The Dallas Cowboys are on a five-game winning streak, and have all but sewn up the NFC East crown (they just need one more win or a loss by both Philadelphia and Washington to clinch). They are the hottest team in the NFL, with a defense that has already taken down the vaunted New Orleans Saints, and an offense that exploded in the fourth quarter and overtime of the latest win over the Eagles. Things are great.
Well, not everything, at least if you pay attention to social media and many who write about the Cowboys. There are still cries to replace offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who many believe is holding the team back. One of the latest arguments comes from Patrik (No C) Walker of 247 Sports. He cites the change to Linehan’s call that Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper made on the 75 yard touchdown pass that was instrumental in the win.
His game-breaking 75-yard touchdown that came with only 3:12 remaining in regulation would eventually be the score that forced overtime, when he again stepped up to bury the Eagles, but it wasn’t supposed to happen. As the two-time pro bowler explained after the game, the original route called by Linehan was a stop/curl, but a frustrated Cooper let Prescott know he didn’t like it, given how the Eagles had been playing coverage the entirety of the game.
At that moment, Prescott changed the call, and the rest is history.
”These guys, there were sitting on everything,” Cooper told Brad Sham and Babe Laufenberg of DallasCowboys.com. “All the stop routes, I don’t know if you noticed but we just couldn’t really complete them, because they were literally giving us the go [route]. We called a stop route a third time, and I kind of looked at Dak like ‘I don’t want to run that’, but he was like ‘Just run it Coop’.
“I guess he had a second thought, and at the line of scrimmage, he gave me our go signal. Obviously, we’re going to have to change it now that I’ve divulged that secret, but he gave me our go signal and I beat [the coverage].”
The complaint about Linehan has long been his conservative play calling and lack of innovation. One specific complaint is how he kept having all the receivers go to the sticks and basically stop their routes, rather than keep going for a bigger potential gain. Cooper and Prescott went against that, and it turned out to be the right move.
So many feel that Linehan is still on the hot seat after this season, no matter how it turns out. They want a more innovative, daring play-caller. And now there is a favorite target on the market in John DeFilippo, whose name has often come up as a potential replacement for Linehan, or even head coach Jason Garrett.
Garrett has quieted the calls for him to go as he has been credited by many for leading and inspiring the team to bring the season back from the brink of the 3-5 start. But the grumbling about Linehan continues unabated.
However, there is one little flaw in looking at DeFilippo as a potential replacement. He is available because he was just fired by the Minnesota Vikings after they put themselves in a precarious position by losing to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. They still cling to the sixth seed and a wild card spot by just a half a game as a result.
There is an argument that the issue in Minnesota was really putting their faith in Kirk Cousins, plus some real issues protecting him when he dropped back to pass. Cousins is on a fully-guaranteed $84 million contract, so he could not take the hit. DeFilippo has apparently angered his head coach, Mike Zimmer, because he didn’t run the ball enough. If that is accurate, and a real part of his failure, then he would hardly seem a good fit for the Cowboys and their offense. Dallas is built around the running of Ezekiel Elliott.
If you can throw out the emotions, there are some real reasons why keeping Linehan may not be such a bad idea after all, especially if the Cowboys can finally find some playoff success. He has been the OC for a team that has won the division in three of the past five seasons. If not for running into Aaron Rodgers in both 2014 and 2016, Dallas might have already quelled the discontent over quick exits from the postseason. Now, at least, they shouldn’t have to worry about Aaron freaking Rodgers as the Green Bay Packers are pretty much dead in the water for the playoffs.
And, as our own David Halprin has often pointed out, Linehan was the architect of the phenomenal rookie regular seasons of Dak and Zeke. He obviously knows something.
But, those who decry him insist, it took a change at the line to get that beautiful 75-yard touchdown.
However, there is something else that play illustrates. A couple of things, actually. First, it is just one more piece of evidence how important the Cooper trade was for Dallas. He is proving to be a legitimate WR1, with confidence, talent, and skill. And he has already developed superb chemistry with his quarterback that lets the latter have faith in making that kind of call.
The second thing is the growth of Prescott. We too often forget that he is just in his third season playing the most difficult and crucial position for the most scrutinized and controversial franchise in the NFL. Even a few games earlier in the season, he would not likely have had the confidence in himself and his receiver to make that kind of decision. Now, he does. And he was definitely feeling it in the superb performance he put on after having made so many crucial mistakes earlier in the game.
This all hearkens back to the arguments earlier this year about whether the offensive woes were more about coaching or execution. There is a theory that Linehan’s system really depends on having top-level talent to work. He has that in Elliott, and now he has a second crucial piece in Cooper. With those in place, things just work better. Prescott showed during the final quarter and overtime against the Eagles that he can also step up and deliver that kind of play.
Simply put, Linehan may now have exactly what he needs to thrive, especially if Prescott continues to make the occasional on-field adjustment as the need arises. That, after all, was a strength of one Tony Romo. Now, it may be a shiny new tool in Dak’s kit.
There is also the fact that Linehan knows his head coach (and owner), his players, and the system. One mistake many make in calling for change is to assume that new equals better. It doesn’t always. It may actually be worse more often than not.
A real evaluation of whether Linehan is the right man for the job will not come until the last game for the Cowboys, hopefully late in January - or even later. And it will be made by Jerry and Stephen Jones, plus Jason Garrett, not Cowboys Twitter or the media that covers them. Things could still go off the rails, but at the moment, the signs are all pointing up.
So if you are a staunch member of the “fire Linehan” club, you may want to brace yourself. Nothing cures ills like winning, and for five weeks now, that is all the Cowboys have done. The credit belongs to the team, but certainly has to include Linehan for his part. If this team does give us a happy new year, there may simply be no real justification for parting ways with the offensive coordinator that got us there.