a good understanding of it. Denying or downplaying an issue usually means that the issue will continue. After the first ten games of the season, and with a record that is the definition of mediocrity, the Dallas Cowboys certainly have their share of problems. Just read back through the articles here at BTB, and you can see multiple discussions of what has been going wrong.
In light of all that, several recent statements from Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett, and even a couple of players are a bit bothersome. They almost sound, well, out of touch. And the fact it seems to be going on from the top to the bottom of the organization makes me wonder if there is an overall problem with seeing things as they really are at Valley Ranch.
The big one, of course, was Jerry Jones and his pronouncement that he was really pleased with the offensive line after the Cleveland Browns win. On the face of it, this looks ludicrous, or worse. There was very little running game, and Tony Romo got beaten up. Jones later tried to clarify that he was trying to say he felt better about how the line played towards the end of the game and how they were handling the never ending injury situation, but even so, how can you be pleased with the line as it existed at the end of the game, which may well be the same line that has to play against the Washington Redskins? If he had said that he felt the line did show some improvement in the second half, and that he thought things would be better for the next game, that would be reasonable. Overly optimistic, perhaps, but reasonably so. Instead, the NFL owner who is most involved in his team's day to day operations basically said, "Great job, go out and do it again." Really? If Romo gets sacked seven times and the running game gets 3 yards a carry while Robert Griffin III is tearing it up the way he usually does, then the Cowboys can wave goodbye to any hopes of salvaging this season and making the playoffs.
The worst thing Jones said, at least to my ears, was this:
"Our offensive line early had some guys get loose on them," Jones said. "A guy like Doug Free turned around and came back and played stellar."
I don't want to use the word delusional. But it is hard not to. At best, Free may have been less horrible towards the end of the game, but even that is questionable. Stellar? Stellar?? I want bring in Jim Mora to do a Coors Light commercial based on that. Doug Free had a terrible game, and would almost certainly be the consensus choice for the biggest problem the Cowboys have to fix if they are to have a chance of keeping up with Bob Griffin and company on Thanksgiving, as well as keeping Romo healthy for the rest of the season.
It is a measure of how egregious the comments were that they stand out so much, coming from Jones. His long history of making oddly dissonant statements has given Cowboys fans a measure of resistance to taking such things too seriously. After a bit of ranting at my computer screen, I was prepared to write it off to Jones' typical "talk now, think later" style.
But then Jason Garrett made the following comments about Free and his play at right tackle:
"At times this year he's done a good job of that against some good rushers," Garrett said, "other times he hasn't. It's a technical thing. It's a demeanor thing. He just has to keep working on it and doing a better job and that's really across the board up front. That's really throughout our football team."
Garrett said Free utilizes his athleticism, good feet and long arms and tends to play to those strengths and his finesse, but he could be grittier.
"Oftentimes up there, it can be a dogfight, too," Garrett said. "So you've got to play with that demeanor where you're going to bite the guy a little bit and be firm and not let him push you back into the quarterback. Again, at times Doug did a good job of that, at other times he didn't."
Again, this does seem to fit in a bit with the Jason Garrett way of speaking. He does not slam his players to the media, and adopts a level, rational tone. But there comes a point where diplomacy is no longer warranted. And presenting everything as just needing some minor tweaks is flat out wrong. A bit of attitude adjustment is not going to fix Doug Free's problems. Now, I don't know if there is something going on behind the scenes, like telling him he is going to lose his starting job and maybe entire $8 million a year contract, if he doesn't start actually blocking some people. But Garrett sure doesn't sound like it. And neither does Doug.
"I'm definitely frustrated. There are times where I do a great job," Free said. "There are other times where I don't get it done exactly perfect. It's something I don't want to be part of. I want everything to look great. I want everything to be great."
"Every game is a challenge. Some games are better than others," Free said. "But every game you can look at it and say I did this wrong, I did that wrong. Some are worse than others, but I mean every game you've got things to work on, things to fix, you've got to stay focused on the task at hand."
Again, this just minimizes the issue. Saying "I don't get it done exactly perfect" to describe his performance on Sunday is like saying the Kardashians sometimes are a teeny bit indiscreet. It does not come close to describing the reality of what we watched on the field Sunday.
I may be overreacting here, but nowhere in these statements do I see a sense of urgency, or the accountability that is supposed to be so important in a Garrett led organization. I see a complacency, a "business as usual" attitude, a belief that they just need to try a little bit harder. And that does not seem to be an approach that is going to carry this team much further this year, or any year soon.
To try and be fair, I did consider whether my perceptions here are being colored by the long standing frustration over Doug Free's particular situation, with the big contract given after one very strong year, and the frequently less than competent performances since then. But then I came across this description of the confusion of the Cowboys' defense just before the Browns scored the go ahead touchdown late in the game, the one that forced Dallas to need a score with just over a minute left in order to avoid defeat.
Cowboys inside linebacker Bruce Carter said the group had "a little communication problem" that can be "easily corrected."
"The coaches and the players just got to get on the same page," Carter said. "It wasn't a big issue."
Carter is in some ways a polar opposite from Free. He is playing superb football, exceeding all expectations in making up for the loss of Sean Lee. At the moment, he is second in importance to the success of the team only to Romo, at least as I see it. He is everything you want a football player to be. And yet I see the same sense of complacency creeping into his words. "It wasn't a big issue" is a hard statement to justify about absolutely failing to even slightly impede a touchdown that could easily have cost the team not only the game, but possibly the rest of the season.
To be charitable, this may well be players and management trying to keep things in perspective, to remain calm when it would be easy to panic. And Carter's comments were a stark contrast to Stephen Jones' displeasure over that same play, so this might not be a universal issue for the team. Still, in what is a somewhat desperate situation, where every game is a must-win for the rest of the year, it is unnerving to read these kinds of comments from so many levels of the team. It smacks of denial. There are a lot of things I truly admire about Jason Garrett and the way he runs the team, but this dispassionate approach has seemed a bit overdone in the past. Now is just seems out of place. I realize how I feel about things is not at all important to the team. But I am worried about just how clearly the management and team sees the situation they are in.