In considering the focus of each draft since Wade Phillips was hired as head coach in 2007, one could assume that the Cowboys front office has been in agreement to focus on solidifying the defense. Prior to Phillips taking over for Bill Parcells, he inherited some solid starting players in DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Terence Newman, Bradie James, and Marcus Spears. Looking at Dallas' other starters on that side of the ball, the team has invested many more resources in Phillips' favor. Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, and Alan Ball were all drafted during the Phillips regime.
Prior to last season, free agents Igor Olshansky, Keith Brooking, and Gerald Sensabaugh were brought in to fill in the starting lineup--signings that scream of Phillips' influence. During the '09 draft, we witnessed 7 of the 11 players selected being defenders, and David Buehler was brought in to help lengthen the field for opposing offenses.
I was going to do a Bright-Side-of-the-Washington-Loss-type post, but screw it. The game is lost and time to move on. Judging by many of your comments on why the Cowboys lost that game, much of the blame outside of Alex Barron is focusing on coaching. Similar to last season, much of the criticism is focusing on the offensive playcalling of Jason Garrett.
But isn't Wade Phillips the head coach of the Cowboys? After all, it's under his name in which the team's wins and losses fall.
Now, the Cowboys' front office hasn't completely ignored Jason Garrett's need for talent on offense. From the Parcells era, he was afforded the luxury of having a Jason Witten, Andre Gurode, and Marion Barber drafted and getting to develop UDFA stars Tony Romo and Miles Austin. Fortunately, these players have panned out and exceeded expectations. And the team has drafted some offensive talent high in Felix Jones, Martellus Bennett and most recently Dez Bryant. But other than Robert Brewster and Sam Young, Garrett doesn't have much on the roster to work with as far as drafted linemen are concerned. Other than Gurode and gem-in-the-making Doug Free, the rest of the starters are all free agent pickups. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Kyle Kosier, Marc Colombo, and Leonard Davis do not have preceding ties to Garrett as Phillips has with his defensive free agent signees.
Whose team is this, really?
In '07, Garrett's offense emerged as one of the most explosive in the league, averaging more than 365 yards and 28 points per game. The trend continued somewhat in '08 as Garrett had to adjust to a number of injuries, but the defense failed to keep opponents from rallying as the season wore on. Enter Phillips' free agent pickups last season, and the defense grew into a solid unit as the team pushed into the playoffs, finishing '09 with not one, but two shutouts against division rivals.
Going into 2010, we got the sense that the defense was really starting to take over as the strength of this team. Everybody spoke of the lack of depth and youth on the offensive line as being the team's most glaring weakness. Still, the front office pushed on through April hoping that it could make it one more year with this current group. Many of the skill position players have high fantasy potential, but their execution depends highly on the protection provided by the offensive line. In conjunction, Garrett's gameplan must operate with Romo and his Pro Bowl-caliber receivers while also trying to feed the hungry trio of talented tailbacks. With all of this, he must also continue the development of more UDFAs the team keeps finding for him in players like Sam Hurd, Kevin Ogletree, and Chris Gronkowski. After just one week in, it already feels as if Garrett has a long season ahead of him.
Make this Wade Phillips' team. The only person who can do that is Phillips himself and according to him after the game, he's ready to shoulder that responsibility.
"That's my decision. That's plain and simple," said Phillips, who is also the Cowboys' defensive coordinator. "We didn't get it accomplished. That was my fault."
Phillips, of course, said this in regards to the bonehead decision to go for whatever they were trying to go for with four seconds left in the half, facing a 1st-and-20.
Today, Garrett took the blame.
"I called the play,'' Garrett said. "It's my responsibility.''
After all, he is the offensive coordinator, right?
"In hindsight, it should have been called off,'' Garrett said. "Absolutely. It's our job as coaches to prepare our players to play as well as they can on individual plays and to handle different situations.
"We've had an aggressive style here, really throughout our football team and on the offensive side of the ball, for the last three years and it's served us well. Having said that, you have to manage situations better."
Whatever play Garrett had dialed up shouldn't matter to me. Like a court judge, Phillips has the authority to overrule his assistant. HIS assistant. I know this topic has been beaten to death, but it seems to me that Phillips is on the sidelines gameplanning more with special teams coach Joe DeCamillis than he is with the guy who runs HIS offense.
How can they move forward?
By being Wade Phillips' team. If the influx of talented draft picks has been thrown at the defense and your head coach is defensive-minded, then this team should focus on just that: the defense. The Phillips 3-4 is based on pressure, yet does a great job at stuffing the run; therefore, the offensive gameplan should revolve around that. Check that. There should be a team gameplan instead of an offensive one and a defensive one. And because Phillips is the head coach, it is his job to see that Garrett's scheme coincides with what he is doing.
This weekend when Dallas plays Chicago, you can bet that Phillips will put mad pressure on Jay Cutler in an effort to get those prized turnovers his players are so adamant about creating. Although Bears' back Matt Forte looks to have hurdled his sophomore season, this game can still end up in a Cutler vs. Romo shootout. Do the Cowboys really want to risk that? Is controlling the clock such an antiquated notion in today's game?
It makes sense to me, and you don't have to agree, that the Dallas defense sets the tempo of each game. No longer is it the reason the team loses. Going back to '09, it's giving the offense every opportunity to win games. The red zone struggles and the unbalanced run-to-pass ratios are too easily blamed on Garrett. This is not '07 where the linemen were hitting on all cylinders and defenses were caught off guard by the speed of the skill position players. This is 2010 where the offense supplements the outstanding efforts of the defense.
Coordination is needed between the offense and defense. Usually, a head coach mediates between both coordinators to come up with an overall gameplan. In Dallas, that's the other hat Phillips has to wear. If the Cowboys need to run the ball more to control the clock and keep his defense fresh, that's on him, not Garrett. If they get a turnover in their opponent's territory and Garrett wants to go for the throat with a deep pass on 1st-and-10, does he okay it first with his head coach? Personally, I don't know but I think he should.
It's not just Phillips' defense, it's his team. He's the more experienced coach. He's been afforded all the resources he's wanted on defense. Perhaps it's time for him to help out the offense. His defenders are doing all they can to do so. Now that he has had a boatload of draft picks and free agents resourced to him, his greatest resource this season could very well be the one that wears a headset, not a helmet.