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Will the Cowboys rally to make a late-season run?

Are these the final days of the Jason Garrett era?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The heat is on. The Dallas Cowboys are barely keeping their heads above .500 and by no means are a lock to take the NFC East. They likely need to win at least four of their last five games to just get to the playoffs. It doesn’t help that the toughest game remaining on the schedule is the Buffalo Bills, next up in the annual Thanksgiving Day game.

Now, even Jerry Jones is starting to talk about how this team needs to win now, or it may be the end of head coach Jason Garrett’s time in Dallas. The locker room has spoken up in Garrett’s defense this week, so they will be trying to get those wins. The question is: Can they? Our Michael Strawn and Tom Ryle have given that some consideration.

Tom: The team needs a win in the worst way. Not just the coaches, who could all be facing unemployment if a strong finish does not materialize, but the players need to prove they are a good unit.

But here’s the thing, for the first time in a long, long while, I simply am not feeling it, especially going into the Bills game. It just seems that something is broken for this team, and it is not the roster. Oh, I’m not one who thinks this is the most talented team in the known universe, but I do strongly believe it is better than 6-5. No, I think the vaunted Garrett process has broken down. I wish I could figure out exactly how, but the best I can come up with is that the head coach and at least some of his assistants are stuck in the 90s. The recent out-of-hand rejection of analytics is just confirmation of this. Garrett and company believe in their own gut and experience. It turns out that doesn’t work nearly as well as they think, and that is the best I can figure for what is driving this malaise.

Since none of that is going to change, I have to say no. I don’t see a run. I think the team will finish 9-7. It may or may not get them into the playoffs, depending on the Philadelphia Eagles game coming up, but it will be strictly a one-and-done.

And it hurts to type every word of this.

Michael: It’s hard to have any faith at this point, right? The team, from top to bottom, hasn’t given us any reason to believe in them. Here’s what I hold onto, however. Garrett’s players like playing for him. They’ve repeatedly shown this in the past:

  • 2018: After starting 3-5 and being written off they put together a 8-1 streak to reach the division round.
  • 2016: After losing their starting and backup quarterback the team rallied behind rookie, fourth-round draft pick Dak Prescott.
  • 2015: A season that went off the rails the second Tony Romo’s clavicle was broken saw the team lose ten straight games - but at no point did that team quit. They played hard through a very disappointing season.

Jason Garrett has many well-documented warts, but effort and fight from his players has never been a problem. I kind of like the vibe I’m hearing from the players in the interviews; they sound feisty and ready to defend their coach. The media and everyone else acts like it’s all about to implode but I don’t think so.

Now, will that result in better performance on the field? Who knows? The shocking thing to me about this team is how sloppy and error-prone they’ve become. That is not a trait we’ve seen from the Cowboys the last few years. Usually, they’ve been a game, competitive team that was usually outgunned. This year, they’ve got the artillery but can’t seem to get out of their own way.

I don’t see an implosion coming, and I do think the players will rally around the coach.

Tom: I don’t disagree that the locker room is still behind Garrett. We focus so much on his flaws, both real and perceived, that we forget his strengths, and keeping his team together and motivated is one of his best.

I just don’t think that can outweigh the obvious issues with lack of preparedness leading to slow starts, and the absolute failure of the special teams all season. It seems that to fix those would require some kind of change, and change seems difficult for Garrett. His process has done some important things over the years, but right now there are apparently flaws that are inherent to that, and that may just be something he is not going to be able to fix. It is especially a problem in midseason, I think. Most of those kinds of fundamental adjustments, if they happen, are going to be in the offseason for this organization.

If there is one slender reed to cling to, it is that Garrett apparently backed off from his 1990s style run-centric approach after the Minnesota Vikings loss. Unfortunately, the very inclement weather conditions in New England may have led them back to being too conservative. Now we have to see if that was something that will persist, or if they will go back to the pass and Dak Prescott to carry them forward. If they do the latter, then there is at least a glimmer of hope.

Michael: Yeah, while I’m confident the players still support Garrett I’m not confident this team can put together a cohesive, error-free game. It’s really surprising to me how sloppy this team has been. Historically, that hasn’t been a problem for Garrett-coached teams. So it’s frustrating that when they finally have a high-caliber roster they suffer from persistently sloppy play.

I continue to cling to the hope this group - both coaches and players - can put the various components together and this team can finally play up to its potential. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

But I also understand those who’ve lost faith. The 2019 Cowboys really haven’t given fans any reason to believe in them. The sorry state of the NFC East means the season isn’t over, and it’s kind of amazing the Cowboys are in first place as we’re talking about firing the coach. They’ve got five weeks to right the ship and salvage a once-promising season.

Tom: It’s an interesting and rather circular argument. They have to basically do things very differently from the way they have all season, such as avoiding slow starts, cutting down on mistakes, and being at least marginally competent on special teams, in order to save the coaching staff. But to change those things appears more and more to require changes to the staff.

If they do go on a run, then a lot of us will have to change some assumptions. And don’t get me wrong. I want to see a run. Say, for nine more games.

But at this point, I see almost zero chance of it happening.

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