The Dallas Cowboys are in real trouble, people. Serious trouble. Dogs-and-cats-living-together Ghostbusters trouble. The franchise isn't making progress. It's sliding backwards. Say what you will about the team not winning a playoff game since the 1990s, at least the last couple of seasons ended with the Cowboys, like, actually in the playoffs. Next month, the Cowboys will be watching football games on television like the rest of us. Get your popcorn ready, indeed.
Jerry Jones, he of the pompous "owner/president/general manager" title, better do something quick or he won't have much to show for his hundreds of millions of dollars, which includes his new gleaming Jerryworld stadium set to open next open. Dallas fans expect a Superbowl every year.
The humiliating 44-6 drubbing this past weekend by the Philadelphia Eagles merely confirms what many of have feared. This team is a complete disaster on just about every level. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are. That means the Cowboys at 9-7 are no better than fellow disappointing underachievers like the Chicago Bears, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the New York Jets.
Here's an eight-step plan to get the Cowboys back on track. It's what we'd do.
1. Fire Wade Phillips. He's done. Goodbye, God bless, and don't let your ass hit the doorknob. Savvy football fans knew back when he was hired in 2007 that he's no head coach. He's soft. He makes excuses for his team. He shrugs off criticism. He relies on a frustrating "nothing to worry about here" mantra. With the exception of Bill Parcells, Jerry Jones is an abject failure when it comes to picking head coaches not named Jimmy Johnson. Remember Chan Gailey? Dave Campo? Wade's runner-up for the job was Norv Turner for crying out loud. This season Norv ran a talented San Diego Chargers team into the ground and squeaked into the playoffs by the skin if his teeth. Until Jerry gives up control, he'll never recruit a real head coach. Note that the only real success the Cowboys have had in the recent past is under Parcells, who assumed a lot of control. Jerry may not know as much about football as he thinks he does.
2. Cut some veterans, too. This is a team that needs to feel fear. Players should worry that their jobs aren't safe unless they produce on the field. Obviously, you can't cut stars like Romo, but if a bubble player like Bobby Carpenter makes a dumb move on game day, show him the door. The other players will get the message.
3. No more "Hard Knocks." Tell HBO to find some other franchise to jinx. Fans love to see the inner-workings of training camp, but it sends the wrong signal. It tells the players that cameras and drama are not only tolerated, but desired. To Jerry, media exposure is everything. But shouldn't the win-loss record be everything?
4. Play with urgency and precision. This is one sloppy, lazy football team. How could the most penalized team in the NFL truly hope to compete for a Superbowl? If there's not a drinking game that calls for a shot to be taken every time Flozell Adams gets a false start penalty, there ought to be. Why can't this guy figure out the snap count or just watch the ball? And if it's not stupid penalties by the offense, it's poor tackling on the defense. You get the sense that after rolling to a 3-0 start this season, the players started believing the hype, figuring they'd just have to suit up and they'd get the W by default. You have to still play the game, idiots.
5. Fix the offense. Why did Jerry Jones pay all those millions (and give up draft picks) to Roy Williams if he wasn't going to be a factor in the passing game? Williams had one touchdown catch. That's one more than the Cheese Fry had and we're not even on the damn roster. You can gripe at Terrell Owens all you want, but the guy had a point about Romo's looks in the last few games. Romo, for whatever reason, doesn't trust his receivers. When the going gets tough, he throws it to Jason Witten. That makes the Cowboys very one-dimensional in he passing game. This leads us to...
6. Be willing to let Jason Garrett go. If the Detroit Lions want to hire the boy genius, let them take him. His play calling ain't what it was last season. Maybe those critics are right - maybe the rest of the league has figured out Garrett. He sure hasn't done a good job proving that he's figured out the rest of the league's defenses. In games where it counted against legitimate opponents, the offense rarely found a groove. For example, Garrett has a frustrating tendency to get clever in grave 3-and-short situations. When a simple running play would work, twice in two games Garrett called some kind of high-risk, weird trickery that failed to get the first down. Those decisions raise real concerns, concerns that even Romo has started to voice. If the players don't believe in the system, they won't execute. And we already know from #4 above that execution isn't their strong point.
7. Reduce the turnovers. No good team should tolerate this many turnovers. Romo is the worst offender. He's got to take care of the ball. He makes too many mistakes still, whether it's an inexplicable (and inexcusable) miscommunication with the center, a fumble on a sack, or an ill-advised throw. This has got to be an off-season priority for him. Romo has to ratchet his game up to the next level. As we learned from the awful Brad Johnson Experiment, the Cowboys need Romo's A-game to win.
8. Get angry. The Cowboys are not a come-from-behind rally team. They can protect a lead. But when they get down, they tend to lose their confidence. They get glum. They point fingers. They pout. A good coach, however, (and good players, too) should be able to turn that emotion into rage and determination. Pissed-off teams with chips on their shoulders play smart and win ballgames. Bill Belichick has been a master at this - he managed to make his peerless mid-2000s Patriot teams feel like underdogs. The Cowboys, like the Tin Man, are in dire need of some heart. More proud athlete, less spoiled children.
The sad truth is that it may already be too late. Last season may have been the best chance for the Cowboys to go all the way. Football 101 suggests that teams flourish best the first season after a coaching philosophy change. That is, teams that move from the hard-nosed disciplinarian coach to a laid-back father figure coach (or vice versa) have their best chance at success that first season in the new regime. 2007 was that season for the Cowboys. They went an amazing 13-3 and got home-field advantage and a first-round bye. But the wheels came off, thanks in part of Wade Phillips' lackadasical approach to December. Rather than keep the foot on the gas, he let the Cowboys get complacent and lazy and sloppy, figuring they could turn it on again in January. They didn't.
And now here we are.