LOOKING FOR SOUTHERN COMFORT: Chips and dips instead of Super Bowl trips | The NFL’s fine line between success and failure
IRVING, Texas – Here is the downside of the needle on this record getting stuck … 8-8 … 8-8 … 8-8 … or having now gone four consecutive years without a playoff appearance; or 18 straight seasons without a Super Bowl appearance, five longer than the previous longest 13-year drought in franchise history, between the 1979 season and 1991; or now also 18 consecutive seasons without having appeared in at least an NFC Championship Game, twice as long as the previous longest drought in franchise history, between 1983 and 1991:
No matter what you do, what decisions you make, you automatically are dead wrong in the court of public opinion until proven right, especially when you’ve been such a proud and successful franchise for the majority of these 54 seasons.
Parody brings disparity
Ask Denver. The Broncos are returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in 15 seasons after going back to back in 1997-98. Miami hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl since 1984. Chicago finally returned after the 2006 season, its first appearance since the Bears won their only Super Bowl in 1985. The 49ers went back to the Super Bowl last year for the first time since 1994. Washington? Geesh, don’t even ask, 23 seasons ago. Minnesota, not since the 1976 season.
And this might be the saddest of all, Kansas City, the franchise playing in Super Bowl I, losing to the Green Bay Packers, hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl since the Chiefs won their lone Super Bowl following the 1969 season.
No, this is not meant for you to find a little southern comfort in other people’s misery, seeing that this will be yet another miserable Super Bowl Sunday for Dallas Cowboys fans, having to watch Seattle take on the Broncos at MetLife Stadium.
This is to provide you some facts to those seemingly pulling their hair out over the Cowboys promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and hiring Scott Linehan as the pass-game coordinator/offensive play-caller, moves being panned and mocked because of this purported “dysfunction” crippling these Cowboys.
Now, this is not to say every move the Cowboys have made over these past 18 years has been right, far from it. But to just point out past failures doesn’t automatically deem every move they now make dead wrong. So, lets throw out some facts, just pure facts, as you are out shopping for chips and dip, and ordering your chicken wings for Super Sunday.
Defense brings Championship hope
Defense first, and this probably comes with less contention. The Dallas Cowboys finished dead last in total defense this 2013 season, meaning 32nd, and this is the first time in franchise history they have finished dead last defensively since that 13th-place finish in the 13-team NFL of 1960, their inaugural season, and the absolute worst finish since landing 13th out of what was then a 14-team NFL in 1963.
This, though, comes on the heels of last year’s 19th finish, which had matched the second-lowest defensive ranking since finishing 20th during the 1-15 season of 1989 – the Cowboys finishing 23rd during the 6-10 season of 2010 that got Wade Phillips fired after a 1-7 start.
Look, defense matters – a lot. Ask Seattle, right, and the Seahawks will be in big trouble if they don’t hold Denver to no more than, oh, 20 points come Sunday. And to further illustrate just how poorly the Cowboys have performed defensively over the past two seasons, think about this: From 1964 through the 1979 season, that is 16 consecutive years, the Cowboys finished in the top 10 defensively … every single season. Top 10!
This, too, is overshadowed with memories of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith et al: From 1992-1997, the Cowboys owned Top 10 defenses, and were No. 1 in 1992 and 1994.
Understood that injuries do matter, and injuries ravaged the Dallas Cowboys defense the past two seasons. I mean, come on, having to play 20 different defensive linemen in the same season while trying to figure out how to compensate for the injury losses of Anthony Spencer, Tyrone Crawford, Jay Ratliff, and Ben Bass, and then the combined four games missed by DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, not to mention their limited ability in several more.
The pitiful run defense surely illustrates these losses, the Cowboys finishing 24th against the run after being 23rd in 2012. Those two years are the absolute worst rankings since finishing 31st against the run in 2000. And get this, the absolute worst back-to-back seasons playing the run since … 1960 and 1961, finishing last in ’60 and 12th out of 14 in ’61.
Still, face it, putting Rod Marinelli in charge is the right move, yet not sure why everyone wants to just throw Monte Kiffin to the curb. His experience won’t hurt anything having him still around, especially since he would have gotten paid for this 2014 season anyway. Might as well get what you can out of him.
Defense of the Offense
OK, now the offense, and again just the facts.
The Dallas Cowboys finished 16th offensively this season, their lowest ranking since checking in at No. 30 during the third consecutive 5-11 season of 2002 (29th and 25th were the offensive rankings those other two 5-11 years). This after finishing an impressive sixth in 2012.
