Though Lamed, Jason Garrett Is Lining All His Ducks In A Row For One Final Run At The Playoffs
There will be Cowboys and vultures aplenty roaming the lush, green practice fields of Oxnard for the next few weeks. The Cowboys will be launching what many have concluded to be a mock crusade at a sixth Lombardi trophy with their 55th annual training camp, while the vultures will surely be perched, primed and ready to pick clean the carcass of one of football’s lamest head coaching ducks.
That this should be the story at the dawning of another season is a revelation of how ominous the clouds of future possibilities really are in Big D‘.
Jason Garrett undertook a monumental task when he agreed to replace Wade Phillips as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in January of 2011. Now entering his fourth season on the beat, Garrett’s undertaking is laden with even more built-in pressures. Garrett, in short, is coaching for his job in 2014.
That’s what happens when your resume is one that symbolizes mediocrity. Garrett has coached the Cowboys to three consecutive 8-8 seasons filled with December mishap and heartbreak. His team has been on the cusp of the playoffs in each season, only to come up short in a Week 17 NFC East championship game versus a division rival.
That’s what happens when your owner is Jerry Jones, the league leader of tyrannical owners who live for today only. Jones once referred to Garrett as “my Tom Landry,” yet has proven bent the past two off-seasons on creating stability for every key personality at Valley Ranch except Garrett, making it virtually impossible for the public to envision Garrett lasting the 29 years that Landry did.
Jones stripped Garrett of his play-calling duties after the 2012 season, replacing him with offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who was replaced earlier this year with ex-Detroit coordinator Scott Linehan. Later that spring, the owner also gave quarterback Tony Romo a then-record contract which lasts through the 2018 campaign. He has promised the world that superstar wide receiver Dez Bryant will be re-signed, and is likely looking for ways to keep running back Demarco Murray in Dallas beyond this season as well. Left tackle Tyron Smith? Well, he’s got a fat payday coming soon too.
Contract talks for Jones’ head coach meanwhile have remained stagnant to date, leaving Garrett in an all-too-obvious position for 2014. Jones wants Garrett to earn his next contract by squeezing every last ounce of potential out of this year’s team.
Just how far that potential will take the Cowboys is speculation’s prime object at the current hour.
An unbiased interpretation of their roster would leave one to conclude that the Cowboys are a team which appears capable of qualifying for postseason play in January if they turn over a new leaf and play a smart brand of football down the stretch. With his defensive unit ravaged by injuries and salary cap mismanagement, Garrett would be wise to re-instill a fundamental approach to offensive game management that relies more on the ground game rather than the right arm of Romo.
Let’s face it. The Cowboys were an unbalanced offense throughout much of 2013, with a tendency to abandon Murray and his league-high rushing average in the second half of games. Garrett must ensure that Linehan does not let that happen again this fall.
On the other hand, predictions from within the organization sound more like hyperbole than anything else. Defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford proclaimed that the Dallas front-four, an area bereft of depth and proven talent, would “put on a show” throughout the season. Cornerback Brandon Carr, who put together a shaky 2013 season in the Dallas secondary, said he was “ready to take over the whole league.”
Why the bold predictions from a team that has failed to qualify for the playoffs since 2009? Because obviously an important someone in the front-office believes they are on the cusp of accomplishing greatness. As Demarco Murray so confidently opined last week, the Cowboys “are built to win a Super Bowl” immediately.
Murray’s declaration would have surely been news to Tom Landry, if he were still with us. When asked by a reporter in 1975 how to ensure that a team goes all the way, Landry was quick to respond by saying, “The only guarantee to getting to the Super Bowl is to have the best defense.”
But what about a great offense and a fair defense?
“You’ll get beat,” Landry said.
While it’s hard to imagine this squad fielding a top-notch defensive unit, Garrett knows better than anyone else that it wouldn’t take much to improve on that side of the ball from a year ago. That’s why he has spent much of his off-season with defensive coaches Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin, going over strategies and situational tactics that will give, what will likely be, an overmatched defense the best possible opportunity to get off the field on third-down.
If ever a lame duck was to waddle through Jerry’s big football mud puddle without drowning in the muck of manufactured circumstance, then you would figure this Princeton redhead would be the most likely candidate.
His emotional consistency over the past three seasons has been admirable in a place where euphoria and expectations have been known to swallow coaches whole. His team has responded by playing hard for him, authoring their own unique brand of consistency along the way.
It’s time for both parties to take a step forward together, because next year is anything but guaranteed.