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Cowboys Set To Reap Benefits Of Continuity

I recently stumbled over an article titled "Continuity = Improvement" in which Peter Shaffer wrote in the Washington Post:

In the NFL, continuity equates to improvement. While many teams can claim improvement by additions of talent either through the draft or via free agency, the reality is that a team that maintains its core players year-in, year-out will improve simply by a longer tenure of playing together. In football, the more that players player together, the better they become not only as individuals but as a team.

Does this mean golden times ahead for the Dallas Cowboys?

The Cowboys are entering the 2010 season enjoying a level of continuity and roster stability that is unprecedented in the recent history of the franchise:

Tony Romo is entering his fifth season as the starting quarterback, the first Cowboys quarterback to do so since Troy Aikman. Coach Phillips is entering his fourth season as head coach and could be the first coach since Jimmy Johnson to coach the Cowboys for five years. Jason Garrett is also entering his fourth season and will be the longest serving offensive coordinator since Ernie Zampese.

ESPN's Mike Sando recently ran a story looking at roster retention rates from 2009 to 2010. Result: The Cowboys roster has the second highest retention rate in the NFL.

The Benefits of Continuity:

Gerry Fraley from the DMN notes that:

The Cowboys will use the same system on offense and defense for the fourth consecutive year. Even Johnson did not have that much stability. He had two offensive coordinators who were polar opposites – David Shula and Norv Turner – and two defensive coordinators in Dave Wannstedt and Butch Davis.

He also quotes Coach Phillips who had this to say about continuity:

Having the same coaching staff with the same head coach and the same players really helps. It would help any team.

Fraley further shows that all Cowboys players who gained yards passing, rushing or receiving in 2009 are back for the 2010 season (assuming Patrick Crayton stays with the team). That 100% return rate is the highest return rate in the NFL.

Yards by Returnees 2009 vs 2010 (Source: Gerry Fraley, DMN)
Team Returnees'
yards 2009
Team yards
Returnees' pct.
of team yards
Cowboys 6,390 6,390 100
Colts 5,678 5,890 97.7
Bears 4,790 4,965 96.5
Packers 5,849 6,065 96.4
Giants 5,572 5,856 95.2

Add Dez Bryant to the mix of offensive threats and you'll have a situation that's been best described by

NFC East defensive coordinators crapped their pants when the Cowboys obtained Dez Bryant. How are they going to cover everyone? With Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten running routes, Tony Romo is going to have a blast this season.

What makes this situation exciting for Cowboys fans is that every single starter on offense (barring Dez Bryant who may potentially become a starter later in the season) will be entering at least his third season with the Cowboys in the same offensive system with the same coaches. And the same basically holds true for the defense, if you are generously willing to overlook Brian Stewart's two-year tenure as the defensive coordinator in Dallas.

Tenure with the Cowboys

Interestingly, when discussing continuity, you would assume that the roster would contain many players with a long tenure with the Cowboys, but this is not the case with the 2010 Cowboys.

Todd Archer recently found that Andre Gurode is the Cowboys' most tenured veteran with 8 years - not in years of NFL service, but in terms of tenure with the Cowboys. Overall, there are only 13 players on the current roster with more than four years of Cowboys experience. Here's an overview of the longest-tenured Cowboys on the current roster:

Tenure with the Cowboys, by first year on Cowboys roster
2002 2003 2004 2005
Andre Gurode Bradie James, Terence Newman, Tony Romo, Jason Witten
Patrick Crayton, Mat McBriar Marion Barber, Marc Colombo, L.P. Ladouceur, Jay Ratliff, Marcus Spears, DeMarcus Ware

Continuity: a matter of perspective?

As Cowboys fans, we must be pretty happy with the state of the team. Sure, there are some question marks, but overall the Cowboys are fielding a pretty strong team that has it's goals set higher than last year and enjoys a very high level of continuity.

But when you think it through, isn't continuity ultimately a progress stopper?

There seems to be a fairly broad consensus in the NFL that continuity is a strength of, and key driver for, most winning teams. And when you look the Colts, Patriots, or Eagles, three of the winningest teams of the last decade, that seems to validate the continuity argument.

The flipside of the coin is that continuity on losing teams is almost always seen as stagnation. In fact, there is a school of thought that argues that success requires constant change, that the absence of change is stagnation and inevitably leads to failure.

Rick Gosselin narrows down the concept of continuity in the NFL in an article titled "Continuity at coach, QB is key to winning in the NFL". He argues that it's not continuity per se that drives success, but rather continuity of the Coach/QB combo that determines the success or failure of an NFL franchise.

Are the Cowboys poised to reap the benefits of continuity? Or is this whole continuity thing overblown because of the largely weak/invisible/untested 2009 draft class? Are you a little concerned about the limited amount of change on the team? Or do you subscribe to a Gosselin-type school of thought that limits the discussion to the Coach/QB combo? Do you agree with Peter Schaffer that the longer the tenure of players playing together, the better the team becomes?

**** Why continuity is definitely a good thing: Abigail Klein remains a DCC in 2010 ****


courtesy of, click to enlarge

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