Last week's extension for Wade Phillips made a gentle ripple among the Cowboys faithful. The supporters were okay with the move. The rippers made some noise but seemed tepid by relation. Equally important, in my opinion, was the rapid closing of other NFL head coaching spots, which means none of the Cowboys assistants were on the market this year.
Let's consider where this puts the Cowboys. Phillips and OC Jason Garrett have just completed their third years running the team's offense and defense. When they took over from Bill Parcells' guys in 2007 they were the newbies of the division. Andy Reid, Marty Morhinweg and Jim Johnson had run their shop in Philly for years. In New York, Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride had been in place for three years. The Giants had shiny new DC Steve Spagnuolo, but he had been an Eagles assistant for years and knew the division well. Joe Gibbs was starting the final year of his four-year Redskins comeback that fall.
The Cowboys lacked the book their opponents had on each other.
This gave Garrett an early edge, as his offense put 45 on New York , 38 on the Eagles and 28 on the Redkins the first time around. Those numbers declined precipitously on Dallas' second tour. The high-score first tour, low-score second tour pattern continued last year as well.
Look at the divisional brain drain the last calendar year. Johnson, sadly, passed away. His replacement, Sean McDermott, could not replicate Johnson's incredible adjustments in his inaugural season. At New York, Bill Sheridan stumbled so badly replacing Spagnuolo that he was dismissed. (An Onion headline dryly wrote, "Tom Coughlin Scores Two Touchdowns in Season-Ending Speech to Giants Defense.")
Washington will have offensive guru Mike Shanahan back in the game, but he's a coach Wade Phillips knows well from his days in San Diego. Garrett is probably breathing easier because Greg Blache, the Redskins DC, has retired. He was the elder statesman of divisional DCs and gave Garrett's offense the most trouble.
With stability comes seniority. Garrett is now an NFC East greybeard, with more on every one of his opposing DCs. Phillips has three years of game plans and is 8-6 against Gilbride and Morhinweg. He split his six Chargers matchups with Shanahan's Redskins, so he should not be caught off-guard by a "new" Washington look.
The East is often won by the smallest of margins and any edge, no matter how small, can make a huge difference. Dallas enters 2010 with an experience advantage.