Friday, July 19, 2013

And Off We Go To Oxnard

The 2013 NFL season represents the 18th year since Super Bowl 30 for the Dallas Cowboys.  To this point, 17 seasons have been played since they won their 5th Super Bowl, and 281 games have been played during that stretch (regular and post season).

There have been some good times and some good teams, but given the unreasonably high bar that Cowboys' teams and eras of the past have set, the final results of each of those 17 seasons have left their vast fan-base with feelings of disappointment.  They have become accustomed to better.  It is not a matter of deserving anything, because that is not how sports work.  But, if you would have told the millions of Cowboys fans on that glorious night in Tempe, Arizona, when Jerry Jones held a Lombardi Trophy that did not require Jimmy Johnson's direct assistance, that the next 17 years would include nothing but "break-even" football, it would likely not be believed.

But, here they are.  Starting season 18 since their last Super Bowl and with those 281 games behind them, we look at the results to check that win total:


To be fair, if you deduct the playoff games (2-7), the record shifts to 138-134 through 17 seasons.  That, of course, comes out to an average record of 8.1 wins and 7.9 losses per season year after year.

Since 2006, the year Tony Romo became their "QB1", they have a 65-51 mark (64-48 regular season) which equates to a average record of 9.1 and 6.9, and does account for one of those 2 playoff wins since Super Bowl 30 (the other being the wildcard round win against the Vikings in 1996).

Jason Garrett took over as coach of the Cowboys at midseason of 2010.  Since that time, he has coached the Cowboys in 40 games, compiling a record of 21-19.  He has not been to the playoffs to this point in his coaching tenure, which stands as a large impediment to any progress he has made in solidifying a roster and building a program that might be heading in the right direction.

Results matter and the results for Jerry Jones, Tony Romo, and Jason Garrett have all been right around 8-8.

And so, with 2011 and 2012 both being 8-8 seasons, the Cowboys start another training camp with optimism in their words and a fresh start in their minds.  They will talk about winning football and ideas on how this particular season will be different from the others.  They will, Jerry, especially, even mention the Super Bowl as the final destination and goal and talk about a window being open and trying to keep it from closing.

These are the things we do as we go to training camp with the Cowboys year after year.  And in 2013, where optimism has been beaten down by the teams that have come before them, you actually can sense a fan base that has morphed into numb and at times, hopeless about the present condition evolving into that of a perennial contender.

And, the more I look at this team, the more I do wonder if this will be one of those years where a team does play at a level that even surprises their own fan base.  I think this 2013 version can be pretty good, but like its predecessors, the margin for error is not going to be very big.

Yes, they have some very good talent at most starting positions.  Yes, they play in a division with teams that do not seem like impossible obstacles in their path.  Yes, they do seem to have new scheme ideas and strategies that work on paper.  And yes, they have a collection of veterans that are tired of 8-8.

But, of course, as we have seen in the past, injuries always hit and they don't try to be considerate of positions where you can afford the loss.  Even with a reasonably manageable schedule, this team has always found it tough to navigate through long stretches without a stumble.  New schemes are never as easy to figure out as they appear on paper during June and July.  And when you are 8-8, you understand that 2 plays - last year a Dez Bryant finger tip and a Dan Bailey kick in Baltimore from being 10-6.  Of course, as the wins at New York, versus Cleveland, and at Cincinnati showed us, they won some games by the skin of their teeth, too, and weren't miles from 6-10, either.

I absolutely look forward to ever year's trip to camp, but the experience of 15 Cowboys' camps in a row for me has taught me to measure bold claims and perfect optimism with a fair amount of realism and understanding that guys in these sports are wired a certain way to always look at things with the best case scenarios in mind.  They know that bad things are ahead, but they have no choice but to push forward with a brave face in July and August.  It is a new season.  New results are in their grasp if they make the right decisions along the way.

Added cast members will now coordinate a new defensive look.  Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli have more knowledge than any 1-2 defensive coaching combo could possibly provide.  They will push this team to create turnovers and negative plays and become a disruptive and physical defense like their other stops in Tampa Bay and Chicago.

On offense, the discussion of play-calling and a more determined emphasis on being physical and running the ball behind a powerful offensive line will be hashed out plenty in the next few weeks.  The Cowboys poured almost all of their major draft resources into plugging offensive holes.  And, it is exciting to see what they have done as Travis Frederick, Gavin Escobar, Terrance Williams, and Joseph Randle all bring tons of ability and youth to the table that should make the offense run more smoothly and effectively.

Over the next few weeks, we will tackle as many salient topics and questions as possible.  We will review 2012 with a microscope and try to sort through what applies to 2013.  We begin another journey with this team as they try once again to work their way up that hill.

They have never been a bottom feeder (well, Dave Campo's era might have been), but they have also ceased to be a heavyweight over these last 17 seasons.  They have just been stuck in the middle, without ever moving too far up or down the standings.  Right in the mix for the final playoff spots until the end, but recently, just on the outside looking in.

It is an amazingly tough league.  32 teams all hit camp with optimism about how they can figure out how to be one of the 12 teams that will play in the tournament in January.  History tells us that each season, half of the playoff field changes to new teams.

Can the Cowboys be there in that group of new teams?  Absolutely.

But, it will require them answering many of their questions with positive answers.

It all starts today, as they board their planes to California.  1st Practice is Sunday at 4pm Pacific time.

From there, nobody knows what lies ahead.  But, those of us who love the sport cannot wait to begin to find out.

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