I have always been interested in intangibles. Statistics are great tools in sports, but they never tell the entire story. The human element is what makes sports so great, because the numbers don't always predict the outcome.
The problem with trying to talk about things like motivation and morale is that there is no real way to measure them. It is all inference, trying to find meaning in what people say and how they conduct themselves. In the end, it is largely a matter of personal interpretation.
The Dallas Cowboys are facing a game that is pivotal. If they win against the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday, they at least keep a chance of making the playoffs if they can correct some issues. And, at least to me, a well-played game leading to a victory would indicate that the team is mentally all right and has recovered from the debacle in Philadelphia. And more importantly, that the team has made some significant strides from this time last year.
Remember last year? The Cowboys were a team in disarray. An air of gloom was hanging over Valley Ranch. After preseason hype had built wildly overstated expectations, they had lost six of the first seven and had one more loss coming, to be followed by the seismic shift of a mid-season coaching change. The fan base was calling for heads to roll, and we got the head coach himself.
Now, a lot of concern is being voiced about whether the coaches and players are up to the task, about whether this team is really any better.
Well, as much as I hated the hot mess that happened last Sunday, I have to say that having a good chance to be .500 at the halfway point sure feels a lot better than 1-7, with Coach Cupcake slumping off to eventually land in Houston. And this week I have liked some of the things I see coming out of the team.
My strictly subjective opinions after the jump.
They aren't strictly connected, but I read three reports that I felt said some good things about the team. One was about wide receiver Dez Bryant. KD had an article about it in his links post on Wednesday. In the article (basically a fanpost on Yahoo Sports), the author compared Dez to T.O., and a lot of the commenters here seemed to think he had a point. Well, today, Jason Garrett and Tony Romo begged to disagree.
"Dez is a very passionate guy," head coach Jason Garrett said. "We like guys who are passionate about playing football."
"Dez is great," Romo said. "His emotion, there is never a negative emotion that comes from it. It’s just positive consistently. He’s just a kid who loves playing the game. He’s passionate. But there is never any malice or anything negative involved."
Now, I don't really know if they are speaking the full truth or not. Maybe that is how they really feel, or maybe they are just trying to take some heat off a team member. What I really like about this is that Dez, and by extension the rest of the team, know that the head coach and the quarterback have their backs. Two of the most listened to voices on the Cowboys have just stood up because they thought one of their own was getting beat up in the press. That speaks to me of a team that is still in this together.
Along the same lines, another important figure stood up for someone else. The man who is arguably the best player on the team, DeMarcus Ware, took some of the blame off of Rob Ryan's shoulders for the performance of the defense last week.
"He’s not going to let his players take the blame for what happened, but it’s partially on everybody," said Ware, who had a career-high four sacks in the game. "We’re not going to let him down anymore."
No anger over how much RR's various comments about the Eagles may have provided motivation for them or distraction for the Cowboys. Just pointing out what many here have observed, that it wasn't just problems with the scheme. And then he did something I always enjoy seeing, he stated what he (along with his teammates) planned to do about the situation. Like Tony and JG backing up Dez, DWare stood up for his coach and told him that his biggest star still supports him. And if anybody wearing a Star on their helmet can back up his words, it is Ware.
The third thing was a different kind of piece altogether, one that has already been referenced in OCC's links post earlier today. Bradie James is facing the fact that he is likely at the end of his career with a good bit of grace. But one sentence resonated with the other things I've already mentioned.
"We all have roles, and I had to figure that out to make my role the best and deal with it the best way."
Even as he acknowledges that the team will likely not have use for him next year, he still wants to carry his weight. Being a Cowboy means something to Bradie, and it seems it will until he takes the Star off for the last time. Meanwhile, he does not want to let his team down. While I don't know if he will be up to the task facing him this week, I do feel certain he will give it all he can.
Isolated, each of these things says something good. Taken together, I think they give a bit of an indication of the mood of the team. I don't sense a team that is falling apart. Admittedly, I really don't know what is going on, but just the general sense of things seems so very different from what it was a year ago.
KD has already asked where the patience is for Jason Garrett. I think a better question is where is the patience for the team? This isn't one red-headed guy in headsets trying to win the games. It is 53-man roster, plus a coaching staff, trainers, practice squad players, and Jerry Jones and family, all trying to figure out how to become a championship team. Given where they were last year, I am not horribly crushed by where they are now, despite my own tendency to see way too much of the good and not enough of the bad when I try to evaluate how the team is going to do.
I would love to see a surprising run to close out the year and win it all. But I don't think that is going to happen. This is not a one-year process. We have seen one calendar year go by since this was arguably the most underperforming team in the NFL. And they took half a year off to torture us with the Great Suckitude of the lockout. I just think this team is heading in the right direction. I can't put numbers on a feeling, but I hope the articles I cited show you how I come by this thinking. There is a lot of football still to play this year, and I rather suspect that there is a multi-year strategy in place. We won't really know if the new direction for Dallas is working (which is defined around here as contending for the Lombardi) for another two or three years.
Meanwhile, let's cheer for the Cowboys to win the game against the Seahawks, and hope for the best the rest of the way.