You can't talk about the recent Dallas Cowboys football seasons without talking about injuries. Whether you believe it's a valid excuse for a middling team or not, the raw numbers show the Cowboys have been among the hardest hit of the walking wounded over the last couple of seasons.
Over the last two seasons, the Cowboys have lost 133 games by starters because of injury. Only two NFL teams have lost more games in that span — Green Bay (153) and Indianapolis (149) — yet both of those franchises managed to qualify for the playoffs in both seasons. The Cowboys lost 46 games by starters on defense, which disrupted a chance for continuity in the Tampa 2 scheme of new coordinator Monte Kiffin. The Cowboys lost only 16 games by starters on the other side of the ball but still finished 16 in the NFL in offense, their lowest ranking since 2002.
But injuries come in more than one variety. There are injuries that take players out of games totally, or injuries that limit their effectiveness even though they still play. There are injuries that hit a team across the board, or there are injury clusters, like what the Cowboys experienced along the defensive line last year. It's hard to go by pure stats and lost games when evaluating how teams deal with injuries and whether they are an excuse for poor play.
One of the problems the Cowboys might be experiencing is the lack of depth based on some really poor drafts in the late 2000's, exemplified by the disastrous 2009 draft. In general, the Cowboys successes in recent drafts tend to be very top-heavy, the later rounds have provided plenty of busts that didn't even make it as backups and are no longer with the team. The Cowboys actually seem to do better with UDFAs than late-round draft picks.
Then there are the hamstring issues. I don't have the stats, but the Cowboys have to be near the top of the league in games lost due to hamstring injuries. Many have argued that this is the fault of the training staff and the Cowboys methods of training, stretching and warming up. I'm not qualified to weigh-in on that, but Dallas seems to be heeding the call for changes. Earlier this offseason, former Cowboys DeMarcus Ware offered up this observation when comparing his training with the Broncos to his previous work with the Cowboys.
"It’s an unconventional type of way of working out, but it’s the best way to keep guys on the field and keep them flexible, but also being able to maintain a guy through their whole career," Ware said. "We did sleds, we did leg slides, Keiser machines. You name it, it was in there. Really state-of-the-art. "I’m really looking forward to just working out this type of way. It’s a whole different deal."
I'm sure Ware was just excited about the newness of his surroundings, but it does imply the Cowboys may have been lacking in some more modern advances. Jason Garrett admits that they are making changes.
The Cowboys have been tight-lipped, even secretive, about what they were going to do to address the high incidence of soft-tissue injuries over the last two years. Jon Machota now reports that additional workout equipment, adjustments to stretching routines, and ballet bars were visible at Valley Ranch during OTAs last week.
Jason Garrett explained some of the changes and implicitly acknowledged that the Cowboys may have had some catching up to do in the from the "old team" approach: "We’ve put a big emphasis on addressing, as an organization, some of the injuries that we’ve had," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said last week. "Just an emphasis on stretching, giving our players the opportunity, whether it’s with ballet bars or V-sits or back systems, whatever things we use, we try to help them get into routines that can help them be flexible and avoid some of the injuries we’ve had. It’s always been an emphasis for us. We have to look at ourselves and what we’re doing to help our players stay as healthy as possible."
"Typically, we’ve done kind of the old team stretch, and we’re experimenting with dynamic warm-up stuff that I’ve done in my past, other coaches have done in the past," Garrett said. "You try to be innovative, you try to evolve, you get feedback from the players, you get feedback from the coaches."
That's about as close as you'll hear Garrett or other Cowboys execs come to saying our methods were outdated. So, with this new emphasis on keeping players healthy, the Cowboys hope that it will translate into a better team.
"Obviously, we got our eyes on not only getting them healthy but keeping them healthy," Jones told the Elf & Slater Show on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. "We got some good ideas on that in terms of how we're going to manage different players. I've said from the beginning, the best way we can improve upon our football team from last year is keep guys healthy. That had to be one of our toughest years in terms of the number of injuries, especially to really good football players. If we can really do a better job there then I like our chances of making some significant improvements on 8-8."
Glad to hear it, it's good to know they are willing to change. But just last week with regard to Sean Lee - the more things change, the more they seem stay the same for the snake-bitten Cowboys.