It seemed like a perfect match on draft day. With a switch to a 4-3 scheme on the way, the Dallas Cowboys had a need at defensive tackle. Sharrif Floyd, who many saw as the top DT in the draft, surprisingly slid to the Cowboys at No. 18 (and 17 other teams for that matter). But instead of taking Floyd to shore up the defensive line, the Cowboys traded down and took an offensive linemen instead.
So how did the decision sit with new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin? Just fine, apparently.
“[Floyd’s] a really, really outstanding football player, but I think everybody discussed it and the decision was made,” Kiffin told KRLD-FM The Fan. “And I think it was the right decision, or it wouldn’t have been a big time discussion. We made the right decision for the Dallas Cowboys.”
Kiffin, in his first year with the Cowboys after spending the last three seasons at USC, will be installing a Texas variation of the Tampa 2 scheme that traditionally requires a disruptive 3-technique defensive tackle to work well. And while the Cowboys have talent along the defensive line, starters Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware are coming off surgery, while Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer will be moving to different positions.
Still, Kiffin seemed far less concerned about the state of his defensive front than his linebacking corps heading into the final day of the draft.
“I walked into the linebacker room the other day and there were five linebackers in there. And I walked in the d-line room and I couldn’t get a seat. I had to sit on the floor,” Kiffin said. “So I said, ‘Coach Garrett, we still need linebackers.’ And everybody knows that.”
Rob Ryan learned Tuesday he was one of those changes, fired as defensive coordinator after two seasons in a move first reported by NFL Network contributor Jay Glazer and later confirmed by the Dallas Cowboys.
Ryan told The Dallas Morning News that he learned of his fate while on vacation in Turks & Caicos. Coach Jason Garrett called Ryan on his cell phone with the news.
"They want uncomfortable," Ryan said. "I’m comfortably numb."
We didn’t need Jones to tell us changes were on the way following a second consecutive Cowboys season that ended with a bitter Week 17 loss to an NFC East rival. It started Monday with the dismissal of running backs coach Skip Peete.
Tuesday, it was Ryan’s turn.
With his long silver hair and brash attitude, Ryan often found himself in the headlines during his time in Dallas. But the Cowboys were a middling unit in both his seasons with the team, finishing 14th in total defense in 2011 and 19th this season.
"I inherited a team that was 31st in the league in defense and made them better," Ryan told ESPNDallas.com. "I (expletive) made them a hell of a lot better.
"I’ll be out of work for like five minutes," Ryan went on. "I think I did a good job, and I think our staff did a good job on defense trying to compete with what we had at the end of the year. But the best job we did was when we were able to coach our starters."
Garrett said last week that Ryan "did a really good job managing" a Cowboys defense besieged by injuries, but the coach declined to confirm Ryan would be back. Now we know why.
Ryan’s future might not be as safely mapped out as he believes, at least if he’s looking for a lateral move. It’s hard to ignore the fact that none of Ryan’s teams have posted a winning record during his nine years as a defensive coordinator.
And no, don’t expect to see the beat writer apocalypse that would be Rob Ryan united with twin brother Rex on the New York Jets. Glazer already tweeted that’s not happening.
RELATED: Coaching Changes Hit Defense With Rob Ryan’s Release
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys second major coaching change in as many days occurred Tuesday, as defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was released.
Ryan, who spent two seasons in his position in Dallas, led a battered group of veterans and a horde of backups and recent free agents filling in for injured starters this year.
Though the injuries came in bulk, owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett never wanted to use them as an excuse. That became more evident with Ryan’s departure.
"I want to express my appreciation to Rob for all of his efforts and contributions to the Cowboys over the past two years," Garrett said in a statement. "At this time, the decision has been made to move forward in a different direction philosophically on defense. I have an immense amount of respect for Rob as a person and as a football coach and I wish him and his family the very best."
The change Jones promised began on the offensive side of the ball, with the release of running backs coach Skip Peete on Monday. Ryan is the first defensive staff member to be let go after coaching a defense hit by a slew of injuries, beginning with a season-ending Achilles’ injury to safety Barry Church.
Linebacker Sean Lee, the primary communicator on defense, only played in six games before a season-ending toe injury. The defense also lost Bruce Carter, Orlando Scandrick, Jay Ratliff, Josh Brent and Kenyon Coleman, while DeMarcus Ware played through pain the entire second half of the year.
Though the 8-8 finishes of the last two seasons haven’t been viewed at positively, they’re actually the two best finishes in Ryan’s career as a defensive coordinator after stops in Oakland and Cleveland.
Ryan was under contract for another season after guiding the No. 19 total defense in the league this year. Through the early portion of the season, the Cowboys were among the leaders in total defense and passing defense, but they started sliding as injuries piled up.
They finished 19th in the league in passing defense and 22nd in the lead in rushing defense, culminating in a 200-yard rushing performance by Alfred Morris in the season finale.
Ryan’s defense finished last in the league in interceptions, led by Brandon Carr’s three picks. The first interception of the season went to Sean Lee. It took until rookie Morris Claiborne’s interception against Carolina in Week 7 for the Cowboys’ secondary to record its first interception. The Cowboys recovered nine fumbles, and their 16 combined takeaways tied for 29th in the league.
Free agents filled in throughout the year, as starters continuously went down. Ernie Sims joined the team in Week 8 and started soon after. Linebacker Brady Poppinga, cornerbacks Sterling Moore and Michael Coe and defensive lineman Brian Schaefering were among the other free agents to contribute defensively after joining the Cowboys past the halfway mark of the season.
Despite all the injuries, the end result wasn’t enough for the affable, extroverted defensive coordinator to hold onto his duties.
And as Jones promised, things are getting more and more uncomfortable at Valley Ranch.
A week later, and not a creature was stirring at Valley Ranch, not even Jerry.
Reports from the Irving compound say it was an uneasy week, which would have been the case anyway after another end-of-season failure, but uncertainty about the future added greatly to the negative fog.
Jerry would be button-popping proud, if he had been hanging around, to witness, yes, an "uncomfortable" bunch of football people.
When Mr. Jones declared he was placing Valley Ranch on "uncomfortable" lockdown, and said "change" was coming, some of us laughed. Well, OK, I laughed anyway. This man loves and promotes the country club atmosphere for his football team, and now, suddenly, he’s going Vince Lombardi on us?
But my paycheck doesn’t have Jerry’s signature on it, so laughing comes easy. For those, however, who draw paychecks from Mr. Jones, they are sweating the fact that this time — yes, this time — Jerry might be serious about "changes."
Whatever, Jerry has already achieved his declaration that "uncomfortable" would prevail. And since Jerry wasn’t in sight at Valley Ranch by the end of the week, that added to the agony of waiting.
The guess from here, and I’d say it’s a good guess, is Jerry is dug in, maybe at his duck hunting lodge in Arkansas, and working the phone lines nonstop, calling his long-standing list of priority "advisers."
That would include such names as Gibbs, Holmgren, Switzer, Wolf (Ron, the former Green Bay GM), and surprisingly enough, even Parcells and, yes, Johnson, as in Jimmy.
Due to a little verbal dust-up in early November between Jimmy and Jerry, it’s not certain Jones will be making that particular call this time.
But if so, it’s already a fact that Jimmy would deliver a message that Jerry has heard before from him. And so has Jason Garrett.
I’d call that message the No. 1 priority of the off-season: Hire an offensive coordinator and play-caller, while making Garrett the head coach only.
And this is really not about Garrett. It’s about Tony Romo.
Over the last six years, Tony has had only one offensive guru, confidante, adviser and friend.
Most quarterbacks, due to the nature of the job, need all that.
What Tony also needs, however, is a guy who will scream at him when a scream is necessary. Say, oh, maybe like halftime in Washington last week.
We all know Tony is a good quarterback who also screws up at the worst possible time. Garrett gives him love. But at this point, Tony needs to hear some screaming.
Besides, what can that kind of change actually hurt? It’s not like you’d be attempting to fix what’s not broke.
I was talking to an NFL guy last week about quarterbacks in general, and Romo in particular.
His praise, by the way, for Romo was immense, and this was just 72 hours after the meltdown against the Redskins.
The Romo defenders — I’ve long been one, but there’s some serious backsliding at the moment — will agree totally with what this guy had to say. Even the Romo haters will have to concede he has a good point.
"There might be 10 to 12 teams out there who don’t need Romo, but there’s close to 20 that would take him in a minute," he said. "He’s good. But he’s not good enough to do what the Cowboys have to ask him to do.
"Tony has to win every game for that team. I’m not kidding. This season he had to win every game. You couldn’t count on the defense to steal you a game. You couldn’t count on the running game to bail him out.