In fact, since Jason Garrett took over the offense and play-calling in 2007, simultaneously with Tony Romo becoming the fulltime starting quarterback, the Cowboys offensive rankings had been 3rd, 13th (but 2nd rushing), 2nd, 7th, 11th and 6th. And a passing game that was third last season fell to 14th in 2013.
Oh, there is this argument in defense of this offense: But the running game was much better. Well, feint praise since the Cowboys would have been hard-pressed to be worse than last year, the 1,265 yards (31st) the franchise’s absolute worst since the 1,049 gained in the 12-game inaugural 1960 season. So, yes, rushing for 1,507 yards in 2013 is an improvement.
Yet, that too comes with a but: But the 1,507 rushing yards then became the second-lowest rushing total since rushing for 1,500 yards in 1990, and that got offensive coordinator David Shula fired after two seasons. In fact, since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, only three times have the Cowboys rushed for fewer than 1,507 yards in a season: Of course in 2012 and 1990, along with 1,409 in 1989, again that 1-15 season.
Making the ball balance
Funny how there have been complaints all season long about the Cowboys’ inability to create offensive balance, how the Dallas Cowboys didn’t get the ball to Dez Bryant enough and how the Cowboys didn’t throw down the field enough. But then Garrett makes a change in play-caller and it’s as if he’s lost his ever-lovin’ mind.
Also, if you remember, when the Cowboys hired Bill Callahan in 2012 as the offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, it was not to call plays but to improve a struggling offensive line, which he and Frank Pollack have done wonderfully over this two-year span. And that the Cowboys have retained Callahan with at least a year left on his contract, while not allowing him to leave for a lateral move with another team, is not unprecedented.
Remember, back in 2006 Bill Parcells kept offensive line coach Tony Sparano as the run-game coordinator when Sean Payton tried to take him to New Orleans as his offensive coordinator. And you know what, that same year Miami blocked Jason Garrett, its quarterbacks coach, from going with Scott Linehan to St. Louis as his offensive coordinator.
Oh, and as for the “too many cooks in the kitchen” argument, do you remember back to 2005 when Payton was the pass-game coordinator and Sparano was the run-game coordinator, but were you ever sure if they were calling the plays or if Bill Parcells was? In fact, Parcells did the same thing in 2006 after Payton left for New Orleans, Sparano the run-game coordinator and Todd Haley the pass-game coordinator, yet it still seemed as if Bill was calling the plays.
Or as Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told Chris Mortensen of ESPN the other day, “Half the time, you couldn’t tell who was going to call plays under Bill any particular week – it could be Tony Sparano, it could be Sean Payton or it could be Bill himself,” with most of us taking Door No. 3 in that scenario.
“In this instance, Linehan and Garrett have a good history together, they’ll be on the same page, and it will still allow Jason to grow where we want him to grow as a head coach.”
The fine line between success and failure
You know the weird thing about all this? You would have thought a team with an epically poor defense and declining offense, one changing defensive coordinators and bringing in a new offensive play-caller, would have finished like 4-12 or worse. Yet the Cowboys finished 8-8, losing five of those eight games by a grand total of eight points, though that probably doesn’t make a whole lot of folks – especially the Cowboys themselves – feel any better.
It’s not always in the math
This probably won’t either. But if you combine the Dallas Cowboys offensive and defensive rankings – 16 and 32 – they total 48. Only one other team had a higher combined total, Jacksonville coming in at 58 (31 and 27). And yes, the Jags finished 4-12. The Cowboys then tied Miami for the second-highest total.
Tops? That was New Orleans at 8, fourth offensively, fourth defensively. Next Cincinnati at 13, then Seattle, Arizona and Houston (go figure) tied at 18. Denver’s combined number by the way was 20, (1st and 19th).
Again, as promised, just the facts, no compounded hysteria over past failures, or hollow criticism of these recent coaching moves because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do with these Dallas Cowboys until …the math works in their favor!
Chips and dips instead of Super Bowl trips
So just maybe give some pause to any or all of this come tomorrow … Super Sunday … while chomping on your nachos.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Seahawks parlay 49ers mistakes into Super Bowl trip
SEATTLE — All season long, the Seattle Seahawks’ defense carried them at times the offense sputtered. Its biggest challenge yet will come in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seahawks forced turnovers on the San Francisco 49ers’ final three drives, the last an interception by Malcolm Smith on a deflection by Richard Sherman in the end zone with 22 seconds to go that sealed a 23-17 victory in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
Next up: a title date with Peyton Manning and the high-powered Denver Broncos on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Colin Kaepernick fumbled and threw an interception on the 49ers’ previous two drives. But the Seahawks scored only one field goal off those turnovers, keeping the game alive.
