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Scott Linehan is gone, will anything really change for the Cowboys?

The big question now is exactly how much will change with the Cowboys offense?

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Cowboys Nation has been in a somber mood most of the last week, licking the wounds from another disappointing divisional round defeat. But there was much rejoicing by many fans today when word came out that much-maligned offensive coordinator Scott Linehan would not return to conduct the team’s offense in 2019.

Not to celebrate one man’s termination, but the overwhelming consensus of fans, media members and hardcore film analysts was the Cowboys’ offensive scheme was:

  • Simple
  • Predictable
  • Easy to defend
  • Rigid (unable to adapt)
  • Not utilizing weapons properly (especially Dak Prescott’s running ability)

Now, fans and writers calling for a change when a team comes up short of the goal is an ever-present reality in professional sports. Still, it was hard to find anyone with deep knowledge of offensive schemes and play-calling who supported or praised the Cowboys’ approach.

So with Linehan now gone, we embark on a new golden age of offense in Dallas where wide receivers run free through wide open spaces, Ezekiel Elliott has gaping holes to race through and Dak Prescott becomes a top-tier dual-threat QB menacing defenses with both his arm and legs.

Well, probably not. First, we have no idea who the team’s next offensive coordinator will be. Dallas has a history of promoting from within and for all we know this will be a “next man up” situation where tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier is asked to take over.

Keep in mind most teams have already moved to hire both head coaches and assistant coaches, leaving the pool of candidates somewhat shallow. I imagine the Cowboys have some names in mind (and had probably inquired about availability before letting Linehan go), but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily get who they target.

The point is it’s easy to get rid of a coach; the much, much harder task is hiring a better coach. Now, most would argue Linehan set the bar pretty low but I’m just gonna remind everyone of how the Cowboys’ offenses performed with Linehan at the helm:

Summarizing: Across Linehan’s entire five year regime the Cowboys offense have been very average. Average points per game, average yards per game, average turnovers per game. Not great, not horrible, just average. Here’s the good:

  • Twice Linehan led top-five offenses in terms of points and close to top-five in terms of yards.
  • One of those top five offenses came with a rookie fourth-round quarterback taking every snap.
  • Linehan’s teams have been stingy with the ball since Prescott took over, ranking in the top six at surrendering turnovers.

Now the bad:

  • 2015 showed an inability to adapt to losing the franchise quarterback. The team finished last in the league in points and next to last in turnovers.
  • The team has declined each of the past two seasons, going from fifth, to 14th, to 22nd in both points and yards.
  • In short, the offense has been trending in the wrong direction.

The key point here is while there’s room to improve, there’s also room to decline. For every successful coach hired there’s more than one unsuccessful coach hired. Let’s all keep that in mind.

My real concern isn’t who the next offensive coordinator will be; my concern is how much leeway will he be given?

Jason Garrett was the team’s head coach for each of those five years outlined above and last I checked he’s still the team’s head coach. Linehan was using those stale schemes, lining up in predictable formations and sending out jumbo formations against stacked boxes while also reporting to and answering to Jason Garrett.

In short, Jason Garrett could have changed any of those mind-numbing realities at any point during these last two seasons. Garrett could have demanded more passes on first down or the introduction of rub routes or more creative ways to employ Zeke in the passing game. He could have demanded Prescott be used in the run game more. Last Saturday, he could have demanded the team not line up in a fourth-down jumbo package to bang against a 10-man front that had been dominating the Cowboys’ offensive line all night long:

(By the way, wouldn’t a play-action pass in this situation - letting your prized wide receiver known for having perhaps the best route-running/separation skills in the league go one-on-one against a cover-zero scheme - lead to success more often than running straight into ten defenders? And wouldn’t it have the added benefit that, if successful, you’re likely celebrating in the end zone as opposed to lining up for a first down? Just a thought.)

Part of the reason Linehan was originally hired by the Dallas Cowboys to join Jason Garrett’s staff was the two shared similar offensive strategies. They both believe in a strong run game; they both believe in a vertical downfield passing game with links back the Don Coryell schemes of the 1970’s. They both believe in one man beating his opponent.

Nowhere in there is knowledge, mastery or (it seems) curiosity about the innovative schemes that teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams utilize.

So call me skeptical that having a new offensive coordinator is suddenly going to transform Jason Garrett’s offense into a whiz-bang, pinball machine unit that embraces the new offensive ideas percolating throughout the NFL.

The bottom line is, whoever the Cowboys hire won’t make a difference if Jason Garrett doesn’t adapt and embrace the changes sweeping the league. And I’ll finish by asking this question: during Jason Garrett’s nearly 10-year-reign as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, how often has he shown an aptitude to adapt?

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