It’s time to shift our focus back to the coaches of the Dallas Cowboys. With the inability to conduct any actual practices or other activities, we can make only guesses about the players. The talent acquisition process clearly is done for a good while with the
signing of the UDFAs, signing of Andy Dalton, signing of Cam Erving. In any case, the dearth of new information as the team is limited to virtual meetings with their players leaves us having to look at some other things for the moment. With all the excitement and fine dissection of the draft having dominated things lately, it feels like a good time to talk some more about the significant coaching changes. Frankly, a couple of things that came out recently were eye-opening. Both relate to secondary coach Kris Richard, but they also seem to fit right in with one of Jason Garrett’s biggest issues.
The most recent one involves an interview with George Iloka, who was briefly with the Cowboys during 2019’s training camp. Here’s a link to the full interview, or you can use the clip below.
Former Cowboys S George Iloka on DC Kris Richard’s system:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) May 9, 2020
I tried to disguise that we’re playing cover 3. Richard made me stop. I’m like “oh you want them to know we’re in cover 3?” pic.twitter.com/IfYZhAwuvs
This provides a more detailed explanation, if you don’t choose to listen to the clip.
George Iloka said in a podcast that in practice for Dallas, he tried to walk down into the box to disguise a coverage.— Branden (@ThatBrandenGuy) May 9, 2020
Kris Richard got pissed and told him to go back to his spot . Iloka said “Oh, you WANT them to know what we’re doin?!”.
That is what you might want to call a red flag. I know that Richard thinks about more football things in a day than I have learned in a decade and stuff, but this seems to violate a pretty basic principle: Don’t let the other team know what you are doing. Make them guess, in the hopes they guess wrong and you blow up their play.
Of course, Iloka has stated before that he did not believe he was given a fair chance to earn a roster spot in that camp. Maybe he had an ax to grind.
But this was the second time something had come out about Richard demanding rigid and therefore predictable things from his defensive backs. In an edition of Jane Slater and Bobby Belt’s podcast a bit before the Iloka comments came out, they were interviewing an independent DB coach who had worked with some of Dallas’ secondary, including Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones.
DB trainer Clay Mack is one of the most respected trainers among NFL players.— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) April 29, 2020
This is a really fascinating 2m20s clip from tomorrow's episode of The 'Boys and Girl Podcast in which Clay talks about why he thinks scheme, not personnel, has been the problem for Dallas' corners: pic.twitter.com/ffweN1qoRw
He related that he wanted to coach them in a specific technique at the snap, but was told that they were only allowed to use one technique by Richard. Belt explained the technique was called a kick-step, and of course, if it was the only technique allowed, the receivers had a much better idea of how to work free.
Richard was supposed to bring some fresh ideas and improved performance to the Dallas defense. It turns out he was inflexible and unimaginative. This may not explain all the problems the defense had last season, but it is a very good start.
Maybe this concept was much more workable when Richard was coaching with the Seattle Seahawks and had a secondary so talented and feared that it earned the “Legion of Boom” nickname. Of course, it raises the question of whether any coach could have had similar success with that stable of DBs. It could also go a long way toward explaining why Richard became available for the Cowboys to hire in the first place as his stars began to depart.
Unarguably an approach of lining up without deception or variation and beating their guys with yours works a lot better when your guys are better than just about anyone they come up against. It is just as inarguable that it is very difficult to assemble that kind of roster, and a rare situation in the NFL. So why did the Cowboys elect to go with a coach with that philosophy?
Well, maybe that idea of just beating the other team man to man sounds familiar to you. All the evidence points to that being the basic offensive philosophy of Jason Garrett.
Look at how he built the team. First, he started a trend of getting top-notch offensive linemen, which brought them the All-Pro trio of Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and recently retired Travis Frederick. They also picked up La’el Collins, who was projected as a first-round pick before the bizarre incident that led to him not being drafted at all since he was not cleared of any involvement until after the draft ended. And Connor Williams and Connor McGovern were also investments of premium picks to further bolster the line.
Then came the use of a fourth overall pick for Ezekiel Elliott. That may be even more telling, because Garrett didn’t hide that he wanted to run the offense through Elliott. It became even more clear once Tony Romo was supplanted by Elliott’s fellow rookie, Dak Prescott. Despite the growing body of data and analysis that passing the ball is by far more effective than handing it off in almost all situations, including first and most second downs, the Cowboys remained fully committed to establishing the run. Far too often, they attempted to do that with tight formations and multiple tight ends. For years, the most effective package for Dallas to pass or run has been 11 personnel, when the defense could not load up the box. But again and again, the Cowboys would show run and hand it off, with frequently disappointing results.
Just like showing the same thing over and over to the opposing offense and getting burned.
I have observed before that Garrett put a lot of energy and resources into building a team to win - in 1995. The game has changed dramatically since the glory days when Emmitt Smith was a fearsome weapon that helped carry the team to three Lombardi trophies. Garrett had a lot of good qualities, but changing with the times apparently was not one of them.
At the end of his own tenure in Dallas, Scott Linehan was a constant scapegoat for the woes of the offense. He was derided for his predictability and the staleness of his offense, despite the obvious strengths Prescott brought to the game. Promoting Kellen Moore was hoped to be a way to overcome all that. But last season, despite a hot start, the offense slowly reverted to the old ways. Moore still could dial up some great plays. Too often, though, the ball went to Elliott in a quest to get to a manageable third down. We know how that turned out. It is worth noting that Linehan’s current job is in the college ranks, where the national champion LSU Tigers just hired him - to be the passing game coordinator.
We still have to see how things work out under new head coach Mike McCarthy and the staff he brought in, especially Mike Nolan and his defensive assistants. But McCarthy famously took that year off to study and improve himself, which means that he had more time to study the Cowboys and what they did both right and wrong than any other candidate for the HC job. If he paid attention and follows through, we will see a very different approach to both the offense and the defense, one that keeps the other team guessing and off balance. The draft certainly brought in some exciting young talent that may help with the man-to-man matchups as well. This could be a bit of the best of both worlds in Dallas.
That would be a very good thing indeed.