"Tony had to win every game. Even Aikman, even Montana, didn’t have to win every game. Tony got on that roll in November and December and he was winning every game. But the law of averages said it would catch up with him.
"In Washington the other night, it caught up with him."
This guy’s bottom line was the Cowboys have got to get better around Romo. Much better. We all agree with that. That’s just common sense.
But as this particular NFL voice added, "Tony can also make some of the damndest mistakes. He makes bad throws that leave you stunned. I like him, but when asked to do so much, he does have his history of screwing it up."
Would a different offensive voice from a coaching standpoint change that? Maybe not, but what’s wrong with giving it a try?
On the topic of NFL quarterbacks, the name Philip Rivers came up while talking to the NFL guy. The last two seasons, Rivers had been awful. And even while Rivers adamantly defended head coach Norv Turner, when heads rolled last week, it was Norv’s neck that took the hit.
"See, the difference between Romo and Rivers is that Rivers cannot move in the pocket at all," said the guy. "Romo is one of the best at avoiding the rush. Over the last couple of years, teams blitzed Rivers like crazy.
"In the past, you could blitz Rivers, and he had a tight end, a receiver, a running back he could get the ball to, and Rivers made you pay for the blitz. But look what Rivers now plays with. His best weapons all left in free agency and went down with injuries. The front office made some decisions that really backfired.
"Romo, however, has the weapons to beat the blitz. Witten, the emergence of Dez, and the running back, Murray. Tony should have eaten the Redskins alive with all the blitzing they did. Instead, three picks happened."
Let’s not blame that on Garrett, the game-plan man and the play-caller. But would a different voice in Romo’s ear make a difference?
And the name of this new guy, if there is one? I don’t have a name. Norv is out there. Jimmy would tell Jerry to hire Norv, we know that. But a guy in San Diego told me this week that Norv has already been contacted by at least 10 teams to be the new offensive coordinator.
Certainly, Norv is in no rush to make a decision. He can basically pick and choose.
But if Jerry is really going to make good on his making a "change," the No. 1 priority has to be …
OK, there are many priorities. I’ve got my No. 1. Jerry, meanwhile, is polling his "advisers."
If I had known this week there was going to be a sudden calendar roll back to 1994, the personal preference would have been at the gas pumps. A dollar and a dime was our cost, per gallon.
I don’t speak for the vast world of CowNation, but it’s safe to say that particular fandom would kill for a 1994 sudden calendar roll back while gladly paying the three-fifty pump prices of today.
The Dallas Cowboys, of course, were two-time Super Bowl champs and the title stampede looked as if it would never end.
Instead, out of nowhere, what we got this week was a cheap imitation of the way it was, football-wise, in 1994.
Jimmy and Jerry, back at it again, squabbling over who should have the most credit for the remarkable building of not only a Super Bowl champion, but a dynasty team.
Which also flips us back to the spring of 1994, when in an ego collision, Jimmy Johnson left town over exactly the same disagreement.
Then there was only Jerry.
Much has changed in the past 18 years in the Cowboys’ world, changed dramatically for the worse. But there’s still Jerry.
I’m not climbing in the middle of this latest spat, because there’s no reason for even a debate. No reason to take sides.
Jerry and his ego both know the truth.
Jimmy was in charge of all things football from the day Jerry and Jimmy took over the franchise in 1989. Anyone in the local media who was around in those days knows this is the truth, and we know it because Jerry repeatedly told us it was the truth.
And anything involving football, from a low-end roster move to the trade of Herschel Walker, no one was asking Jerry for a football opinion. A financial opinion, yes, we asked. And certainly in the case of the Walker trade, there were financial considerations galore.
But on anything involving any area of football, the questions went to Jimmy. Because Jerry told us Jimmy was in total charge of that area.
With the first Super Bowl in 1992, that certainly changed. It was only then that Jerry started seeking more of the roster-building glory. And that’s when the ego collision began building.
Even as we watched it take form, however, another Super Bowl was won the next season, and although we all could see a parting of the ways on the horizon, no one thought it would happen in the midst of a championship binge.
To this day, I’m shocked at the timing of the breakup, and both sides are to blame. But the breakup foundation was laid when Jerry went against his original game plan. He’s the one who placed Jimmy in charge of all things football, and then wanted to take it back, or at least share it, 50/50. Jimmy’s ego would have none of that.
In the many years since then, and again last week, Jerry has attempted to manufacture a story that presents himself as not just a partner in building that Super Bowl dynasty, but as the No. 1 shot-caller.
It’s absurd. Jerry is delusional on this topic. But that’s just Jerry, who took the lie to national TV before the Cowboys played in Atlanta last Sunday night.
What he said was nothing new. Jerry has done this for years. Jimmy, who now has a good relationship with Jerry, let it ride in the past without response. For whatever reason, Jimmy fired back strongly at Jerry this week.
Suddenly, it was exactly the way we left these two in 1994.
It was good this week for a laugh, but Jerry also walks in verbal quicksand every time he brings it up. The three Super Bowls of the ’90s might now be his lone ownership/GM crutch, but he’s not on solid ground in the most important area of all.
Jimmy has been gone for 18 years. The last Super Bowl was 16 years ago.
Since then, as The Man, totally alone at the top and in charge of all things Cow, Jerry can point to exactly two playoff wins.
(Jimmy also had his brief post-Jerry failure as head coach of the Dolphins. But in four seasons there, he did win two playoff games.)
Meanwhile, we are at the halfway point of what appears to be another rotten season under Jerry’s watch. The Cowboys over 16 years have become one of the most dysfunctional franchises in football. Coaches come and go, but Jerry remains the constant, always and forever more, The Man.
Whether Jerry thinks he needed Jimmy or not, he’s had 18 years on his own, and he’s driven into the Valley Ranch ground what was once a model organization on a Super Bowl roll.
Telling us and telling the world about him being the football generalissimo of a long ago dynasty is Jerry’s ego lie. But it’s what’s happening right here right now that traps him where it matters the most. The truth.
And it’s now 16 years in this trap. Trapped in the truth of a football hell.
There was a sudden calendar roll back this week to the way it was around here in 1994. Jerry and Jimmy feuding, egos flaring, plenty of wasted verbal gas.
We’d all have been better off if the roll back had been to the dollar and a dime at the pumps.
Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on
Galloway & Company. on
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I dedicate that one name to all of those who are now doubting (a.) Jason Garrett is the head coaching answer for the local football team, or (b.) who never thought Jason Garrett was the head coaching answer, or (c.) anyone still totally confused about Red J’s clock management malfunction in those final 26 seconds in Baltimore.
But why Mike Holmgren?
Returning to the ABCs, with an additional D:
As of this week, Holmgren has been ordered to hit the NFL street. At the end of the season, he will be out of work in Cleveland, where he’s served as team president.
I’ve been adamant since Garrett took over as interim head coach two years ago that the CowSheep should pray for Jason’s success, because Jerry Jones’ “next” hire at head coach is guaranteed to be a Jerry houseboy.
Garrett is his own man, but he’s also very compatible with Jones, and is respected by Jones, who is notorious for disrespecting the job of the head coach.
You are barking at the moon if you think anyone on the list of potential “name” candidates (Cowher, Gruden, the sudden emergence of Andy Reid after this season, etc.) would last more than five minutes with Jerry. Bobby Petrino? I laughed, although with Jerry, never say never.
I have heard it said since the mid-’90s, when the Green Bay Packers replaced Jones and the Cowboys as the NFC Super Bowl representative, that a strong mutual admiration society exists between these two.
While Holmgren was going to Super Bowls with the Packers, and later in the 2000s with Seattle, I have heard the Valley Ranch voices say if Mike ever became available then there would be the good possibility of a Valley Ranch match.
Since I’ve repeatedly dismissed all those other names, OK, now you can go ahead and stick the name of Mike Holmgren in your hip pocket and sit on it for a while.
Next up, the disclaimers.
Holmgren hasn’t been a head coach since 2008, is 64 years old, and obviously wanted to work forever as the shot-caller for the Browns’ front office. New ownership, however, wanted new direction.
There is nothing to suggest Holmgren wants to return to the sidelines.
Then there’s Garrett.
No matter what happens the remainder of this season, I’d make it 99.9 percent that Jason is back here next season as the head coach.
Actually, I’ll double down on that prediction.
I’d make it 90 percent that Garrett has two more seasons, after this season, to get it right as the head coach.
Granted, with Jerry, it’s risky going 90 percent or above on any predictions, particularly when it comes to his head coach. But Jones, admittedly, always errs on the side of “too long” instead of a quick trigger when it comes to his head coaches.
