By and large, sports movies are horrible movies. They're filled with cliches, bad acting, and cheesy plots. If we look behind the cheese though, we can find some fundamental sports truths. And some of those truths pertain to the 2014 Dallas Cowboys.
Truth 1: Individual Stats Do Not Equal Winning
Do you know who the real hero of Talladega Nights was? The boss's son, Larry Dennit Jr., the weaselly team owner who brings over a French man and hates All-American Ricky Bobby. Think about it, why does he bring Jean Girard to Dennit racing? Because for all of Ricky Bobby's individual winning, he doesn't care about winning the actual team championship! Ricky Bobby is part of a team, yet he constantly puts his own individual stats over the good of that team. He's the complete opposite of Cal Naughton Jr. who always sacrifices his own personal glory for Ricky. But it never helps, Ricky Bobby might be the biggest name in racing, but his actual team is an afterthought.
Real World Equivalent: You know what team is the exact opposite of Dennit Racing? The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are constantly putting their individual stats on hold for the good of the team. Manu Ginobli could be a starter for just about any team in the league, but has been coming off the bench for years because it's what's best for the Spurs. How many more rebounds could San Antonio bigs have if the team philosophy wasn't to get back on defense instead of grabbing offensive rebounds? How many more points could Tony Parker score if he wasn't always making the extra pass looking for the best shot? With the Spurs individual stats don't matter; it's all about the team winning.
What it Means for the Cowboys: We all know the stats. Our two best defensive linemen, Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware left us, taking their 17 sacks with them. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth. But here's the thing ... individual defensive stats don't really mean anything. The Seattle Seahawks didn't have a player with double digit sacks. Meanwhile J.J. Watt led the 7th ranked Texans defense with 10.5 sacks. Those defensive feats led to a 2-14 record and the #1 draft pick. All of which is to say, our 'Boys don't need to worry about individual defensive stats, because individual success doesn't lead to team wins.
Truth 2: Team Beats Talent
Remember "The Replacements"? It was a so-bad-it's-good Keanu Reeves vehicle where he plays a former college football quarterback. No not the surfing FBI agent, the one where he lives in a boathouse and actually plays football. Anyway, in the movie Gene Hackman plays an old coach tasked with putting together a replacement football team to replace the striking pro players. Hackman has what could be considered eccentric tastes in his players. He goes for a WR who's incredibly fast but can't catch. His MLB is an insane cop. His center is an overweight Sumo wrestler who had never played football. His kicker is an Australian soccer player who smokes on the field, and his quarterback is, well, Keanu Reeves. It's not the most talented team. But Gene Hackman had a vision and he picked players who fit a certain role in that vision.
Real World Equivalent: The 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks were not the most talented team in the league. They had one full blown "Superstar" in Dirk Nowitzki, but after that the team was a collection of role players and over the hill former stars. Tyson Chandler was a former lottery pick but never lived up to his draft billing. Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic had been prolific scorers in the league, but both were past their primes, as were Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd. J.J. Barea provided a spark off the bench, but stood all of 6 ft. tall.
They were pitted against the NBA's dream team. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade were three of the 10 best players in the game. Yet Dallas won the championship because while they did not have better players, they had a better team. Each player had a purpose in the overall team scheme and fit that purpose. Tyson Chandler was a limited player but excelled at protecting the rim. Marion was no longer an offensive force, but could effectively guard both Wade and James. None of the Mavericks were excellent one-on-one defenders, especially on the wings, but their length enabled them to flourish in Rick Carlisle's zone schemes. And the team beat the talent.
What it Means for the Cowboys: Over the past few offseasons we have seen a change in the Cowboys talent acquisition process. Players like Terrell McClain rub against the idea of "stars and scrubs" we generally assume when talking about the Cowboys. Gone are free agency spending sprees, and in place is a systematic process of targeting specific players that fit within the scheme. In the 2012 free agency period Dallas eschewed most of the big name offensive line free agents and made it a priority to sign Mackenzy Bernadeau, a low-cost young player who they felt fit the scheme the Cowboys wanted to run on their line. When the Cowboy do make a big signing it has been for a young player at a position of need (Carr, Melton). This targeted approach to free agency and the draft, will allow the Cowboys to build a team as opposed to just collecting talent.
Truth 3: Stay True to Yourself
There's a part in "Cool Runnings" where Derice, the Jamaican team captain, becomes infatuated with the German team and their way of doing things. He starts running the team practices the way the German team does. He starts counting down towards the run using the German team's count. Eventually the rest of the team rebels and Derice's friend Sanka calls him out on it saying: "All I'm saying, mon, is if we walk Jamaican, talk Jamaican, and *is* Jamaican, then we sure as hell better bobsled Jamaican." This leads to the iconic line, "Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Get on up, it's bobsled time!"
Real World Equivalent: Again we turn to another the other Dallas team to win a championship, the Dallas Mavericks. In 2007 the Dallas Mavericks were coming off a devastating Finals loss to the Miami Heat. They posted the league's best regular season record, and were matched up against the Golden State Warriors in Round 1 of the playoffs. They were the best team in the league, probably the most talented team of Dirk's tenure, and were heavy favorites to return to the finals. And they lost in round 1 to Golden State.
The Mavericks lost because they forgot who they were. Instead of sticking to what brought them success the Mavericks attempted to "match" the Warriors small ball lineups. The Mavs allowed the Warriors to dictate the game plan. They were the superior team, but allowed their opponent to dictate the terms of the series. And they lost.
What it Means for the Cowboys: Since arriving in 2007 Jason Garrett's offense has routinely ranked in the top 10. Tony Romo constantly ranks in the top 10 in most passing categories. Our offense is an asset. Lately however, there have been calls to change the offense. Pundits call for more focus on the running game. They criticize how often Romo lines up in the shotgun. Despite its success people have become tired of Garrett's offense and want change.
Dallas should resist those calls. Our offense is the strength of the team. We are a pass first offense, and we've had success with that approach. It is who we are. We need to embrace our identity, not allow it to shift whichever way the wind blows. Garrett needs to identify exactly what kind of team he wants, and build that team. All the other truths we've talked about build off that central concept. In order for individual players to value team concepts over individual stats they have to know what that team concept is. In order to build a team instead of collecting talent, you have to know what kind of team you want to build. Jason Garrett has an idea of who he wants the Cowboys to be. Now it's time to make that idea reality.