The Dallas Cowboys had a letdown season and fans everywhere are evaluating and assigning blame. Maybe they want Jason Garrett fired? Or cut loose the once beloved All-Pro receiver, Dez Bryant? At the very least, a change in the play-calling and offensive philosophy for something fresh and innovative? Recently, our own Michael Sisemore came out and said what a lot of Cowboys fans are saying - It’s time for the Cowboys to fire Scott Linehan. There was no beating around the bush on that one. And the comment section was filled with resounding high fives as fans would have signed a petition to oust him right then and there if they could.
As for me, I wouldn’t lay down my John Hancock just yet.
At the same time, I’m not giving him a huge vote of confidence either. Replacing Linehan may be the right thing to do, but that is something that requires careful examination. We cannot forget that Linehan has had success with this team and has demonstrated he can win when he has proper tools at his disposal. Last year the offense was explosive on route to a 13-3 record. And in 2014, the offense put up the second most points (467) in franchise history. But Linehan’s body of work isn’t just limited to past seasons.
The Cowboys 2017 season can be grouped into two parts:
- First half - offense played great, defense played terrible
- Second half - defense played great, offense played terrible
The Cowboys got off to a 5-3 start and while that’s pretty good, we were all still a little disappointed by the losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers. And that is because the defense couldn’t protect a two-score lead going into halftime. Not only were they without Sean Lee for both those games, but hamstring injuries to their rookie defensive backs created a setback for the secondary early on. Believe it or not, the Cowboys offense was top four in the league at the halfway point in the season with 28.2 points per game, which was even higher than where they finished last season. The Cowboys put up 30+ points in each of those two games against the Rams and Packers, but the defense couldn’t do their part.
The offense nose-dived in the second half of the season after not being able to overcome the absences of Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott. In the blink of an eye, the offense couldn’t score 10 points as they suffered blowouts in three-straight games. The defense actually kept them in the game early on, but eventually wore down. It would’ve been nice if the Cowboys overcame not having these stars on the field, but that proved to be a lot more difficult than many of us thought. Teams endure injuries all the time, but how well do you think they could do if they were missing their two best players? Last year, Zeke and Tyron were ranked 7th and 18th respectively in the NFL’s Top 100 list. We can’t just act like losing both of those guys is minuscule, especially since together the offense put up close to 30 points a game compared to less than 10 per game without them.
Even with all the obstacles the Cowboys had this season, they still were on the cusp of making the playoffs. They had two games where mishaps late in the game cost the Cowboys dearly, none more resounding that the goal line gaffe against the Seattle Seahawks. The Cowboys had first-and-goal at the three-yard line and were so-close to getting back in the game, but then everything started to unravel.
Why didn’t Linehan just run the ball in there? Well, that’s the question all of us had and Linehan gave this response:
Not only does he attempt to justify the decision, but he lets people know that our anger isn’t going to influence his decision next time. There is nobody who is going to convince me that passing was the right thing to do there, but I’m not the offensive coordinator. I didn’t really give much thought about where the safety was positioned. It’s also true that they’ve ran this run-pass option before when defense was overloading to stop the run and it’s resulted in an easy walk-in touchdown for Dak. Linehan can justify it all he wants, but that’s not going to make me any less angry. If the Cowboys get a touchdown there, they may very well have won that game and have a shot to make the playoffs. That’s a huge mistake and we have every right to be mad.
But are we mad at the right thing? Nobody seems too angry with Jason Witten who committed that costly holding penalty. Or even Dan Bailey who shanked a chip shot field goal. That’s because we love those guys. But Linehan...meh. It’s easier to just say that those guys wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place if Linehan would have just ran the ball.
Play-calling came into question earlier in the season as well when the Cowboys scored too early against the Packers allowing time for Aaron Rodgers to mount a comeback. Why didn’t the Cowboys run down the clock instead of throwing an incompletion and stopping the clock? Some even suggested Dak should have slid down at the goal line rather than taking the touchdown. While that would have been ideal in theory, you can never take it for granted that you can get into the end zone near the goal line whenever you want. The games against Oakland and Seattle served as proof to this.
Whether Linehan is good for the Cowboys or not is something we can all have our own opinion about, but keep everything in perspective. Is it Linehan’s doing or are there other extenuating circumstances in place here? The Cowboys are actually fourth in the league with a third down conversion percentage of 43.6 this season. And that includes all those instances where they stalled out due to penalties and sacks. It’s a testament to how well this offense has been able to move the ball at times this season. Sure, they’ve turned the ball over and missed some field goals, but you can’t blame Linehan for those things.
People wanted Rod Marinelli fired earlier in the season. Do they still feel that way? How can you not feel good about how this defense has played down the stretch once he actually had players on the field who can make plays. And whether we can remember it or not, the offense was putting up plenty of points in the first half when they had their guys on the field. So maybe Linehan isn’t necessary the problem.