After the dust settled on the Cowboys loss to the Bills on Thanksgiving, the locker room full of players, coaches, and ownership seemed emotionally overwrought. From Jerry Jones teary-eyed post game comments to Michael Bennett’s very audible passionate plea to his teammates, nobody is in a great mood in this organization. At 6-6, the Cowboys have underachieved in a season where the front office aggressively built a roster they believed was a contender.
Are we all guilty of a gross overestimation of the talent on this roster? Perhaps a little, but that is hardly what has sunk the Cowboys this season. Maybe the depth is not nearly as deep as prognosticators believed it to be but this is a roster still overrun with All-Pro and Pro Bowl players. Without question, players are to be held accountable for wildly inconsistent performances but the root cause of their problems stem from Jason Garrett and the coaching staff. After all, it is the job of the head coach to have his players ready to execute on Sunday and Jason Garrett has failed to deliver that readiness.
The overwhelming theme to the Cowboys’ struggles this season have been slow starts which have happened in this team’s wins and losses. Final scores are not indicative of the story for these Cowboys. Dallas was struggling with a 10-6 lead over the Miami Dolphins in week three before blowing the doors off them in the third quarter. The Packers were blowing the Cowboys out 24-0 with less than six minutes left in the third quarter. The Cowboys scored all 24 points in a quarter-and-change but still lost by 10 points. Dallas has only played one game where they truly dominated from start-to-finish, a week seven win over the Eagles, 37-10. More often than not, the Cowboys look like a team that isn’t prepared to play. Their first-quarter sloppiness, penalties, turnovers, missed field goals, and ultimately missed opportunities are all an indictment on the coaching staff. Preparation isn’t the only problem either, there is another fatal flaw with Jason Garrett.
Unfortunately, Garrett’s coaching style is conservative to a fault and it’s really hurt this football team. The “do what we do” mentality only works if your team can do what they do to every opponent. The Cowboys have become one of the most predictable teams in all of football. This year, they have also turned into a team with incredibly poor situational awareness and you don’t have to look far for the harm it has caused. Garrett literally took the ball out of Dak Prescott’s hands against the Minnesota Vikings with the game on the line. A game in which Prescott put two receivers over 100-yards and had an MVP-worthy performance was ruined by coaching decisions to run the football at a loaded front. The result was 22 carries for 50 total rushing yards and a 28-24 loss at home.
This season, you can argue that Jason Garrett’s decision making is responsible for more of their losses than anything else. The Cowboys had the league’s top performing offense across the board for most of the year. The quarterback leads the league in passing, the running game is sixth, they are eighth in scoring, yet they are a .500 team. How is that possible? It’s simple, Garrett does not trust his personnel and his conservatism is killing this football team. Playing for field goals with a 67.9% kicker is playing to lose. Taking the ball away from Dak Prescott in his best year, statistically speaking, is ripping confidence from your most important player. Not knowing the capabilities of the roster you constructed or using every ounce to your advantage is what gets you fired in the NFL.
It’s not just about the offense either, the defense and special teams units have taken nosedives this season. The latter is so horrendous that the Cowboys average starting field position is their own 25.6, a half-yard is comically bad. The defense went from Top-5 to middle of the pack which has soured many opinions on Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli. The secondary has been extremely soft and make almost zero plays on the ball. The linebacker and defensive tackles are undisciplined and lack gap integrity. The fundamentals of defense are missing in action and it’s no surprise that the Cowboys have played four straight games without recording a takeaway.
An unwillingness to evolve the game plan or adapt to personnel has become the identity of this football team. Why? Because it’s the identity of their head coach. There is a major disconnect between Jason Garrett’s trust in his schematic tendencies over the trust in his players talents. The players and ownership can continue to publicly support Jason Garrett but make no mistake, that faith is fleeting.
In nine seasons of Jason Garrett, the Cowboys have fielded several potentially great teams but sit with no tangible success to speak of. With four games left and the lead in the division, it makes no sense to make a decision yet but it’s coming. This year was it for the Garrett-era and there are no more miracles waiting in the wings for Jerry Jones. Nothing the Cowboys have done thus far suggests that they have the ability to make a deep playoff run, they are 0-5 against winning teams. When the clock hits all zeroes on the 2019 season, another NFC East title is not going to be enough to save Jason Garrett this time around.