With Barry Switzer, Jerry concedes he should have retired him two years earlier. With Wade Phillips, Jerry admits he should have retired him a year earlier. Dave Campo stayed at least a year too long. With Bill Parcells, it’s a guess, but I’d say Big Bill wore out his welcome with Jerry at least two years before he departed after four seasons here.
The only quick trigger Jerry has ever had on a head coach was firing Chan Gailey after two seasons, which he also says he regrets.
The lone possibility of Jerry giving Garrett the heave-ho would emerge if attendance numbers at the Big Yard crash this season and next season. Even then, the firing of Garrett would be sacrificial, because if the fans stop coming that’s a backlash against Jerry not the head coach.
As an adamant but now shaken supporter of Garrett, the truth from here is the final 26 seconds in Baltimore caused added doubt to creep in.
Obviously, there was no sense of urgency by basically any player on the field as those precious seconds ticked off. The blame game has been recorded, mainly aimed at Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree, but it doesn’t appear that any player, including Tony Romo, knew what the heck to do next.
And that confusion is squarely on the head coach, the same as the clock management malfunction was in Arizona last December.
By coincidence, Mike Holmgren’s name surfaced this week.
No, I’m not saying Garrett’s job is in jeopardy. No, I’m not saying Holmgren even wants to coach again.
But as opposed to a Cowher or a Gruden, the Holmgren name is one that “fits” with Jerry, a hard man to find a fit when it comes to a head coach.
Go ahead, sit on that name.
Randy Galloway | Ft Worth Star-Telegram
ARLINGTON — It was Tony Romo’s Monday night nightmare, low-lighted by an ongoing display of quarterbacking malfunctions that sunk him, sunk the Cowboys and considering what’s immediately ahead on the schedule, probably also Titanic-ed the season.
Welcome to October.
December is where the Cowboys usually go to die, but this sucker may be over by Halloween. Jerry Jones, who as of this week is now selling women’s panties at the Big Yard, at least learned the answer to this question:
What exactly is Victoria’s Secret?
Easy answer. Victoria knew. Knew all along the Cowboys belonged in the Lingerie League.
The Chicago Bears enjoyed an MNF road breeze, winning by 34-18, in what will rank as Romo’s most despicable home-field performance ever in this venue, and makes it an early fire-at-will open season for the army of local Romo haters.
Sure, Tony had his helpers in this debacle.
Dez Bryant, come on down. Way down.
Also throw in a Cowboys defense that helped Bears quarterback Jay Cutler restore his tattered reputation by a lack of pressure, despite a Chicago offensive line every bit as much maligned as the Cowboys’ offensive line.
But the bottom line is still a greasy smudge on Romo’s permanent record, and the bottom line showed two Bears defensive touchdowns off a Romo pick and a Romo fumble (ruled an interception), two missed receivers running open for touchdowns, and, overall, being tagged with five interceptions.
Chicago’s defense is respected, of course, but this, this was a start-to-finish evening of what could go wrong for the quarterback did go wrong for the quarterback.
In what actually started as a defensive struggle both ways, the Cowboys trailed 3-0 late in the second quarter when Romo attempted a short out route pass to Bryant. Somebody blew it, and afterward, coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t place blame.
But since Romo does know the plays, and who knows what Dez knows, let us guess, yes, Bryant screwed it up. The pass was picked off by Charles Tillman for an easy TD, and a 10-0 lead. Dez had run upfield. Romo threw short.
Romo, however, came back with a good TD drive before halftime, and it was anybody’s ballgame with a 10-7 intermission score.
The second half, however, was pathetic for the home team, with a Bears opening drive that featured Cutler operating in a rocking chair in whipping his offense to a quick touchdown. No blitz by Rob Ryan meant no chance for pressure.
Down 17-7, the meltdown began. Romo threw a pick that was in the hands of receiver Kevin Ogletree but appeared to be dislodged by a defender, resulting in a pop-up interception near the Bears’ goal line. That was a huge missed chance.
When the Cowboys’ defense got the ball right back on a Cutler fumble, Romo was grabbed by the Bears’ Henry Melton, free because guard Mackenzy Bernadeau blew a block, and a pop-up fumble/interception resulted.
Lance Briggs picked it out of mid-air and rambled 74 yards for a touchdown. A Cowboys scoring threat became a one-eighty disaster and the Bears were on their blowout way, leading 24-7.
Most disturbing, among many disturbing moments for Romo, was him missing a wide-open Bryant in the first half in what could have been a touchdown in a still scoreless game. And again in the second half, Romo missed a wide-open Miles Austin with what could have been a touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 24-14 with still 17 minutes to play.
This just in:
The woulda, shoulda, couldas don’t count.
What does count is the Cowboys crashed to a 2-2 record, and now have a long, long wait through the bye week before attempting to regroup. That regrouping will coincide with the season’s toughest stretch of schedule.
Four of the next five games are on the road, including at the Ravens, at Carolina, then the Giants here a few days before Halloween, followed by at Atlanta and at Philly.
A show of hands please from those local fools who attempted to "style-point" the home debut win last week over Tampa Bay.
The Cowboys aren’t good enough to downgrade any kind of win.
Due to the shaky state of the Bears’ offense, Monday night was as good a chance for a victory as the Cowboys will have between now and almost Thanksgiving.
And then Romo crashed and burned.
And then the flames started building around the entire season.
Jerry still has women’s panties to sell.
Bring on the lingerie.
Back there at the turn of the century, the Valley Ranch think tank was in agreement on Troy Aikman. Sadly, his career was kaput. Troy didn’t agree, but the great ones rarely know when to say when.
In something akin to a career eulogy, the Aikman praise flowed and so did the tears as the Cowboys said good-bye. Later, when Aikman finally agreed to call it quits, The Iceman himself even cracked. Troy cried at his farewell media conference.
Watching that so-long scene that day at Texas Stadium, front office football staffer Larry Lacewell wandered over to a reporter, who happened to be me, and in a wistful tone said:
"Well, we are now officially one of those teams wandering through the quarterback wasteland of the NFL. With Troy, we didn’t have to think about it or worry about it.
"But we are now going to run into clubs out there who have been wandering for 10 years, and still haven’t found a quarterback. It’s a vast wasteland."
And so it was.
Quincy Carter, Ryan Leaf, Anthony Wright, Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson, Drew Bledsoe …
Six seasons later, Tony Romo emerged.
Like him or not, Tony led the Cowboys out of the vast wasteland. And whatever your beef with Romo, you are a football idiot if you disagree he’s a top 10 QB in a league where there’s 32 of them.
But speaking of that dreaded wasteland …
Did we have another team make an emergence this week? Did a long, long trek through the wasteland come to an end?
Better yet, would it suddenly be wise to start taking the Washington Redskins much more seriously in the NFC East?
A nice young man from Copperas Cove, Texas, turned the NFL upside down over the weekend. If you were watching ESPN on Sunday night, SportsCenter was on fire with RG3 testimonials.
One game. One NFL start, and this one a mere few months removed from the Baylor campus, yet Robert Griffin stole the Week One show in the league.
Griffin even out-Peytoned Peyton Manning in the national headlines.
As good as Manning was in his Denver debut, as good as the 49ers’ defense was against Green Bay, as good as Romo was against the Giants, the rookie quarterback for the Redskins knocked ’em all off the shelf.
Having had an up close and personal look at RG3 in his Baylor days, and particularly last season, we all could lie and say we weren’t surprised. But nobody saw this coming. Not as a rookie starting and starring in the tough road environment of New Orleans against a Saints crowd and team jacked to the roof.
But when a quarterback pops like RG3 popped, perception and perspective goes radically nuts. Along the Potomac this week, it’s nuts. RG3 fever has consumed Redskins Nation.
A friend who lives in Washington and is a devout ’Skins’ backer, was telling me a story this week about the most-hated contingent of fandom in his universe: that would be the CowSheep.
All along the Eastern seaboard, the Cowboys have a massive fan base, from the New York area, down through Philly and certainly around D.C.
“I remember,” said my friend, “watching a Sunday night game in Carolina a few years ago , and Romo, who had come out of nowhere, was great. I’m thinking, “Oh …spit. They’ve finally found a quarterback.”
“Well, on Monday, I’m talking to Cowboys’ fans, and all I heard from them was, ‘Oh …spit. The Redskins have finally found a quarterback.’ I was hoping I’d live long enough to hear a Cowboys’ fan have to say that.”
It’s been awhile, for sure.
The Redskins do have two playoff wins since 1996, compared to one for the Cowboys.
But they never had an Aikman, and going back to the Aikman era, the wasteland of D.C. quarterbacks is so bleak it makes the Cowboys of the early 2000s appear almost stable.
