Welcome to Jason Garrett’s last year as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
Today is the first official day of the new league year in the NFL. And it will be Garrett’s last one in the Cowboys organization. I realize that’s a fairly bold prediction to make before a single snap in the 2013 NFL season. But I implore my fellow Cowboys fans to be honest with themselves as we all look forward to next season. We know this story. We’ve seen it before. And we know how it ends.
I admit that I was not terribly hopeful when Garrett took over. I was not enamored with the offense under his tutelage. I was not encouraged by his run as interim head coach. I was not enthused at the prospect of continuing the culture in the clubhouse that had existed under Wade Phillips. But I was still hopeful that the Cowboys' new head coach would prove doubters like me wrong and lead Dallas to glory.
Suffice it to say, Jason Garrett has not obliged. Instead, his regime has carried on the mediocrity of his predecessor: Two full seasons as head coach. Two 8-8 finishes. Two games over .500 in his overall record as HC. Two third place finishes in the division. Two more years of missed opportunities and disappointing endings. Two more losses in end-of-season elimination games with a playoff berth and the division on the line.
There was, admittedly, something different about Dallas's final game this year – a certain feeling of inevitability. For years, I have watched every Cowboys game on pins and needles. Time and again, when the team faltered, I would grouse and curse and lament, and above all, I would feel the sting and disappointment of each loss. But not this time. When the Cowboys fell to the Redskins in Week Seventeen of the 2012 NFL Season, I barely felt anything at all.
I had still hoped, as I always do, that the Cowboys would find their way to victory. But I no longer had any right to expect them to. In my heart, I had already started to accept another lost season.
Once you’ve seen your team crumble in high pressure situations so many times, it becomes almost wholly unremarkable. How many times can you watch your guys come up short before it stops registering? How many times can you see them reach the brink of success only to be unable to make that final push before you start to see it coming? How much of the same old same old can you watch before you just become numb to it?
Because the Cowboys are presently the definition of mediocrity. Since the 2000 season, the Cowboys have registered 104 wins and 104 losses. You read that correctly. Over thirteen seasons, they are exactly .500. They are a stagnant pool of water – sometimes rising with the rain, sometimes falling in the drought, but never making any real progress.
So why should we expect anything different this year? Perhaps the switch to a 4-3 defense, led by Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli, will be enough to get the team over the hump. Maybe healthy seasons from impact players like DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, and Sean Lee could turn the tide. Jason Garrett might even turn over play calling duties to Bill Callahan, which could give Dallas's offense the new tweaks and wrinkles to make it thrive.
And credit where credit is due. I have complained time and time again about the resolve of this team, about how they fold in close games and cannot hold on to a lead. Well, this season the Cowboys won six games that we decided by a touchdown or less. Many of those games involved tough fourth quarter comebacks or staving off late rallies. JG and the team should be commended for these performances, particularly in the latter half of the season.
But it turns out that the Cowboys ended up in twelve games that were decided by a touchdown or less this season. That not only means that the Cowboys lost as many close games as they won, but also that 75% of their games came down to the wire. By comparison, only 50% of all games in the NFL's 2011 regular season were decided by seven points or less.
The most troubling issue is not that the Cowboys only went .500 in those close games. Football can be very random, and with only sixteen games and a limited number of possessions per game, pure chance can dictate the outcome in a close match up. The problem arises when a team consistently finds itself in close games, and the Cowboys have been in a massive number of them under Jason Garrett.
As rabblerouser discovered, the number of close games the Cowboys have played shot up significantly starting in 2009, continued to rise during Jason Garrett’s tenure, and reached a zenith in the most recent year. Rabblerouser found that "[f]rom 2006-08, 37.5% of Cowboys games were decided by a touchdown or less; since 2010, 65.1% of their games have been 'close.'" And what's worse, their number of comfortable wins has also markedly decreased in that time.
What does this say about the team in the Jason Garrett era?
It says that the Cowboys under Jason Garrett have continued to be plagued by the same old problems. Despite whatever improvements in discipline Jason Garrett has supposedly brought to the team, Dallas had more penalties per game than all but two other teams in the NFL last season. 2012 was their sixth consecutive year finishing in the NFL's top ten for most penalties per game. What's more, despite whatever praise is lavished on Jason Garrett’s offense, the 2012 Cowboys finished in the bottom half of the league in both red zone scoring percentage and yards per point. This is yet another instance of progress without paydirt.
It says that Garrett's conservative philosophy has hamstrung the team into tight situations. Garrett frequently only loosened the reigns when it would be too little too late. Statistically, good teams still tend toward a 50/50 record in close games; they just play far fewer of them, and the Cowboys have been anything but a good team under Jason Garrett.
It also says what folks who have watched this team since Jason Garrett joined the coaching staff already know – that the Cowboys are consistently inconsistent. It says that they are capable of standing toe-to-toe with anyone in the league, but not capable of doing it on a regular basis. It says that the Cowboys can play up to the level of their strongest opponents but also down to the level of their weakest foes. It says that this team has the potential to be a contender, but that no one has been able to put the pieces together, least of all their head coach.
It means that I continue to stand by the statement I made days before the Garrett’s first season as head coach began:
"If the team had played [as they did for Jason Garrett in the second of half of 2010 for] the entire season, we would have seen the same sort of team that Cowboys fans have seen repeatedly during the Wade Phillips era. It’s a team that is talented but inconsistent, that stands up to big time opponents but has trouble closing the deal. It’s a team that’s right on the edge of playoff contention, but nowhere near reliable enough to warrant great expectations."
And it says that it’s time for a change in Dallas. It’s been time for a change for two and a half years now. Jason Garrett is a good man. He may even be a good coach. But he has been stuck in a rut in Dallas, and the team has been stuck with him. He needs a change of scenery and the team needs a real change in leadership. For the last two and a half years, they’ve had to contend with a half-hearted continuation of the previous, flawed regime.
But that change will not happen before the beginning of the 2013 NFL Season. So I welcome you all to Garrett’s last year as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. I don’t relish it. I don’t wish ill on Garrett, and I certainly don’t wish ill for the Cowboys. But it must be acknowledged: We know how this story goes. We’ve seen it time and time again. And it’s time for it to come to an end, once and for all.
This article also posted at TheAndrewBlog.net.