In Part 1 of Bedtime Stories, I talked about the things that Keep Me Awake At Night (KMAAN). The O-line, D-line, safety, punter and even QB inconsistency made the list of the biggest boogie men under the bed. But all is not lost in my pursuit for a good night's sleep. No, there are reasons to feel comforted and yes, even confident that good things are just over the horizon for the Dallas Cowboys.
If part 1 got you hooked on either sleep aids or brown liquor, or both, step away from the pharmaceuticals and follow along to see how you can get some shut-eye without any chemical (or alcoholic) inducements, because these are the reasons WISSAN or ‘Why I Sleep Soundly At Night'.
The Campo Culmination
Yes, it's the end of an era. An era of terrible, mismanaged and poorly coached Defensive Backs under Dave Campo's tenure. Now look, he may have been a good coach and it may have just been a bunch of dumb players not listening to his sage counsel, but something wasn't working in Dallas' secondary from the moment he returned from his stops in Cleveland and Jacksonville. The all-too familiar scene where Dallas' DB's get toasted by _______ (place wide receiver name here) despite coverage help over the top, leading to a lot of arguing, finger-pointing and confusion on the sideline was just too much to take...for too long. It's altogether possible that Jerome Henderson turns out to be just an average position coach, but the fact of the matter is this; it was long past time for a change here and one has to wonder how much worse it COULD get given how bad this secondary has been, again, for too long. Henderson's familiarity with Ryan's coverage demands lends a degree of cohesiveness to the defensive staff that been lacking since Parcells left town. It gives me reason to believe that this much-maligned secondary will play significantly better this season. What that portends for sacks, turnovers and other splash plays, which should come from better coverage for longer periods of time, is clearly a good thing. As if that's not enough, there isn't a single Jerry-crony on the coaching staff anymore. Reason enough for renewed hope.
If you think Tony Romo needs better pass protection, and I have yet to find someone who thinks he doesn't, then you can't help but feel some degree of elation over the fact that an underperforming Doug Free is being moved to Right Tackle (where he filled in admirably while Marc Colombo was injured) and being replaced with the fast-rising Tyron Smith. Smith has the prototypical size, arm length (yes, it matters) and athleticism for the position. Assuming Free returns to form on the right side, this change should bring stability to the tackle position for several years. What's more is that the Left Tackle spot was arguably the weakest on the line last year and Smith is bound to improve protection against speed rushers on that side. If nothing else, Romo should feel a lot more comfortable standing tall in the pocket against teams who do a good job of bending the blindside corner. That's good for Romo and what's good for Romo is good for the team.
Signals? What Signals?
Many people forget that Dallas is one of the teams that never really got to establish any sort of knowledge base on defense because of the lockout last year. If there was any team that needed a full training camp schedule last year, it was the Cowboys. After all, Dallas knew it was getting one of the most creative minds in the business when they selected Ryan to be their Defensive Coordinator. The lockout eroded Ryan's true value to the team as they were often having to scale back the complexity of their defense to account for the lack of practice and instruction time. It will be interesting to see what happens when he and his staff get to install the wide range of alignments and packages that he is known for. Ryan has an outstanding QB for his defense in the young, yet highly cerebral Sean Lee. Because they'll have a full offseason of work, we should expect that Ryan will finally get to unleash his entire defensive playbook with far fewer missed assignments and much better results. Isn't it funny how one guy's (opposing QB's) nightmare is another man's (me, you, or any Cowboys fan's) warm cup of milk before bed?
Irish Eyes Are (going to be) Smiling...
Those would be Bill Callahan's eyes. While some fans bemoan the lack of an impact free agent along the interior of the offensive line, I'm still excited and pleased about this unit if only because of the change in coaching and overall philosophy that is taking place under Bill Callahan. In Callahan, we have a seasoned O-line tactician whose lines have made guys like Ty Detmer and Rodney Peete 10-game winners and kept Rickey Watters among the league leaders in rushing. Clearly Jon Gruden has been his chief mentor both in stints at Philadelphia and Oakland and that experience can be tapped into by Garrett and company during the week of preparation leading up to games. He's been a head coach at the major college and professional levels so he has broad enough experience to know how the various units have to work together to create a successful offense. Under his leadership, his Raider O-lines set records for fewest sacks allowed. With the Jets, he was considered one of the best coaches on the staff. Overall, in Callahan, Garrett now has another sounding board for his offensive game planning and the offensive line has one of the brightest O-line coaches in the NFL. In the end, it's likely that Callahan's impact becomes one of the key storylines of the season.
More Gun, Less Sling
I truly believe that Tony Romo knows that his opportunity to lead this team over the proverbial hump is now. Yes, he has to stay healthy. Yes, he needs help from his O-line. And yes, he has to get the best out of Dez Bryant on every play. But those are table stakes. Romo has seen the up's and down's of an NFL QB's life in ways that few, if any, of his contemporaries can claim. But because he has gone through some very harrowing experiences, because people are the sum of their experiences, I tend to believe he's a different person...a better person...because of it. It's not unrealistic to expect that he'll be an even better leader for this team as it gets younger and less experienced overall. Romo made a statement last year that spoke volumes about his "leadership quotient". He said that he would no longer be a victim of other players' poor performance. That's a defining moment in the evolution of a leader. Lombardi said, "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect." Well, when Romo made his statement, I couldn't help but see visions of him on the practice field getting up in the grill of players for not running the correct route or lining up in the wrong spot or snapping the ball at the wrong time. I have every reason to believe we'll see the smartest, most mature Romo we've ever seen in 2012.
20 for 29
Of all the sleep aids that help me to overcome the things that would keep me from my slumber, nothing sends me off peacefully into a deep sleep more than the feeling I get from what we can do DIFFERENTLY on offense next year. For the first time since Emmitt Smith went to play in the Desert (which was silly if you think about it), Dallas has found itself an elite bell cow running back in DeMarco Murray. It's not just that Murray is good, because he is. He really is. It's that he's GREAT when we give him the ball more. In the 5 games where Murray touched the ball 20 or more times, Dallas was 5-0. You read that right. Undefeated in five games when Murray became a focal point in the offense. All that did was help Romo become a more effective QB as he threw 12 TD's and only 2 INT's over that span. I've written about this philosophical shift that needs to take place in Dallas if they want to be better on third down, in the red zone and in time of possession and I'm convinced they have the right guy to make it all happen. It is long past time that Dallas learned how to run the ball again against the blitz-happy Eagles and Giants and make them pay dearly for their reckless defensive aggressiveness.
In the end, after having weighed it all out, I let out a nice long yawn as my eyelids grow heavy. I hit the ‘off' button on the TV remote and punch my pillow a few times so it sits just right under my head. Before you know it, I'm off to sleep and, once more, dreaming about that sixth bling.
Sleep easy, and GO COWBOYS!