After a 3-5 start and a slew of injuries, Ol' Rabble thought that the Cowboys were not only a 6-10 team, but that any benefits that might accrue from Jason Garrett's focus on "process" couldn't possibly manifest themselves until 2013. After winning five of six games, he offers an apologia...
[UPDATE: An earlier version of this story was posted under my name, Dave Halprin, when it should have been under rabblerousr's byline. It's been corrected. Sorry for the mix-up.]
It is with the utmost shame that I pen this missive. From the moment when you were hired, I had been an ardent supporter. I thought that your values and priorities were exactly what this organization needed, and believed that the changes you instituted would, eventually, bear fruit-and I'm talking about the juicy, delicious Lombardi-shaped fruit that all Cowboys fans love to snack on.
I believed utterly in the mantra of process, in the power of incremental gains, and felt strongly that someday, after stacking good days, weeks, and months one upon the other, these gains would accrue slowly, to the point where they would manifest themselves in more noticeable, bigger gains: championship-caliber play, playoff runs, dominant victories over good teams.
I wasn't so sure these big gains would happen in 2012, but I thought that there would be significant growth in key areas. Where, you say? Well, I thought the offensive line would start the season slowly, but get progressively better as the season wore on. I thought that the team's new-found depth, evident in training camp, would eventually make important and necessary contributions over the course of the season. I thought that the hiring of Mike Woicik would pay dividends, especially at the ends of the seasons when his teams have historically been fresher and have played at nearer to 100% than other squads.
Watching this team in the season's first ten to twelve weeks, however, I began to doubt whether we'd see any of these things until next year. Watching the struggles in the passing game, I doubted this team's ability to develop and to coach up players, and wondered if, in receivers coach Jimmy Robinson, Cowboys fans had been given a false bill of goods.
Looking at the offensive line, I doubted whether this group was talented enough to compete on an NFL level. I thought that they might be so physically limited that even Bill Callahan's careful, energetic coaching couldn't help them. And, finally, it seemed that that there were simply be too many injuries to overcome and that, eventually, the rest of the league would learn to exploit Dallas' backup players. Moreover, I rashly associated all the injuries with Woicik and his training staff; consequently, I forgot the transformative effect that he has had everywhere he's been.
But here's the thing, Jason. Your injured, overmatched team has scratched out five wins in the past six games. More importantly, they seem to be improving, steadily. In short, the process is paying dividends.
I was wrong to doubt you. And now I owe you an apology. While I'm at it, I have some other "I'm sorry"s to hand out:
Jimmy Robinson, I owe you an apology. Not only is Dez Bryant emerging as one of the league's most consistently feared offensive weapons, but Dwayne Harris, who failed to make the opening day roster in 2011, has emerged as a playmaking force, in both the receiving and return games. Suddenly, the Cowboys appear to be on the cusp of boasting a Green Bay-like receiving corps, with a bevy of targets, each of whom can and will hurt you in different ways. Opposing defensive coordinators will have to choose their preferred method of destruction: knife, serrated edge, paper cut...
Bill Callahan, I owe you an apology. Watching your work in training camp was a revelation, but I began to doubt that your meticulous attention to detail in terms of technique would have much of an impact in 2012. After all, no amount of technique can compensate for a significant physical mismatch, and it appeared that the Cowboys would be suffering from multiple mismatches of this type in all their remaining games this season. Against the Steelers, however, they controlled the line of scrimmage and Tony Romo had as much time as he's had all year.
Mike Woicik, I owe you an apology. The extra late-season boost that I expected you to bring to Dallas along with your six rings didn't materialize in 2011 and, perhaps as a consequence, I forgot about your stellar record in November and December. Not only are the Cowboys 3-0 this month, thus guaranteeing their first winning December since 2001 (!), but they have been strong late in games. In the past two wins, Dallas has been able to control the line of scrimmage late in games, scoring the final ten points in each, running the ball when it counts and amassing fourth-quarter sacks. When other teams begin to droop, this one still has something in its collective battery.
While I never lost faith in the Cowboys' pro personnel department, I have to say that they way they are working in conjunction with the coaching staff to find and to develop players is masterful. As an example, it wasn't long ago that opposing offenses were exploiting Dallas' starting inside linebackers and safeties with great regularity; it became clear at the end of 2010 that there was really nothing the Cowboys could do to slow down opponents' backs, tight ends and slot receivers.
In the past two offseason, our beloved ‘Boys have done much to fix that obvious talent deficiency...only to have the league's best pair of ILBs both end up on injured reserve. On Sunday, the Cowboys were down to their third-string ILB and strong safety and, while Steelers tight end Heath Miller did some first half damage, they hung tough and closed off the middle after halftime. Think about it: 2012's third-stringers are playing more effectively than 2010's starters.
All of these developments are due to philosophical changes you instituted immediately upon accepting the head coaching reins, Jason. Clearly, you had a plan to build a tough, deep team, one which doesn't blink when its getting hit, one that practices hard in order to play hard, one that gains strength late in seasons rather than losing it, one that drafts well and acquires a specific kind of player, one that incrementally gets better so that the gains it makes are lasting.
Hey Jason, I'm not blind,. There is still a lot of work to be done. This team may well finish 8-8. The roster still has several soft spots and your young team hasn't yet learned to get a substantial lead and maintain it by keeping its foot on the other team's neck. Frankly, they're not yet good enough to get big leads. But they are developing the right mentality, one that will allow them to keep fighting, and to enjoy slowly strangling opponents.
When you were hired, Jason, this is the team I envisioned you would build. Sometime during the 2012 season, I lost sight of this vision, or it became muddied, and I failed to see clearly. But you didn't; you continue to preach the message, and the team kept working, long after it no longer seemed to guys like me to be worth doing so.
Guys like me were wrong. I promise I'll never doubt you again.
P.S. Whew, all that apologizing makes a man thirsty. Can I please have some Kool-Aid?