Overreaction rules in the NFL, especially in the Twitter era.
Fresh off a yet another gut-wrenching loss, this time to Green Bay, this week's headlines will be dominated by knee-jerk commentary about how the Cowboys have the worst offense in the league, how the offensive play-calling is atrocious, why Jason Garrett should be fired, why Jerry Jones is Satan's Spawn, or why the Cowboys need to draft a QB, a RB and a WR, all preferably in the first round.
As a fanbase, we have a tendency to overreact to everything. After a win we're booking tickets for the Super Bowl, a loss and we want to fire every coach on the staff, and just as precaution, fire everybody else who was ever on the Cowboys staff in the past, just to make sure.
Overreaction Monday is an actual thing in the NFL, where a win produces unbridled optimism, and where a loss results in a state of apocalyptic panic. And these Overreaction Mondays can linger, especially when your team sports a 4-9 record, and they can linger way beyond the season and well into the offseason, possibly even all the way to the draft.
At some point, you enter a permanent state of overreaction. In Cowboys Nation, that permanent state of overreaction has been in place for the last 20 seasons, alleviated only by the occasional playoff appearance. Every perceived problem is magnified into a crisis.
- The offensive line: clearly in crisis. Can't get it done on third-and-short and Callahan is missed more than the Cowboys like to admit.
- The running game: clearly in crisis, since the ground game isn't anywhere near where it was last year, and let's all be mad that Murray isn't here anymore.
- The receivers: clearly in crisis. Can't get free, can't catch the ball, can't run past the sticks on third down.
- The QB position: clearly in crisis. Now we're calling for the backup of the backup who was brought in to replace the previous backup to start.
- The secondary: clearly in crisis and it's not even debatable. Plus that one guy costs way too much. And that other guy does not play like I hoped he would when we drafted him.
- The linebackers: not in crisis but clearly could be if somebody got hurt.
- The defensive line: clearly in crisis. Can't stop the run, can't rush the passer, don't like that one guy's history. Crisis, crisis, crisis.
Add coaching and the ownership to that list, and you basically have a year-round template for articles from the nattering nabobs of negativity that spot the DFW mediascape.
For the Cowboys, the key to 2016 will be about not overreacting to the 2015 season, but keeping a cool head instead. Success in the NFL depends in part on an organization's ability to ruthlessly evaluate the talent on its roster, to identify and invest in the players and positions that are key to a team's success, and to move on quickly if the talent on the roster doesn't meet the franchise's requirements,
You could make a solid argument that the 2015 Cowboys, following up on a 12-4 season, avoided the crisis trap but fell into the opposite trap, the complacency trap. And just to make sure I'm not basing this on the benefit of hindsight, here's what I wrote almost a year ago, on January 22nd, about how the Cowboys' willingness to ruthlessly assess their own talent would define 2015:
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 significant 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.
Just because you're 4-9 doesn't mean everything stinks. Just as not everything is all peachy when you're 12-4. The Cowboys must attack the offseason with a sense of urgency, but also with a cool head.
Just because everybody is screaming for you to draft a QB in the first round doesn't mean you have to. Just because every premier free agent running back is linked to the Cowboys doesn't mean you have to sign one of them.
But you have to have a plan for how to address the issues you've identified. And yes, that plan includes addressing the QB and RB positions among others, just maybe not in the way the Twitterverse and the screaming headlines want you to.
If you're the GM looking at the 2015 Cowboys, you're seeing a team that couldn't step up when its starting QB went down. As the GM, you need to ask yourself what you need to do to make sure the 2016 team can step up when the starting QB goes down again. Because the issues with this team go way beyond just missing your starting QB.
Part of your answer will be 'get a better backup QB' or 'draft a new franchise QB.' But if you think that's all it takes, then you're setting yourself up for a rude awakening in 2016. If the only way your system works is by having a guy play QB at elite levels, then your system is broken. And whoever you bring in, backup QB or rookie franchise QB, will eventually break too.