Cary Conklin, Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, Trent Green, Brad Johnson (who was OK in Washington, but washed up here), Tony Banks, Jeff George, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Todd Collins, Jason Campbell, Donovan McNabb and, lately, Rex Grossman.
The good names in that bunch were on their final QB legs by the time they got to the Redskins.
In one game, however, RG3 made us all rethink everything we thought about the Redskins in the NFC East for this season. It’s a good defense, and a team that always plays close games with the Cowboys, but Romo has been better than whomever Washington was running out there at quarterback.
The doubters can claim there’s been a vast overreaction to a rookie quarterback’s first game. But nobody (that saw the game) can claim they weren’t extremely impressed with the kid from Copperas Cove.
At the moment anyway, RG3 has taken the Redskins out of that vast wasteland of the quarterback wilderness, but the Cowboys don’t see RG3 until Thanksgiving Day.
By then we will know much more. Until then, he’s definitely worth watching.
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Hang with me here. Stay alert but patient. I’m thinking hard about stuff this morning. I’m putting this large football brain into supercharged gear. This may take awhile.
But why now, after all these years, would the cerebral objective be to think before you write?
The self-imposed assignment for today is a very difficult challenge:
Find 10 wins for the Cowboys this season.
You doubt, right? You even dog-cuss such foolishness, right?
Eight wins, we can all agree. Nine wins and many rats jump ship, although plenty of Cowsheep will stay aboard. But 10? Women and children first, and the rest of us will cue up the Titanic ballroom band.
But in attempting to make a 10-win case, first you have to wade through a numbers whipping:
Factor in 400. Then factor in 346.
Keep those numbers in mind for Wednesday night at the Meadowlands, when the Cowboys open the season against the world champion New York Giants.
But first, allow 2011 to also be a gateway into 2012. Last season can and will tie directly into this season. "We failed last season, but many areas of that failure we can definitely turn it into a positive for this season," said senior team spokesman Jason Witten, speaking out in Oxnard several weeks ago.
Witten, of course, is going to be optimistic. But he’s not far off in this optimism.
It was an 8-8 team in 2011. Comparing the schedule, and while it’s a crapshoot on strength of schedule until you actually see a season, it appears to be about the same. Non-divisional foes will be tougher in Arlington (Bears, Steelers and Saints are the headline visitors) and the road is about the same.
Headliners this season on the road are Ravens, Falcons and Bengals. Last season it was Jets, 49ers and Pats.
The division? Tough, maybe very tough, but the Eagles are still at the mercy of a quarterback who can’t and won’t stay healthy, and the Giants face a traditional Super Bowl letdown for the next season, and the Redskins, well, how much can RG3 pump up the offense?
I’d make the schedule comparisons pretty much a wash.
Last season, the Cowboys went into December with a 7-4 record. Two of those losses were dreaded Romo giveaways, meaning the early Lions loss and the season-opening Jets loss.
Tony rebounded, of course, and had a good season after that, but he had already inflicted huge damage. Still, the record going into the final month was 7-4 even with the two giveaways. Hey, we’ve found a positive for this season.
Then came the December crash. That loss in Arizona to open the month remains mind-blowing. And of the four losses in the final five games, the L against the Eagles here came with an injured Romo on the sidelines and Stephen McGee at the wheel, plus, it was a meaningless game for playoff implications.
With a little tweaking here and there, the Cowboys’ season could have been much better than 8-8, except for one glaring negative.
The defense. Rob Ryan got caught in the middle of a mess.
Which brings us back to 400. And to 346.
Those were the Eli Manning aerial numbers in his two December wins over the Cowboys. Six TD passes and 746 yards combined. The loss here for the Cowboys involved an immense late collapse by the Cowboys’ defense. Up there, with a divisional title on the line, it was no-contest from the beginning.
Right away, meaning Wednesday night, we have a sudden window into how much the Cowboys have improved on defense. They have improved, but how much? Eli and his receivers will tell us that.
Brandon Carr is the real deal as a new cornerback. Mo Claiborne will be a real deal at the other corner, but he’s a rookie. Rookie corners usually struggle early. As opposed to past years, there actually appears to be depth at cornerback.
But what about a defense applying pressure on the opposing QB, be it Eli Manning or anyone else? The Cowboys were not good in that area last season, and there’s nothing at the moment to suggest it will change. Nothing, that is, except optimism, and the hope that better coverage in the secondary helps create more sacks and pressures.
In attempting to determine how the Cowboys will finish this season, health issues are always a key component. But there will be injuries, and in many cases the Cowboys don’t appear to have depth. How big a negative the injuries become is strictly a wait-and-see process.
The schedule. The injuries. The talent. The bad hoodoo voodoo that has followed Jerry since the mid-’90s. Combine it all, and…
No, I can’t find those 10 wins. Let’s make it 8-8, and another season of local football frustration.
This is what happens when you actually think too much.
But wait. There’s one disclaimer from the massive football brain:
If the defense on Wednesday night actually holds Eli and his receivers to reasonable instead of outrageous production, then we can re-evaluate the think tank.
Initial reports of the guidelines laid out for Dez Bryant may have been mischaracterized, according to his advisor, Dallas bail bondsman David Wells.
Specifically, Wells told KESN-FM 103.3 in Dallas on Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys did not impose restrictions on Bryant’s off-the-field comings and goings. Instead, the wide receiver sought such guidance on his own.
“He wanted to make some changes himself,” Wells said. “He wanted to put some people around him that also could be there in case something happened, that they would be able to attest to what’s going on with him. He first of all said that he wanted to make sure his safety was good, because a lot of times athletes are vulnerable to things that go on out there in society.
“But he also wanted to make sure, to the Dallas Cowboy fans, that he’s going to do everything he can to make sure that he’s out there every day, not only practicing as hard as he can, but also on game day producing the product that the Dallas Cowboys want. That’s what Dez is about. … He came to me and said ‘Hey man, can you help me? I want help.”
The panel that laid out guidelines included a “group of well-respected men,” Wells said, including Bryant’s attorney, Senator Royce West, and local ministers. Wells insisted that the so-called rules have not been enforced by the Cowboys, but that the team is happy with the system.
“He looks at life a lot different now,” Wells said. “Dez just wanted to make sure that his welfare is taken care of, as well as the name of the Dallas Cowboys.”
On Monday, head coach Jason Garrett affirmed the team’s desire to support Bryant and his family, and said he’s pleased with the personal progress Bryant has made.
"Fundamentally, Dez does, I’m convinced, want to do many things that give him the opportunity to get on track the way he needs to both on and off the field,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “He does believe he has a great opportunity.”
Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Monday the rules placed on wide receiver Dez Bryant are meant to hold him accountable and support his family.
Bryant has agreed to strict guidelines from team officials regarding his conduct away from the field.
Some of the guidelines say Bryant has a midnight curfew, can’t drink alcohol or attend strip clubs and must have a security team taking him to and from team functions, practices and games.
"Like we’ve talked before, we want to support Dez Bryant and we want to support Dez Bryant’s family and do anything that we can as an organization using our players assistance, players development program to help him, just like we would with any player," Garrett said before Monday’s practice at Valley Ranch.
"The balance with all is you want to support them and you want to help them but you also want to hold them accountable. We feel like we do that throughout our organization, with all our guys. We believe in player development and we believe in helping them as football players on the field and as people off the field. What we’ve tried to do is come up with a plan for Dez, like we would for any player who we feel like needs our support and help him be his best as a player and as a person. And the accountability factor is an important part of that with him and with anybody on our football team."
The guidelines established by the Cowboys came forth after a July 14 incident in which Bryant was charged with allegedly assaulting his mother, Angela Bryant. Bryant was charged with a Class A misdemeanor by the DeSoto Police Department.
The Dallas Country district attorney’s office is still reviewing the case and trying to determine whether charges should be filed.
Bryant’s arrest also subjects him to a possible suspension or fine by the NFL as part of the league’s personal conduct policy.
League officials are still reviewing the case.
"We’re going to control what we can control as an organization and Dez has done everything that we’ve asked him to do up to this point both on and off the football field," Garrett said. "And we’re going to continue to just move forward with what we can do as an organization as individuals within the organization and any decision about that is out of our control."
On Saturday night, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the rules applied to Bryant are not the strictest he’s imposed on a player. Jones said Bryant is willing to abide by the rules.
"Oh yeah, very much willing to do anything he can to help himself and help the team," Jones said of Bryant. "He’s very open-minded and cooperative. He’s doing the right things by his teammates and everybody is counting on him.
