As the Dallas Cowboys prepare for the start of the 2016 playoff season, they do so without much substantial experience. The only two players on the team who have been to the Super Bowl are reserve offensive lineman Joe Looney and defensive end Benson Mayowa, neither of whom were even active for their Super Bowl games. Jason Witten has played the most playoff games on the team at 7 (Tony Romo has 6) but he has never played in a conference championship game. Ironically enough, the most experienced player on the Dallas Cowboys is, gasp, Mark Sanchez, who played in the AFC Championship game the first two seasons of his career. Their three best players, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee, have never played in a professional playoff game in their career.
So, where does all this confidence come from? I think it is built on multiple things, and the Cowboys would not want it any other way.
First and foremost, the team’s collective confidence comes from its many successes throughout the season. This season, the Cowboys faced four different playoff teams for a total of five games. In these games, Dallas handily beat the Packers and Lions, narrowly beat the Steelers and lost both times to the Giants. This season saw Dallas’ offense impose its will on impressive defenses such as the Bengals, Packers, Steelers and Vikings. It saw a season where the Cowboys beat Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco. Of these, two were at arguably the most-challenging environments in Lambeau Field and Heinz Field. Because of these performances, the Cowboys surpassed their franchise-record winning streak and won eleven straight games. They matched a team record with five players earning First Team All Pro Honors including a first (of many) recognition for Travis Frederick, Sean Lee and Ezekiel Elliott.
Secondly, while the superstars on the Cowboys have limited professional playoff experience, they all performed at high levels amidst scrutiny during their college days. While mid-major institutions occasionally produce NFL talent, there is something to be said about playing on a national stage and competing with the most talented players during your collegiate years. Taking a look at the Dallas Cowboys roster, it is clear that the front office values this. Starting at the top, Dak Prescott led his Mississippi State team to the top spot in the country, Ezekiel Elliott played for THE Ohio State and won the national championship, Jason Witten played for Tennessee, Travis Frederick played at Wisconsin and won two Big 10 Championships, Zack Martin played at Notre Dame and Tyron Smith balled at USC. The defense is highlighted by Sean Lee coming from Linebacker U (Penn State). In addition to these powerhouse programs, the Dallas Cowboys have continuously found help coming from Boise State (Orlando Scandrick, Tyrone Crawford and Demarcus Lawrence) and Oklahoma State (Dez Bryant and Dan Bailey).
It is likely that the biggest reason for the Cowboys success and confidence has been Jason Garrett and his coaching staff. While intentionally repetitive, Garrett’s system of motivation, precision and preparation has prepared his team to fight and compete all season. As many recall, Garrett played the backup quarterback role during the early 1990s and started his coaching career with the Dolphins in 2005-06, and then arrived to the Cowboys in 2007. He was the offensive coordinator in 2007-2010 and was promoted to head coach midway through the 2010 season after a colossal defeat at Lambeau Field. Since then, he has become the second-longest-tenured coach in franchise history and has been lauded for his preparation and meticulousness.
As the Dallas Cowboys prepare to face the Green Bay Packers this weekend, they will rely on a contagious degree of confidence based on their head coach, their collegiate successes and their impressive 2016 campaign.