Given the ball once more with 3 minutes, 15 seconds to go, Kaepernick completed four consecutive passes, including a fourth-and-2 strike to crossing Frank Gore as the 49ers drove to the Seattle 18.
But Sherman got a piece of Kaepernick’s jump-ball throw to the corner of the end zone and Smith corralled the ball in bounds, allowing Seattle to run out the clock and set off a celebration during which Sherman leaped into the stands at CenturyLink Field.
It’s the second George Halas Trophy and Super Bowl trip in the 38-year history of the Seahawks, who also won the NFC title after the 2005 season before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
No players remain from that team, and no one on Seattle’s roster has appeared in a Super Bowl. Neither has coach Pete Carroll, who did take the University of Southern California to two BCS championship games before becoming the Seahawks’ coach in 2010.
Sunday’s win was the Seahawks’ third straight against the 49ers in Seattle, where they rolled 42-13 on Dec. 23, 2012, and 29-3 on Sept. 15 before San Francisco won this regular season’s rematch 19-17 on Dec. 8 at Candlestick Park. This one was far tighter.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Peyton Manning passes Broncos past Patriots into Super Bowl
DENVER — Two years ago, the NFL world was wondering if Peyton Manning might ever throw another pass. Even he wasn’t sure.
Yet there were a gaggle of Mannings in a jubilant Denver Broncos locker room on Sunday, celebrating the Broncos’ 26-16 win in the AFC Championship Game and Manning’s third trip to the Super Bowl. Manning has a chance to win a second Super Bowl ring — his first with the Broncos and his first since having four surgeries on his neck.
“One of my favorite things to tell him is, ‘Enjoy the journey.’ I tell him that all the time. And it’s been a good journey,” Manning’s father and former NFL quarterback Archie Manning said.
Archie was joined by his other two sons, New York Giants quarterback Eli, who made the trip to Denver to surprise his brother, and Cooper, whose two sons scampered around the locker room in their orange No.18 jerseys, taking pictures of the AFC championship memorabilia and posing in their uncle’s locker.
“Oh, we’re proud. Obviously we’re proud of Peyton, but we’re just like all the other parents of Broncos that are going to the Super Bowl,” Archie said.
Peyton Manning was brilliant in leading the Broncos to their first Super Bowl since his boss, John Elway, retired after the 1998 season. Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns, both at the end of drives lasting more than seven minutes. He was clearly the best player on the field in his 15th meeting with longtime nemesis Tom Brady.
Manning will be joined in East Rutherford, N.J., at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 by a suddenly stout defense that held the New England Patriots to 320 yards. The Broncos shut down the Patriots running game (64 yards) and held Brady to 277 passing yards. Brady was sacked twice, including a 10-yard loss on fourth-and-3 from the Broncos 29-yard line in the third quarter with Denver leading 20-3. That sack, by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, killed the Patriots’ 13-play drive and drew some of the loudest cheers of the day from a sold-out crowd at Sports Authority Field.
“We knew it would take a dominant performance on defense. We knew our offense was going to go out there with a rhythm. I knew Peyton would throw for all that, and we just wanted to do our part,” Knighton said. “We didn’t want to be the missing link.”
Fans relished the Broncos’ first AFC title game since the 2005 season (when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers), and the resurgence of a team that was 4-12 three years ago. But the brief and disastrous tenure of coach Josh McDaniels, now New England’s offensive coordinator, led to the hiring of Elway as executive vice president of football operations. Elway has rebuilt the team and was a key element to the signing of Manning in March 2012.
Denver has gone 13-3 in the two seasons since, while Manning and the offense shattered records this season with 55 passing touchdowns and 606 points scored. But none of that would have really mattered without a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos, the preseason favorites to win the AFC, did not get here easily. They played the first six games of the season without their star pass rusher as Von Miller served a suspension, lost all-pro left tackle Ryan Clady in Week 2, lost defensive starters Miller, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Derek Wolfe, safety Rahim Moore and cornerback Chris Harris to season-ending injuries and played four weeks without coach John Fox, who had heart surgery in early November.
“Every Super Bowl team that has held up that trophy has been through some type of adversity,” Knighton said. “We just wanted to respond.”