Eugene Parker, Bryant’s agent, said he and his client deem the rules fair. NFLPA officials told Parker the rules were voluntary and the association wouldn’t contest them with the league or the Cowboys unless Bryant had issues with them.
Bryant, who isn’t available to comment with reporters, pending his legal situation, isn’t expected to play in Wednesday night’s final preseason game against Miami because of knee tendinitis.
Calvin Watkins | ESPN Dallas
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ESPN Dallas’ Calvin Watkins joins SportsCenter to discuss the strict rules Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has agreed to follow.
Editors Note: ESPN is notorious for deleting videos and other content without warning. We encourage you to view them as soon as possible to the post date. Enjoy!
That was me the other night, sitting on the couch in an otherwise empty house, yelling choice words at Jason Garrett, who was 1,400 miles away, working the sideline of a fake football game, also billed by the NFL as "the preseason."
Yelling at people on your TV screen probably indicates a mental health issue, but we’ll leave that one for the shrinks to ponder.
Actually, I had just departed the Dallas Cowboys training camp in California a couple of days earlier, having spent eight days out there sending back mostly favorable opinions on the head coaching work of Mr. Garrett.
And then there I sat in Grand Prairie, with Garrett in Oakland, and I’m dog-cussing the man.
Why in the bleep was Tony Romo still playing in that worthless, meaningless exhibition game?
From last Monday, however, let’s fast forward to Saturday night, when the Cowboys play fake football game No. 2, this one against the Chargers in San Diego.
Garrett’s decision on playing time for top players — the absolutely essential players — will be under much heavier review because of what turned out to be a very bad week for the Cowboys.
Two days after the Raiders game it was announced that tight end Jason Witten would not be participating in any form of football for at least two weeks, and his loss to the team might stretch into the regular-season opener.
(By the way, that regular-season opener in the Meadowlands, against the world champs, is, gulp, 20 days away.)
Proven to be a tough, tough football customer over the years, Witten took a hit against the Raiders that resulted in a lacerated spleen, an injury that nobody spits on or rubs dirt on and then suits up anyway.
But once the Witten injury was revealed, it has been noticed locally that many are currently sitting on the couch and delivering a load of second-guesses at Garrett.
These howls ask, what the bleep was Witten still doing in that game? Even Jerry Jones was asked this week in Oxnard if he wanted to second-guess his head coach on Witten. Jones, who has been very talkative all camp, swiftly declined.
To each his own here, but allow me, the initial sofa screamer at Garrett, to defend the head coach here.
To rehash an old Parcells-ism, "football players play football in football season."
This is football season in the NFL, or at least a form of it.
But there is one position that has to be protected in these August games. Protected at all costs. Obviously, that position is quarterback. Even Bill Parcells agreed.
Otherwise, football players play football in football season.
Bad luck can happen, and it did. A key cog like Witten caught some real bad luck.
But his injury, on a blind-side hit after catching a desperation pass from Romo, also brings me back to the Oakland game dog-cussing of Garrett in the first place.
With a makeshift offensive line because of camp injuries, Romo played the first series, and then he came back for the second series. The ball was not moving. In that second series, there were also two massive breakdowns in the offensive line.
On the first one, Romo was scrambling for his health, and still got off the pass to Witten, and that’s the play that later proved extremely costly. On the next play, Romo was again in a scramble, but was hauled down, and his body twisted sideways. It was a scary moment.
Once surviving that, there was no way Romo would be back out there, right? But wait. Garrett did send his quarterback into the game for a third series, obviously because he thought some positive results for the offense would be a camp boost.
Witten, amazingly, also came back for the third series, caught a pass, and took another hit. Ouch. Nobody, of course, knew about the spleen at the time.
The complaint from here centers on one area and one area only.
On that third series, Garrett foolishly risked the dang quarterback in the exhibition season and did so even after having seen the jailbreak rush on Romo the series before.
For Saturday’s game, allow me to first-guess.
I wouldn’t play Romo even one snap, not with the state of the offensive line remaining in severe flux.
Aim Romo for the third game in Arlington next week, and then even for some snaps in the fourth game, also in Arlington, although the final exhibition game is usually always a no-no for the starting QB.
Red J, of course, will indeed play Romo on Saturday, but didn’t we see enough of the O-line against the Raiders to consider not risking Romo, at least at this point?
Beyond that, however, football players will be playing football in football season. And the rest of us will sit on our butts and watch it, armed and dangerous with the second-guess if there’s a key injury.
Editors Note: I disagree with Randy Galloway on this. I think Jason Garrett likes to end on a positive regarding starters in the preseason. I don’t have a problem with Romo or any other starter being in for the first few drives (including Jason Witten). What is your view?
OXNARD, Calif. — The needs?
What are the Dallas Cowboys’ needs as training camp entered a third week out here right down the road from Ventura County beaches?
The No. 1 need at the moment is…
For all the cussing we do every August about NFL exhibition football, enough is enough at this camp of the same players facing off against the same players on the practice field.
As the last NFL clubs to play an exhibition game, the Cowboys’ Monday night encounter in Oakland with the Raiders can at least provide an early road map in several areas of concern.
Start with wide receiver. Very, very iffy in depth and proven talent. Don’t get me started again on how Jones and Co., or even Jason Garrett, has ignored this position, but "a game" can at least provide the opportunity for an unknown name to emerge.
Include the interior of the offensive line in this preliminary road map, because an injury wipeout in camp has both guard positions and center in a holding pattern.
Cornerback, which on paper is the most improved position for the Cowboys, is also on hold at the moment because of injuries.
Don’t forget safety, also a position of weakness in the past. Will the Barry Church who has surfaced as a positive on the practice field continue that trend Monday night?
OK, you get the point. Even exhibition football will be welcome come Monday night.
Meanwhile, a few observations from eight days of watching practice-field activity, observations that may or may not mean anything:
Tony Romo is a "meaner" quarterback.
"Yeah, I guess I am," answered Romo, who in a show of meanness then cussed at me (joking, I think) but also continued to expand on his noticeable verbal practice-field displeasure when plays are not executed properly.
"It’s about doing what you have to do, and about certain guys responding better to different things."
But why now has his barking at teammates expanded after six years as the starting QB? More leadership?
"It not just a now thing," Romo answered. "It’s not like I just started it. But you let it evolve more and more over the seasons. And now you’ve noticed.
"This has been a progression. Over time, things evolve. Being more vocal has evolved."
From quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson: "Oh, no doubt he’s being a lot more demanding of guys. The good thing is, it’s not been a case of him grandstanding. The positive impact with teammates happens when they know you are sincere instead of grandstanding with it. Tony is good about doing this the right way."
This is as physical a Cow camp as I’ve seen in years, including maybe the Parcells days. The practice-field difference from last August, with the NFL coming off a lockout shutdown, is a one-eighty.
Jason Garrett was a first-time full-time head coach last August.
So, Red J, you’ve really jacked up the intensity this summer, right?
"No," answered Garrett. "There’s not that much difference, not at all."
Huh? Eyes don’t lie. It’s totally different.
But it’s interesting that Garrett dismissed the topic, and for, I guess, psychological reasons, such as he doesn’t want to read or hear that he’s now gone hardball head coach. Or something. I’ve got no answers, really.
But it’s still the most physical and also entertaining training camp I’ve seen in years.
Even if he wants to also deny it, Garrett himself is a one-eighty from a season ago. Instead of the buttoned-up, boring robot when dealing with the media, he’s loose, funny, smiling, engaging, and all this carries over to his practice-field demeanor.
Garrett acts like a head coach totally in charge. Can he be? With Jerry? I guess we’ll see.
I’ll say it again. Sean Lee. Wow. DeMarco (In a Hurry) Murray. Wow. Brandon Carr. Wow
I’ll say it again. It’s a joke, a bad joke, that the Cowboys came to camp with this limited collection of wideouts.
As much as Garrett brings up the name of Kevin Ogletree, as much as we hear publicly about Ogletree being the top candidate as the No. 3 receiver, with an Andre Holmes and a Dwayne Harris the other top contenders…
Late last week, there was one whisper from inside the organizational door that rookie free agent Tim Benford had already become the top candidate as the No. 3 receiver. He’s from Tennessee Tech, and has been impressive.
For seniority reasons, others will get first call on the field Monday night, but Benford, all 5-foot-11 (if that) of him, is definitely a name to remember if you’re watching the Raiders game.
Plaxico Burress? There is limited interest here in plucking this guy off the NFL streets, but he’s signing somewhere soon, and the Cowboys don’t appear ready yet to take a nutcase gamble. It’s a risky gamble I’d take, seeing the state of the receivers in this camp.
