It’s a rough time to be a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. The team is coming off of three straight losses and playing some of it’s worst football of the season. Any other year, this 6-7 team would be thinking ahead to next season as all would be lost, but thanks to playing in a bad division, the Cowboys are still right in the thick of the playoff hunt. All they have to do is not be worse than the Philadelphia Eagles on the Sunday before Christmas, and there’s a great chance that will punch their ticket to hosting a playoff game at AT&T Stadium.
While it’s nice that the season still has purpose, it’s extremely troubling this team is having the problems it’s having. Their health is pretty darn good, their strength of schedule is pretty soft, and they have a roster full of players that certainly seemed like they were talented back in training camp. But despite all these factors that have worked in the Cowboys favor, here we are. They are 13 weeks into the season and they have a losing record. What in tarnation is going wrong with this team?
We all have our own thoughts and there is plenty of blame to go around, but ultimately the underachieving performance week-in and week-out falls squarely on the shoulders of Jason Garrett.
There are a lot of great qualities about coach Garrett, and you won’t find a bigger fan than yours truly, but despite being a great motivator, communicator, leader of men - the team under his control is just not prepared enough to win football games. Why is that exactly? Are players not working hard enough? That doesn’t seem right as the effort is there. Are the players he’s choosing to get reps just not as good as we thought? Sure, we have our own opinions about who should be getting more snaps (Blake Jarwin, Tony Pollard, Jourdan Lewis), but that doesn’t seem like it either as we’ve seen how good his group can be. Then, what is it?
To a fault, Jason Garrett believes in his players, coaching staff, scheme, etc., that if they just “be who they are” and execute, his team will win football games. And he’s right. When that happens, they win. But far too often this season, the team is not executing. However, unlike other teams in the league, the Cowboys chances of winning are flushed away when things don’t go according to plan.
Case in point - the offense has scripted a great plan of attack to march down the field and score on their opening drive in each of the last two games. But what happens when adjustments are made? The Cowboys allowed 50 unanswered points combined in those two games following their opening drive. Opposing teams continue to attack the Cowboys, and yet Dallas doesn’t seem to have any answer. Linebacker Jaylon Smith was continuously picked on in coverage until he ultimately gave up a touchdown reception. Mitchell Trubisky kept the ball on read-option plays because he knew the Cowboys defense was going to come crashing inside on the play. It seems like every week there’s a new player that works over the defense (Aaron Jones, Cole Beasley, Trubisky), leaving them scratching their heads.
The Cowboys seem confused as to why this keeps happening, but the answer may be right in front of them - they’re just too basic.
Jason Garrett was on 105.3 The Fan and he laid it out for us...
“We are not a team that plays a zillion different coverages, a zillion different fronts, a zillion different pressures. A lot of teams approach it that way. We believe in being more fundamentally sound by doing a handful of things in our coverages, in our fronts, in our pressures.”
“We believe it’s hard to execute at a high level when you have too much stuff on defense, but we do believe we have a variety of things to complement each other. Once the ball is snapped, we are going to rely on executing at a high level.”
The problem with this approach is that the team is not executing at a high level. The simplicity of this approach becomes a weakness of this defense when players aren’t capable of making plays. Taking bad angles, the inability to stay disciplined in your gaps, and not squaring up to tackle - make the team’s simplistic approach very ineffective.
This is not to say that the Cowboys don’t mix things up, but they do not over-complicate things. That makes them very dependent on 11 guys doing their job well. When it doesn’t happen, the result is some unknown Bears tight end scampering down the sideline for a 30-yard gain.
To fix this there are two options - implement a more creative defensive scheme or execute better. The Cowboys are putting their hopes into the idea that the latter comes true, because they are locked into their approach. Garrett believes in his players and that’s fine and all, but as a coach - you have to be able to find other ways to win football games when things don’t go according to plan. And that is just not happening in Dallas.