I normally provide a Friday Game Plan for the upcoming Cowboys game, but I must admit that this week has a distinctly different feel to it and therefore I have decided to go in a distinctly different direction today.
Having been asked all week what I wish to see from new Head Coach Jason Garrett, I thought it would be a great time to go over a realistic list of expectations prior to his team taking the field for the 2nd half of the 2010 season. His task will not be easy, but let's detail what needs to happen.
There are a number of things from a football perspective that need to get better: A better rushing attack, a more able pass rush, more takeaways, better pass coverage, and simply a more physical football team come to mind. Beyond that, competition for each position on the field would be a welcome addition. Fact is, at 1-7, nobody should be assured their spot in the lineup or on the roster. If someone feels like they are owed something and they should automatically have their position, then as Jason Garrett said, "find the door". Nothing is a given anymore. Prove you deserve a spot. Competition is the new theme of the Dallas Cowboys. Win your spot.
But, more than anything, Jason Garrett knows what needs to happen. You can tell by his words and by his actions already that he understands the biggest issue with this Cowboys team. They are just too soft.
They are weak mentally. Adversity breaks them down. When the going gets tough, the Cowboys cave in and collapse. They must learn resolve and a steel mindset that welcomes a challenge and can overcome some bad luck. Nothing tells you about a team like their ability to deal with something that doesn't go their way. 3 weeks ago, their QB was lost and this team has yet to act like they are still interested in playing anymore. Listen, Gents, in the NFL, injuries are a fact of life. If your QB getting hurt makes your defense want to fold their tents for the season, then you have the wrong players on your team.
But, a weak mentality is not all that needs to be fixed very quickly. A weak physical approach to football is even worse. And in 2010, we are seeing one of the very weakest Cowboys' teams that I can remember. Their inability to run the football is not a strategy issue. Sure, there are a few points of strategy in the run calls that could be debated. But what we have seen for the entire season is an offensive line that cannot win the battle at the point of attack. There is seldom a play when everyone up front is carrying out their assignment with the proper precision and strength. This is just not an offensive line that has ever taken a game by the scruff of the neck. You cannot win in the NFL if your offensive line can be bullied on a routine basis. And make no mistake: Pretty much every opponent has pushed the Cowboys' OL around. As I have said, run any scheme you want and if your OL is having the physical game taken to them, then it just won't matter which play you call. You cannot win.
Meanwhile, on defense, the blitz never gets to the QB. The powerful pass rush is gone. The trademark of the Wade Phillips era was a dominating defense that could win a game by itself. It has evolved into a group of 11 guys who are as solid as a sieve. The run doesn't get stopped anymore. Overall, the Cowboys defenders do not overpower anyone this season. To make matters worse, the hits in the secondary seem rather harmless, and the overall tackling is without conviction or message.
Football is a complicated game with a simple truth: In order to win, you need your guys to whip the rear of the player across from them.
In short, on offense and defense, this team doesn't resemble a team that is ready for a street fight. Rather, they resemble a team that has been coddled and assured that they are entitled to something wonderful without having to earn it. The glamour of the Dallas Cowboys brand name has given them the impression that success is owed to them. They embody their label of being members of a "country club" where they would like to win, but it surely is not a matter of life or death.
Like I said, Jason Garrett knows all of this. I think it is obvious with his actions in the first few days that pads must be put on at practice. Things must change. Discipline must be implemented. Privileges must be revoked. Fundamentals must be emphasized. And excuses must be removed.
This isn't a matter of playing more 3 WR offense or less Shotgun. Nor is it a matter of calling more blitzes or man-to-man coverage. It is competing. It is refusing to be denied. It is eliminating excuses and welcoming the challenges that are all around you in the NFL.
If Jason Garrett can get a 1-7 team that hasn't competed in weeks to respond to this new directive and this new atmosphere of accountability, pride, and professional conduct, then the personnel deficiencies can be addressed and strategy issues can be examined. But, if we don't see a response that at least will put the Cowboys on par with teams that compete every week like the Buffalo Bills or Carolina Panthers, then things are truly hopeless and a massive gutting is mandatory.
This team is full of veterans who appear to be set in their ways. They have played for 4 seasons in a rather relaxed locker-room where dominoes and cards were fun past-times and a coach who refused to embarrass or identify you for not getting it done. There are guys on the team that moments after allowing another Touchdown find no issues with waving at a television camera and appearing oblivious to the scoreboard. There was plenty of winning, but gradually, this team seemed to lose the ability to exhibit grit and guts when the game called for it. Can these veterans embrace a setting where they will be pushed, prodded, and tested to see if they still have the stomach and hunger for what the fight requires?
It looks like his objective is to drop a new tone of accountability on this roster. A tone where nonsense will not be tolerated. A tone where finishing 2nd is unacceptable. It would seem to be next to impossible to change a team's spirit in 1 week or 2 after 4 years in the opposite direction. But, he doesn't have a 4 year deal. He has 8 weeks. And if you want to know what its going to take to see this team consider the Jason Garrett era to continue into 2011, I think we just need to start there.
They aren't going to win many games. They have very little at QB right now and a tough schedule going in. But, there is no reason why Buffalo and Cleveland can play competitive football every week and the Cowboys cannot keep a game close until halftime. This team needs to play like the Dallas Cowboys have demonstrated they play for 50 years.
That is his biggest priority. If he can restore some pride and dignity in 2010, then the Cowboys are on the right track. This may seem like a painfully low standard for those who love to reminisce about the 5 Lombardi Trophies and the legendary moments for this franchise. But, it is time to be honest about where this organization presently resides.
It is time to find out which Dallas Cowboys are ready to compete and to win their personal battle on the field. It is time to dismiss those who no longer can accomplish there responsibility. It is time for a coach to demand what needs to be demanded.
The bar has been lowered in hopes that it can be raised again very soon.