On that topic of this being a highly physical camp, I went to new backup quarterback Kyle Orton for an opinion.
Orton has been in camps with the Bears and Broncos. Is this one more physical than those?
"No, not really," he said. "It’s about the same as the others."
So either the eyes did lie, or Garrett has now upgraded the intensity to that of other camps. I believe the latter to be the case.
With so much valid criticism on failed Cowboys drafts in the past, we still don’t know much about the highly acclaimed new cornerback, Mo Claiborne. But future expectations remain high for him.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on defensive end Tyrone Crawford, the third-rounder last April out of Boise State. Maybe his impact won’t happen immediately, but this guy at least has the look of a real find.
All of the above comes under the category of mere observations. They are being offered at no extra charge. Meanwhile, let’s please see "a game."
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Don’t believe a word.
That’s the new policy from here, which, admittedly, should have been the old policy, but based on most all Dallas Cowboys’ off-seasons over the past few years, I’ve tended to believe too much.
This time a year ago comes to immediate mind.
Skid marks all over my head happened because of believing too much. Mainly the impact Jason Garrett would have as the head coach, which I expected to be a Harbaugh-type thing that boosted the 49ers last season.
But no more. I am rededicating my football life to reality when it comes to the Cowboys.
And the 8-8 record of the 2011 season IS reality.
As of last Thursday, the Cowboys wrapped up about a month of off-season OTAs (organized team activities, which are not mandatory), and last week, the one and only mini-camp, which is mandatory for the players.
The next time the team gathers intact will be late July way out west in Oxnard, Calif. That will be the opening of training camp.
But based on the comments coming out of Valley Ranch for the past month, 2012 will have the Cowboys on the verge of a Super Bowl, although it is a positive those two words — Super. Bowl. — were mostly absent from the raging optimism.
On local radio a few weeks ago, running back DeMarco Murray said something along the lines of this being a season when the Cowboys expect to get back to the Super Bowl and win it.
Whoa, kid. Say what?
Murray paused, a tad stunned at our negative reaction to the words Super and Bowl being said in association with the Cowboys.
"Well, shouldn’t that be the way we all think?" he asked. "Shouldn’t that be the goal?"
These kids today. Gotta love ’em.
If that goal is ever met again, and it’s now 16 seasons and counting since the Cowboys made a Super Bowl, players like Murray will be factor in getting them there. At least he will be if the brief run DeMarco had last season, before the ankle injury, was a sign of things to come, including better health.
But after a month of taking notes on all quotes coming out of Valley Ranch, what follows is some of the "optimism" that now overflows as we await the start of training camp:
Garrett had his first full off-season as a head coach. "I need to improve in all areas of the job," he said. Jerry Jones said Jason has improved in all areas, but when it comes to Jerry, we’d prefer to see him improve in all areas of being the general manager. I’m not counting on it.
Rob Ryan had his first full off-season as defensive coordinator. "Blame me for last season," said Rob. When it came to the awful defense last season, I did blame Rob, and maybe too harshly, but he was the captain of that Titanic.
Brandon Carr, the new veteran cornerback, is either the best corner in the history of the NFL or the best corner in the history of the Cowboys. With the $50 million contract, Brandon is certainly the most expensive corner in the history of the Cowboys.
Carr really needs to be good. So does Mo Claiborne, the first-round draft pick. Ryan will be a better defensive coordinator if his corners are better. The corners had better be better with this kind of investment.
It was funny to hear all-world pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware suddenly start using his "critics" as a motivational tool. Ware, also an all-world nice guy, even got snarly with the media at times.
If I can help, let me add: DeMarcus, you were way overrated last season and many of your 191/2 sacks were "empty."
A motivated Ware is a good thing. The Cowboys were weak on the pressure last season, and it doesn’t matter how good your corners are — with no pass rush, even the best will give it up deep.
From an injured and wasteful second-round pick a year ago, inside linebacker Bruce Carter suddenly became the MVP of OTAs and mini-camp.
Of course, let’s see it on the field, but if Carter is possibly taking the same second-year improvement route as the other inside backer, Sean Lee, then that’s something to rah-rah. We await that answer.
Anthony Spencer is actually a good player, meaning our eyes lied all these years. Actually, Spencer is an ongoing borderline bust who was franchise-tagged for 2012 because the Cowboys have failed so badly in drafting outside linebackers that the team had no replacement for him.
Dez Bryant is much, much better as a wide receiver. More mature, too. One question: Has he learned more than three routes yet?
The replacement for Laurent Robinson, the best WR the Cowboys had last season? Don’t worry about a thing. It will either be Kevin Ogletree or Andre Holmes. Oh, great.
Jerry tabbed free agent signee Lawrence Vickers the best fullback here since Moose. Besides being a disgrace to the legend of Moose, Jerry also said that last summer about Tony Fiammetta.
All of the above are a few of the verbal highlights from this Cowboys off-season.
Do yourself a favor.
Until further notice, don’t believe a word.
Randy Galloway | Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. on Galloway & Co.
ESPN Dallas’ five-part series on things that went wrong for the Dallas Cowboys in 2011.
No. 5. DeMarco Murray breaks his ankle
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray suffered a broken ankle vs. the Giants on Dec. 11, and the Cowboys missed him greatly down the stretch.
Murray transformed the Cowboys’ season in many ways because he brought a balance to Jason Garrett’s play calling. He was the workhorse, getting at least 20 carries in five games of a seven-game span.
Murray suffered the injury on Dec. 11 against the New York Giants when defensive end Dave Tollefsen landed on Murray while making a tackle.
Without Murray, the Cowboys had to rely on Felix Jones to be the main running back. He did a decent job, but he suffered a hamstring strain at Tampa Bay in which he had his first set of back-to-back 20-carry games.
Many will point to Murray’s franchise-record 239-yard outing against St. Louis as his best game, but it actually might have been his 73-yard game at Washington on 25 tough carries where he proved his mettle.
Jones is just not built to be an every-down back. Murray, whose rehab is on schedule following surgery, is.
The Cowboys missed the rookie greatly down the stretch
No. 4: Mediocrity from Rob Ryan’s defense
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Rob Ryan’s unit ranked 14th in total defense and 16th in scoring defense, but the blame should fall on the players — and not entirely on Ryan as he asks it to be.
PODCAST: Coop and Nate rank the Cowboys’ needs on defense. Listen (Link available for limited time)
Rob Ryan promised greatness from a defense he declared had the most talent in the NFL.
He delivered mediocrity with a unit that needs to be upgraded at several spots next season.
The Dallas defense was average as a whole — 14th in total defense (343.2 yards per game) and 16th in scoring defense (21.7 points) — and dreadful when it mattered most. The New York Giants averaged 34 points and 473.5 yards in two wins over the Cowboys that determined the NFC East title.
Ryan often enabled his players by insisting that all the blame should be placed on his wide shoulders. There were some grumbles that his three-thick-playbook scheme was too complicated, causing mass confusion and leading him to simplify game plans in the final few weeks.
Of course, Wade Phillips’ scheme was supposedly too simple and predictable, but it worked pretty well this season for the Houston Texans’ second-ranked defense. At some point, the blame needs to be pinned on the players.
Ryan seemed to realize that in the last couple of weeks, particularly during an angry halftime rant after Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles marched 87 yards in 50 seconds for a touchdown, prompting him to rip the players for poorly executing a good game plan.
Several defensive starters will be gone next season, starting with longtime left cornerback Terence Newman, a two-time Pro Bowler who was terrible down the stretch. Ryan will return, barring the surprising development of a team wanting him to become its head coach after under-delivering so badly in Dallas.
No. 3: Losing five fourth-quarter leads
It’s amazing when you think about how this Cowboys season started — a 27-24 loss to the New York Jets, and how it would set the tone for 2011. When the season was over, the Cowboys suffered eight total losses, but five came when they blew fourth-quarter leads.
Quarterback Tony Romo cost the team two games with fourth-quarter turnovers vs. the Jets. His interceptions helped the Detroit Lions rally from a 24-point deficit.
Rob Ryan’s defense failed to contain Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the loss to the Arizona Cardinals might have been the worst.
Driving for a potential game-winning field goal, coach Jason Garrett mismanaged the game-clock and — in a roundabout way — iced his own kicker, Dan Bailey, by calling a timeout in the closing seconds of the play clock. Bailey would miss a 49-yarder, and Arizona went on to win, 19-13, in overtime.
Said outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware about that loss: "You just had a loss, [so] what are you going to do about it? The good teams, they come back from a tough loss like that and you really see the true team spirit and how teams come back from adversity. That really tells you the type of character we have on this team. We’re going to see that this week."
