In the aftermath of the Cowboys season-ending loss at New York, we should expect a flurry of posts looking to the offseason--many of which will be penned by yours truly. In the meantime, however, I'd like to offer a few thoughts about the 2011 campaign. In particular, I'd like to focus on a few of the dominant media narratives surrounding the Cowboys that--fingers crossed--Dallas' 1-4 December seem to have put to rest.
This team has soooo much talent: Certainly, more objective Cowboys fans have been contradicting this idea for a while now, but this persistent narrative has continued to surround the roster since 2006. And, other than 2007, perhaps, it just hasn't been accurate. Belief in this meme as allowed Cowboys Nation to vastly overvalue their fave team, and has served to raise expectations beyond the ability of the players wearing the star. And, of course, the most fervent believer in this narrative has been one Jerral Jones. Earlier today, O.C.C. authored a terrific post in which he expressed hope that Sunday's loss would serve to pop Jerry's belief bubble so that he might see his team in a clear light. A couple of hours later, Bob Sturm lobbed a cutting "j'accuse!" at Jerry Jones and his spotty history of talent acquisition. Both are required reading for those of you who want to take a cold, hard, long-view look at the organization we all love so well.
More meme-busting after the jump...
This team doesn't have heart: A side narrative extending from the "talent" meme is that the team fails to win because they don't have heart, aren't mentally tough, or fail to show up. A lot of commentators noted that the Giants were much more fired up to start the game yesterday, and that the early hole that the Cowboys found themselves in can be attributed to a lack of passion. Maybe I'm crazy, but I didn't see it this way. To my eyes, Dallas came out playing hard, but were simply overpowered by a more talented team, especially on the lines. I saw a fiercer Cowboys pass rush in the first quarter than I've seen in many weeks. But they simply didn't get there. This was not a problem of intensity, but of execution.
The Cowboys coaching staff certainly sees it this way. In the last couple of weeks, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has located his unit's struggles in a failure to execute. After the Eagles game, he told Dallas Morning News reporters that it wasn't about "blown coverages. Rather: :
"How about we just didn't execute. That's the simple thing. The guy throws a touchdown pass into double coverage, in the redzone, on third down. That's just not good football. Other than that, we'll be fine.
And then last night, he said:
"It was all about execution...I told our guys execute, give us a chance, and I thought we did that. We came out with a lot of guts and played hard. We finally played better. We didn't play well, that's the bottom line. We didn't play well...and it's very disappointing."
Sounds to me like he doesn't feel like the the problem is effort or passion. Even when his guys are in position, they're getting beat. You know who gets beat even when he's in position? The guy with lesser talent. I think Jason Garrett and his coaching staff have had the Cowboys playing hard all season; heart is not the issue. Sturm puts it brilliantly in his article, as he questions Emmitt Smith's contention that this Cowboys squad wasn't mentally tough enough to go into the New Meadowlands and come away with a win:
Mental toughness is a great tie-breaker when talent is equal, but in this space, the premise is that the Cowboys have some very impressive top end talent, but not nearly enough strength on their roster to win a game like the contest that was asked of them on Sunday Night in New York.
I couldn't agree more. Can we please shelve the "lack of heart" narrative until this team has enough talent to compete?
The Cowboys have elite skill position personnel: I'm not arguing here that they don't. What I'd like to dispense with is the narrative that so-called "skill position" talent alone is enough to win. In know I'm going to sound like Knute Rockne here, but teams win with great line play. As exhibit A, I give you last night's contest, in which the Cowboys were whipped on both lines of scrimmage. I don't think the Giants' skill guys are any better than the Cowboys, but they player better last night. Why? Because the big uglies dominated their counterparts. In particular, the New York pass rush was intense, and Tony Romo was under duress from the opening gun. When an offense cannot win at the line of scrimmage, the entire offensive concept breaks down.
I recall an old Jimmy Johnson adage, that his great University of Miami teams won with quarterback and defensive line play. But, when you think about it, this is really about line play: the former depends on a stout O-line; the latter beats the opposing O-line, resulting in poorer QB play. Want to know why Eli Manning seems to carve up the Dallas defense like a Thanksgiving turkey? Look no further than the inability of the Dallas front seven to win their match-ups. Is he "elite?" Against Dallas' ineffectual pass rush he sure is--as would most pro QBs be.
The Cowboys greatest problem spot is the secondary: In the aftermath of the defeat, the twitterverse was filled with invectives against the Cowboys secondary, calls for drafting a first-round cornerback, etc. I'm not arguing that the 'Boys don't need talent upgrades in the secondary. What I would like to submit to you is that this should be pretty far down the list of their greatest needs. Consider the Giants secondary, which is no better than Dallas' and, earlier this season, was playing much more poorly than that of the Cowboys. Last night, they acquitted themselves well, blanketing the Cowboys superb group of wideouts, particularly on crucial third downs. This continued a resurgence experienced in a dominating victory over the Jets.
This recent spate of secondary excellence neatly coincides with the returns of Osi Umenyioa (to the lineup) and Justin Tuck (to health). When these guys join Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka on the third-down "passing line," the Giants pass rush is so potent that the secondary has to cover for only a fraction of the time that, say, the Dallas secondary does. Outside of Dallas' first touchdown, to Laurent Robinson, the Cowboys longest pass of the night went for 20 yards. Part of this may have been that Romo's swollen hand prevented him from gripping the ball well enough to make any downfield throws, but had he not been injured, I'm not sure he would ever have had time to complete deeper balls. The lesson? Fix the pass rush and the secondary will follow.
Tony Romo can't win in December: For years now, we've had to endure the national media beating this meme to death. The reason, they say, that this "talented" bunch can't win when it counts most is that Romo is a choker, is soft, and exhibits poor leadership. All of these are not only tired, but largely untrue. This year, I have been pleased to see a shift vis a vis the Romo narrative. One example: last night, NBC flashed a statistic showing that number 9 has the best fourth-quarter QB rating of any quarterback in the league. The key point here is that he always has; what is different is which stats the networks are choosing to flash on the screen. They could easily have put up the Cowboys (once again) dismal December record, and made a connection to their quarterback.
Thankfully, this meme seems to be changing. Perhaps the national media is waking up to something I suggested after the first Giants-Cowboys tilt: its not that the Cowboys can't win in December because of Tony Romo, but that Romo can't win in December because of the Cowboys.
Sobering stuff...certainly what I need a wild and wooly New Year that saw Rabble at three different parties.