The Dallas Cowboys appear to be in clear meltdown mode when viewed by this lifelong (since the Triplets era) fan, and much of the league. Not only have most of the vocal fandom had enough, so have the front page writers here at Blogging the Boys who once counseled patience with Jason Garrett's 'process' in 2011 and even 2012.
Why I Concur that Jason Garrett Must Be Fired
Simply put, Garrett has not shown the ability to learn from mistakes made in games lost in 2011 like at home against Detroit, when the team blew another 20+ point halftime lead. For a coach touted for his cerebral approach, Garrett hasn't figured out a way to protect a consistently terrible defense, whether it's 3-4 or 4-3, long enough to eke out even narrow wins in a league where weaknesses are ruthlessly exposed every week. Losing due to a lack of talent on defense is forgivable, and might've earned Garrett a reprieve through 2015. But failing to protect the league's worst defense by refusing to run the ball when the run game is actually working time and again is inexcusable. So is Garrett's inability to protect Tony Romo from Romo's own tendencies to try to do too much, knowing his defense is worthless and will lose the game if Romo's offense is forced to punt it away. Especially after Sports Illustrated did some fine reporting on how Romo isn't the choker he's made out to be, and doesn't deserve so much hate.
Suddenly along comes not only a humiliating blowout loss in Chicago's cold that confirms everything the critics say about the Cowboys being mentally soft, but also a gift to the Romo haters courtesy of Tony spinning away from Clay Matthews and making a bad throw on a 2nd and 6 in America's Game of the Week. All while Hall of Famer Troy Aikman is standing up in the booth marveling at Jason Garrett's stubborn refusal to run the ball and protect a lead!
Can the Post Super Bowl Curse Be Broken? And Is Lovie Smith the Man to Break It?
With the ranting and intangibles side of the game more than covered by my opening remarks, we'll turn to the coaching job in Dallas. Does anyone want it? Or are the Cowboys and their coaches simply doomed to failure as long as Jerry Jones hasn't joined his old buddy Al Davis in the Great Hereafter of meddling owners?
Will talents like Martellus Bennett or Mike Jenkins continue to shine elsewhere, despite the scouting department seeing their talent? And will busts like Mo Claiborne or even Bruce Carter join them in prospering somewhere else when all is said and done? Should this lifelong Cowboys fan even dare contemplate switching his allegiance to the Chicago Bears?
I still say the answer to the above questions is: No. Even though like everyone else I'm fed up with losing not only due to injuries exposing no depth or bad drafts from 2007 to 2009, but also consistently getting out-coached and out-smarted for years. Heck, the out-coaching bit even goes back to Bill Parcells on a Sunday Night Football game in New Orleans, when Sean Peyton simply kept sending a fullback into the flats to Demarcus Ware's side of the field, making a player who was in his prime and simply doing what his coaches had told him to do look silly (along with Parcells).
The Pros of Hiring Lovie Smith in Dallas
Enter the head coaching candidates for the job. One of the most common names we hear is Lovie Smith, the former 4-3 guru under Monte Kiffin in Tampa whose Bears defenses were consistently good under Rod Marinelli for years. At 55 years old, Lovie still has plenty of years left in the tank to coach at a high level. He's also a Gladewater, Texas native who would be happy to coach near home. Moreover, loyalty to Lovie is a big reason Rod Marinelli chose not to stay in Chicago under the new regime when Smith was sacked after a 10-6 season. The two men could work well together, and Smith would bring even more energy than Monte Kiffin has at age 73.
Undoubtedly this defense, while simply starving for talent and having started some 39 players at different positions since the opening kickoff of the season, could benefit from Lovie's direction of a restocking draft. The veterans we have in house like Orlando Scandrick, Sean Lee, and Tyrone Crawford would play hard for Lovie.
Under Lovie we would likely see some improvement in what has been a pathetic secondary, and Lovie would likely make a good choice whether defensive end like Missouri's Kony Ealy or 3 tech defensive tackle like LSU's Anthony Smith should be the Cowboys' top pick in May (at this point, I'm assuming the Cowboys limp to an 8-8 finish after barely defeating the Washington Redskins and losing a win or go home against an NFC East opponent for the third straight year -- that seems to be the direction of bitter fate). Lovie would have the credibility as a defensive guru to say goodbye to Demarcus Ware and take the huge cap hit in 2014-2015 necessary for the Cowboys to finally start digging out of cap hell.
The Cons of Hiring Lovie Smith that Outweigh the Pros
Nonetheless, despite the positives stated above, I don't think Lovie is the solution to the Cowboys woes. First, despite being a veteran head coach with a respectable record, just like Wade Phillips, Lovie won't be seen as an innovator who can occasionally outscheme opponents. The Cowboys already tried that with Rob Ryan and didn't have the talent or the no. 3 offense in the league like the Saints to make up for any defensive shortcomings. (I attribute most of Ryan's success not to the Saints being supremely talented on defense, though they're obviously much better stocked there than this year's Dallas team, but due to the Saints' potent offense giving Rob the chance to do what he does best and blitz the passer).
Second, Lovie may not want the job -- he may prefer to go to Houston which has the cap room and enough draft picks to build a 4-3 defense around J.J. Watt at DT. The players Houston has recently drafted like Whitney Mercilus may be better suited playing as hand on the ground 4-3 ends anyway compared to dropping into coverage as linebackers (though in my personal opinion, owner Bob McNair hiring Lovie to 'fix' a Texans D that isn't broke would be kind of silly, though the Texans aren't good at forcing turnovers).
Third, based on my experience watching Lovie Smith go through offensive coordinator after coordinator (though some of the blame must surely fall on former Bears GM Jerry Angelo for poor drafting), just when you think the defense is finally giving Cowboys fans reasons for optimism in 2014, the offense would inexplicably sputter. And not because Tony Romo or Jason Witten would lose a step by late 2014.
More likely, Lovie's defense simply won't hold leads even if he (unlike Garrett) is committing to using the Cowboys big offensive line and Demarco Murray more to protect his defense. The specter of the 'Tampa 2' scheme being 'figured out' will always follow Lovie wherever he goes, but will be especially prominent in Dallas where it's already extensively discussed. It was a major question mark in Chicago when Lovie had better, but fading talent to work with in Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, and Julius Peppers on defense, and even after the Brandon Marshall trade in Lovie's final season finally gave Chicago one legit Pro Bowl receiver (but not two, which they very well could have this year!).
Clearly Dallas needs to keep running the 4-3 base, or rather what should be a 4-2-5. There is no point in switching back to the 3-4 that they never ran too well or could force turnovers with when Parcellls or Wade ran it, outside of the brief 2009 playoff run. But the Cowboys need a more innovative use of the pieces they already have, including thinking 'outside the box' of keeping 3 linebackers on the field even on early downs when teams love to throw, especially inside the hash marks.
In my next FanPost, I'll look at how the Cowboys can better use the talent they have in-house to create a better scheme, even though they clearly need to restock if not rebuild along the defensive line and in the secondary.