So what happened the following week? Against the New York Giants — with a chance to put a stranglehold on the NFC East — the Cowboys took a 34-22 lead with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter and went on to lose, 37-34.
At worse, if Dallas defeated Arizona, the odds of a getting wild-card berth and a division title would’ve been greater. But the loss all but kept Dallas out of the wild-card chase and put them in a winner-take-all game against the Giants in the regular-season finale.
When the season was over, Ware found out what type of team he’s playing on: One that doesn’t finish games.
No. 2: Jason Garrett’s clock management at Arizona
The Cowboys had a number of difficult losses in 2011 but the hardest to explain will be the 19-13 overtime defeat at Arizona on Dec. 4.
It was like every game the Cowboys play at University of Phoenix Stadium in some respects because of the strangeness, but this one might have been stranger than the 2008 overtime loss in which the Cowboys lost on a blocked punt for a touchdown and the 2010 loss that was triggered by a missed point after attempt.
This one fell on the shoulders of Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys were driving for a game-winning field goal attempt, like they had done a few times earlier in the season against San Francisco, Washington (twice) and Miami.
A 15-yard completion on third down to Dez Bryant put the Cowboys at the Arizona 31 with 24 seconds to play, however, Garrett chose not to use one of his two timeouts to give the offense the chance to move deeper into Cardinals’ territory for a shorter field goal try.
Tony Romo spiked the ball with seven seconds to play to set up a game-winning try by Dan Bailey from 49 yards. Bailey’s first attempt was good, but Garrett called a timeout because he and special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and assistant Chris Boniol felt the play clock was running low.
Bailey’s second attempt was short and to the left, forcing the game into overtime.
The Cowboys would not get the ball again with LaRod Stephens-Howling scoring on a 52-yard screen pass.
Garrett stood by the decision publicly but in private apologized to the team for the error.
No. 1: The offensive line struggled
Looking back it was too much to ask of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. Protect Tony Romo with three players who never started a NFL game and two rookies. Just too much.
The Cowboys offensive line battled through injuries and ineffective play for most of the 2011 season. Left tackle Doug Free moved from the right side to the left in 2011 and was credited with 10 sacks allowed, including six the last four weeks of the season. Free didn’t display the strength and athletic ability needed on a consistent basis to contain speedy pass rush ends.
The middle of the Cowboys line had troubles as well. It started when guard Bill Nagy went on injured reserve in October with a fractured ankle, backup Derrick Dockery suffered a knee injury that kept him out for weeks and Montrae Holland returned to the team after getting cut in training camp due to a back and weight issues.
Kyle Kosier, the starting right guard, battled a foot injury the bulk of the season.
If the Cowboys had made the postseason, Holland (biceps) and Kosier (knee) would be lost due to injuries.
Center Phil Costa had some snap issues and didn’t play with a lot of power at times. The team does like Kevin Kowalski and might give him a chance to start next season.
Tyron Smith, the right tackle, was the bright spot. But he had some issues at times dealing with athletic defensive ends, but Smith has tremendous upside and could move to left tackle next season.
The Cowboys made several moves after the lockout, cutting veterans Andre Gurode, Marc Colombo and Leonard Davis, for younger players. And while the Cowboys knew it would have growing pains, the offensive line should have performed better.
Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones (28) in the first quarter as the Dallas Cowboys play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, FL.
TAMPA, Fla. — Based on football math for idiots, there were NFL egg-heads presenting a playoff formula which said the outcome here Saturday night would not impact, one way or the other, the Cowboys’ chances of making the postseason.
OK, that theory was technically correct.
Otherwise, it made not a lick of sense.
Coming off back-to-back weeks of crushing defeats, both with hangover turmoil involved, the Cowboys desperately needed to beat anybody, the sooner the better in at least temporarily chasing the December demons.
Better yet, how about an old-fashioned butt-kicking of somebody.
Introducing (drum roll, please) the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thanks, fellows, for being that somebody.
With the Eagles coming up on Christmas Eve, with the Giants coming up on New Year’s Day, the Cowboys "warmed up" for the regular season close-out with a 31-15 breeze past the Bucs.
You don’t lose eight straight for no good reason, which means there are plenty of bad reasons the Tampa Bay season tanked out in October. Those bad reasons were on display in this one.
The Cowboys had a first half of perfection — offensive and defensive perfection — and steamrolled to a 28-0 halftime lead, then were outscored 15-3 in the second half and it didn’t even matter.
Granted, it’s murky in attempting to draw a correlation between this game and what still awaits in deep stretch of the schedule, but it sure beats the alternative of the last two stinkos. Anything does. And this anything was an easy win.
The biggest worry of late has been Rob Ryan’s crumbling defense, particularly in the second half.
Well, first things first about that defense on Saturday night. In the first half, the Bucs had a first down on their third snap of the game. They didn’t have another — first down — until halfway through the third quarter.
Tampa had 55 yards total offense in the opening half, mainly because Tony Romo and Co. ball-hogged for 20 minutes in two quarters on the way to four touchdown drives.
There was a brief glimpse, however, of that defensive misery in the third quarter, after a long Bucs drive, this one for a touchdown, cut the lead to 31-15, including a 2-point conversion. Tampa Bay had one other chance to make it interesting, but after reaching midfield, the defense had a fourth-quarter stop, taking any possible suspense out of this one.
Meanwhile, Romo continued his strong play, three times converting on third-down touchdown passes inside the Tampa Bay 10-yard line, and a fourth time converting on a third-down pass for a first down at the 1-yard line.
Romo then covered that last yard himself. In the first 30 minutes, he had three TD passes and one touchdown rushing.
The only flaw to his evening came early in the third quarter when Romo lost a fumble deep in Dallas territory, resulting in the Bucs denting the scoreboard for the first time.
But the offensive emphasis actually goes even beyond Romo’s stellar (23 of 30, 249 yards) evening. With no DeMarco Murray, suddenly Felix Jones has transformed into a workhorse back.
Coming off 16 carries last week, Felix got the call 22 times, rushing for 108 yards, the first time he’s had back-to-back games with carries of 15-plus. The 22 carries tied a career high.
Staying busy, Jones also caught three dump-off passes for 23 yards.
Another surprise was Sammy Morris, the old-timer who was picked up off the NFL streets last week to replace Murray on the roster. Morris carried 12 times for a productive 53 yards.
It also should be noted that Miles Austin, who Nellie Cruz-ed his route on a key pass in last week’s loss to the Giants, bounced back with a touchdown catch, and caught five balls for 53 yards.
Tight end Jason Witten returned to form, at least yardage-wise. Coming off three catches for 12 yards a week ago. This time Witten totaled 77 yards on four catches.
Basically, the Cowboys, at 8-6, played an inferior foe on the road, and for the first time this season weren’t hanging by their toes in the fourth quarter, and didn’t have to sweat heavy drama in either winning the game or blowing the game.
What exactly it means for Christmas Eve, who knows.
But the Eagles have their own problems, and at least the Cowboys don’t face another week of negative vibes bouncing off Valley Ranch walls.
A good win was needed. This was a good win, even if the opposition wasn’t a good team.
Randy Galloway can be heard weekdays 3-6 p.m. on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.
The Cowboys put it on their defense with five minutes to go. But the defense could not hold a two-touchdown lead.
“Five minutes to go, all we have to do is get a stop here, get a stop there,” cornerback Terence Newman said. “We didn’t get a stop.”
The Giants drove 80 and 58 yards for the two touchdowns that won a 37-34 decision Sunday night. Eli Manning threw for 400 yards, and the Giants put 510 yards on the Cowboys.
“We didn’t make enough plays at the end, and the end result is a loss,” linebacker Bradie James said.
Newman, who had three tackles and a pass breakup that could have been a pick-six, said the Cowboys will stick together.
“We’re a team, and we stick together from top to bottom,” he said. “Nobody’s perfect, but we’re all going into it together.”
Watch the highlights of the Cowboys 37-34 loss to the Giants.
Practice kick helps Pierre-Paul to block real one
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was trying his best to block Dan Bailey’s 47-yard, game-tying field-goal attempt. But he couldn’t get there.
Let’s do a quick flashback to a month ago and a three-way verbal exchange among famous local football names:
Jimmy Johnson, giving opinions weekly on the Fox-TV pre- and postgame Sunday NFL show, said as a fan of Jason Garrett, he would suggest the Cowboys’ young head coach hire an offensive coordinator for next season and concentrate on being a full-time head coach.
Garrett was asked about the opinion, and while pledging his respect for Jimmy, said he would continue as head coach/offensive coordinator in the future.
