The 2014 Cowboys won the NFC East. Yay.
The 2014 Cowboys advanced to the Divisional round of the playoffs. Yippee skippee.
Tony Romo led the league in passer rating, DeMarco Murray led the league in Rushing, Dez Bryant led the league in TD receptions. Woohoo.
You know what's even harder to do than any of those things?
- No team has repeated as NFC East Champion since the Eagles did it in 2004. Since realignment in 2002, only 39 of the 96 (40%) division winners were able to repeat as division winners the next year. If you exclude the AFC East, where the Patriots have won 11 of the last 12 division titles, that percentage drops to 34% (30/88).
- Getting 12 wins isn't easy either. In the 55 years the five-time Super Bowl winning Dallas Cowboys have been in the NFL, they've won 12 or more games only 12 times. Since 2002, only 18 NFL teams have managed to repeat as 12+ win teams. If you exclude teams quarterbacked by Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, that number drops to six teams.
- And having three teammates lead the league in passer rating, rushing yards, and receiving TDs? Happened only once since 1936, when the pre-merger Houston Oilers from the AFL managed that feat in 1961.
Yet as difficult as it was to achieve all of that, the Cowboys won't simply be content to repeat, they want to go one better and make it to the NFC Championship game at least, preferably even to the Super Bowl.
So how's that going to happen?
By ruthlessly evaluating their own talent and taking decisive corrective action where needed. Success in the NFL depends in part on an organization's ability to dispassionately evaluate the talent on its roster, and to move on quickly if it sees that the talent on the roster doesn't meet the franchise's requirements.
But when you just finished 12-4, you have a tendency to see everything through rose-colored glasses. It makes you think that a defensive line that finished with 28 sacks just needs an upgrade or two and everything will fall into place. That a pass defense that allowed the fourth-highest completion rate in the league just needs its top earner to take a pay cut. That three linebackers with signifcant injury histories will form one of the best linebacking units next season. That you are so good you can afford to let your All Pro running back walk in free agency. Heck, you might even believe that after coaching the offensive line to three All-Pro berths, letting the offensive line coach go and keeping everybody else is a great idea.
If the 2014 Cowboys had finished 5-11 (as they did the last time they finished with less than 30 sacks), I promise you that you would not be comfortable with any of the things above.
And it's that sense of urgency that the Cowboys must attack the offseason with. Every team makes mistakes in the draft and in free agency. Not all draft picks pan out the way they were expected to. Not all free agents deliver a performance commensurate with the money you spent on them. And I would suggest that the better teams in the league are better at dispassionately identifying those mistakes, and are willing and able to correct those mistakes faster than the lesser teams do.
Good franchises will err on the side of speed in identifying and correcting their talent acquisition mistakes and roster holes. Jimmy Johnson drafted wide receiver Alexander Wright with the top pick in the second round in 1990. Johnson quickly realized that Wright would not pan out and drafted Alvin Harper with the 12th pick of the first round the following year. In the more recent past, the Cowboys spent three of their last four first-round picks on offensive linemen to get their offensive line back into shape.
From everything I've seen from Jason Garrett and the Cowboys over the past few years, I believe the Cowboys can be very dispassionate at identifying and correcting mistakes and/or needs, and do it faster than they have done in the past.
Stephen Jones, speaking on 105.3 The Fan recently, acknowledged that a pass rusher is "absolutely" a priority in the off-season. More than that: The Cowboys plan on chipping away at that defensive line the way they chipped away at that offensive line. If their success at rebuilding the offensive line is anything to go by, good things are in store for Cowboys fans. But the Cowboys may not want to wait for another three or four drafts until they've rebuilt their defense, so they might want to start hammering instead of chipping.
And that hammering will require some tough decisions about this year's defensive players. Two weeks ago, Jerry Jones said the Cowboys have "about 30 percent turnover every year." That would mean about 20 new faces on the roster next year. All of which will be absolutely necessary if the Cowboys want to improve over 2014.
I'll leave the closing words to our own Rabblerousr:
Indeed. This is one area in which the Cowboys used to really struggle; it does seem that they've become a bit better - although the most dangerous Jerry in this regard seems to be the Jerry who is coming off a good season. So, I'll be waiting with bated breath, fingers crossed and eyes clinched...