Jerry Jones was asked for his thoughts on the subject, and immediately shot down the Jimmy idea, saying he didn’t approve of a "walk-around head coach," although not mentioning he’s had three of them — Johnson, Barry Switzer and Bill Parcells, a trio with five Super Bowl titles combined.
Jimmy’s zinger reply to Jerry:
"He doesn’t like it because Jerry thinks he’s the walk-around head coach."
So it ended it with that chuckle-moment, and we all moved on.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo
Mr. Randy Galloway and Mac Engel debate the reasons for the Dallas Cowboys’ recent roll. Is it Tony Romo? DeMarco Murray? Or the quality of the opposition? (Nov. 22, 2011) Video by Kathy Vetter/Star-Telegram
ARLINGTON — Seemingly overmatched and definitely outplayed in so many areas, including the defensive front, the secondary, the offensive line, and on top of all that, the quarterback throws a couple of what-the-heck-was- that picks to start the game.
There were obviously more than enough butt-whippings on Thanksgiving afternoon for the Cowboys to end up a cooked turkey.
“A lot of things on this tape we aren’t going to like,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
Actually, it’s a game tape that would be better off torched.
But NFL rules say that after 60 minutes of clock time, you add up the points for both teams, and…
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) arranges his linemen, center Phil Costa (67) and guard Montrae Holland (64) in the first 1quarter.
Nobody else wants to say it, so I will.
I will say it for you, and you, and you.
Thanks for saving the Cowboys’ season in Washington.
Thanks for covering for Rob Ryan’s defense, which had a total mind-blowing collapse against one of the worst offensive units in all of ball.
Thanks for covering for Joe D’s special teams, which were consistently horrific in every area except for Dan Bailey’s toe.
Thanks for covering for your offensive line, a group that had been coming around lately but lost the manly battle up front to a good defensive unit that we already knew had refused to quit on the Redskins’ dismal season.
Really, is it that difficult to say, thanks, Tony?
When Romo deserves to be blasted, he is blasted, without hesitation, and deservedly so. I am always the first to chip in on the blasting. Not a lot of research is necessary. See the Jets game. See the Lions game.
But Romo is now in the midst of an excellent quarterbacking roll over the past three games, and hardly by coincidence, the Cowboys have won all three.
Except, until Sunday, all the credit went to rookie running back DeMarco Murray, and the Murray factor is certainly deserving of praise. But we all knew this, the same as we knew it in the Dynasty Days, eventually it would all come down to the quarterback making plays when all else around him stood still.
Jan. 17, 1993. Candlestick Park. Aikman to Harper. With that one pass, the Super Bowl runs began.
OK, this ain’t that. These Cowboys aren’t Super Bowl contenders. But to continue the entertainment process, and continue the playoff possibilities, the quarterback had to deliver Sunday in Washington. All else had failed.
Romo consistently delivered. Delivered on three clutch throws, all of them on third down, all under duress, and all happening because he created his own time.
Two of those passes went for touchdowns, one to Laurent Robinson early in the fourth quarter to tie the game 17-17, the next to Jason Witten to provide a 24-17 lead. And then on third-and-15 in overtime, the 26-yard strike to Dez Bryant on a play when Romo again skillfully escaped pressure.
That last one resulted in the 39-yard field goal to win it.
Why don’t we all rip Tony for a penalty that never happened?
As the holder, his attempted timeout call (the Cowboys had already used both OT timeouts) as the play clock was down to two seconds seemed to be a bigger emphasis with many than the game he played at quarterback.
First, it wasn’t a penalty because the Redskins also called timeout to freeze Bailey.
Secondly, why wasn’t anyone asking why the hell the play clock was down to two seconds at the most critical point in the game? That’s yet another special teams disaster, that the field goal unit wasn’t lined up and ready to go.
Thirdly, it was third down when the Cowboys were kicking.
If, if, if Romo had gotten the 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct (there’s disagreement over what the penalty would have been), I repeat, it was third down. Third and 23.
Bailey wasn’t going to try a 54-yard field goal.
Romo and the offense would have gotten another shot to make up the yardage lost if there had been a penalty. The way Tony was clutching up on third down, I wouldn’t have bet against him.
But there was no penalty, right?
I also could add that your starting quarterback should never be the holder, but that’s a lost argument, although if the Cowboys can carry four kickers on the roster (they actually had four for one game), why not go get a “holding specialist,” too? Yes, I’m kidding, but…
I just thought I would bring it up that Romo played great in Washington, has played great the past three games, and because it’s a game-to-game process for him, we will see if it continues on Thursday with a revived Miami in town for the Thanksgiving Day affair.
Sure, the Cowboys dodged a disaster in Washington.
Somehow, the defense managed to transform Rex the Wreck into Tom Brady.
Somehow, the worst group of receivers in the NFL managed to consistently win downfield matchups, particularly in the middle of the field.
Somehow, maybe the worst offensive line in the league managed to buy time for Mr. Grossman, who, to his credit, was tricky on play-action fakes, freezing the Cowboys defense.
This game was a matchup of Ryan scheming against a very poor offense, while Romo had to overcome a good defense. Tony did. Rob’s guys were pathetic in their failure.
As far as the special teams, we know the Cowboys have no return game, but at least you can stop it on the other end. Joe D, your guys really, really stunk.
Yet, in the end, it didn’t matter. Each week is a new adventure, not just for the Cowboys, but it’s a consistent theme around the NFL. See the Giants against the Eagles on Sunday night. Both teams were awful.
There are no ugly wins for the Cowboys. The Cowboys aren’t good enough to be style-pointing Ws. But in a bad NFC East, they are good enough to be tied for the lead at 6-4.
Thanks for that, Tony.
You saved all Cow butts in Washington.
I just thought I’d mention it.
Ben and Skin host a Cowboys roundtable with ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon and Calvin Watkins.
Did Tony Romo just say “Super Bowl” when talking about these Cowboys?
Alternate link: Click HERE to listen to the show.
Photo courtesy: Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner
Dallas Cowboys WR Laurent Robinson dishes on how quickly he’s developed a connection with QB Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray’s success, how to correctly pronounce his name and more.
On the uncertainty of his future entering the season:
I had no idea. Didn’t really have too much going on before the start of training camp, and then my agent worked hard and he got me in with San Diego and I thought I was going to be there for a while. But, you know, the nature of this business is it’s a numbers game and I was let go … They worked hard again and I was able to come to Dallas and try to make it home.
On how he’s developed chemistry with Tony Romo:
He went to Eastern, I went to Illinois State, I just call it a little one Double-A connection that’s all I can call it. We’re working hard together.
Alternate link: Click HERE to play the audio from ESPN’s Galloway & Company show.
Podcast link: Click HERE to visit the 103.3 FM ESPN Podcasts page
Photo courtesy: AP/LM Otero
Chan Gailey, left, felt the heat almost immediately as Cowboys coach, and was fired after two seasons by Jerry Jones.
It was noon on a late July day in Wichita Falls, and it was already smokin’ hot, and I don’t mean just the weather.
“What a fraud.” “The man’s a liar.” “What a weak attempt at a cover-up.” “He should be fired right now.”
That was Chan Gailey’s “welcome” to our football world by many members of the local media, angrily filing out of an interview session held in the student center at Midwestern State University.
It was Gailey’s first training camp day as head coach of an NFL team, and that team happened to be the most high-profile franchise in the land.
And really, it was his first day as a head coach outside of dusty college map specks such as Troy State and Samford.
And a couple of years as head coach of the Birmingham Fire of the World League could not have come remotely close to preparing him for anything like this pending storm.
The night before the Dallas Cowboys’ training camp opened in 1998, there was an argument about who had “next” for a haircut in the players’ dorm.
The dispute resulted in one of the NFL’s biggest stars, Michael Irvin, taking the sharp edge of a pair of scissors and running it across the neck of a teammate, Everett McIver, who was not seriously injured but required medical attention.
For those already doubting Jason Garrett, and for those who have already dismissed Garrett as another Jerry-hired head coaching doofus, it’s not too late to repent.
Reach right out there and grab yourself a handful of reality. Go ahead, do it today. Do it before it’s too late.
You people … (I love a good you people.) … need to immediately accept one fact of local football life.
There is no Cowher, Fisher, Saban, Gruden, etc. waiting eagerly to ride in here and rescue the Cowboys, or better yet, rescue Jerry.
That’s not to say Jon Gruden wouldn’t take the job, or that Jeff Fisher would turn it down.
But based on track record, the quirky Gruden (I do love him, but he’s way out there) wouldn’t last five minutes with Jerry, and a solid guy like Fisher would be shocked to learn that his previous owner, Bud Adams, would be considered a rock of stability compared to you-know-who.