I have to say, when I sat down last night to watch the game, I truly believed that the Cowboys were destined to win the game, and give the Seahawks all that they would want to deal with in the playoffs.
So much for that.
Last night was a complete, systematic collapse of the team. From the general health of the team, to the coaching, to individual play, this game cast a pretty severe and glaring light on the ills of the team. While any one game should not be used as a referendum for any given season or career, last night's loss will reverberate for a while. Here's my thoughts on the game from last night, and some thoughts on where this team needs to go in the future:
- Last night has been reduced to Romo and his post-Christmas gift giving (more on this later). To me, the biggest story of last night was that the game was lost on the sidelines. Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan were completely undressed by Jim Haslett and the Redskin defensive staff last night. The Cowboys looked completely unprepared for dealing with a blitz, and did not look to take advantage of this aggression. The Cowboys ran no trap running plays, no draws, or even considered a traditional screen play to slow the rush. It was distressing to see free rushers getting in all night long, and nary an adjustment to counter this. A couple of things come to mind for me on this, and both are from when the Cowboys were on Hard Knocks in 2008. In a coaches meeting, Garrett is speaking about facing a defense, and letting them dictate the flow of the game. He said, no f' that, we will dictate to them. I didn't see this or anything looking like that last night. The second part was when he was addressing the offensive team in a meeting. He said, specifically to the rookie players, to "...study. If you don't know what you are doing, then you will not play here." I'll let that statement speak for itself.
- The second big item that I took away from last night that was not a highly spoke about issue was the lack of physicality from the Cowboys on either side of the ball. The Redskins punched the Cowboys, and the Cowboys did not hit back with any authority. Often times when I watch a game, I make a note of how many players leave the game from each side to indicate who is winning the physical battle. The Cowboys, banged up to begin with, lost their top three WRs to injury, had Spencer and Albright get banged up more. The Redskins had Lichtensteiger miss a few plays, and Griffin get the wind knocked out of him, and had a safety get dinged, but suffered no significant injuries of note. To me, this is a direct result of the Redskins being more physical in this game. It showed up in the running game, with the Cowboys missing a truckload of tackles, as well as having the DL pushed all over the field.
- The MASH unit on defense played with heart, but they were not good at all last night. 255 yards rushing was not by accident - there were schematic failures on top of mental failures all over the place. The overshifted line on defense did not work, and someone needed to tell Spencer and Ware to take Griffin on the read option, and stop crashing in. Ware, God bless him, was a warrior last night, but he hurt the team being on the field. Playing injured is not a way to help the team, and the coaching staff really needed to save the player from himself in this game.
- I actually think that this was one of the best officiated games that I have seen in recent memory. Mainly, because they put the flags away and let the teams play. The call on Hatcher was the right one. They did get in the way of a potential snap when the Redskins were trying to substitute their units on a punt, but I believe this was because the Cowboys had run players off the field prior to this. Under the rules, the Cowboys had to allow the Redskins to substitute. At least this is how I saw it.
- This season, the coaching staff has done a good job at halftime adjustments, as proven by their better play in the second half. Last night, they left these skills in Dallas. The second half was a carbon copy of the first half on both sides of the ball. Surprisingly, the best coaching job of the night was by the embattled Joe D on special teams, who actually gave the team a shot at winning.
Well, the lowest hanging fruit is to be covered last. Tony Romo. Oy.
Romo was really amped up, and it showed early. He was high with throws early, jittery in the pocket, and generally unsteady all night. Jimmy Johnson has said numerous times that the key to winning in the NFL is not how many good plays you make, but how many bad plays you avoid. This adage is one that Romo still has not grasped after seven years of being a starter. All three interceptions are on him, with bad ball placement on the first two, and a bad read of the defense on the third. Just brutal to watch. I get the feeling watching Romo that he, deep down in his soul, is not confident enough in himself, and aims passes when he is stressed by rush or a situation. It has happened far too often for this to be a coincidence.
Romo, in many ways, is a tragic hero. I would equate him to the plight of Sisyphus in Dante's Inferno. Sisyphus was banned to hell by Zeus (with the help of Hermes) because of his tricky ways, and his punishment was a lifetime of pushing a boulder up a hill, and just as he is ready to push it completely to the top, the boulder rolls over him, back down to the bottom, with Sisyphus needing to resume the task from the beginning. The question here is whether the boulder for Romo is the responsibility of carrying the load offensively, or whether it's the burden of his previous failure.
Going forward, with the assumption that there is no coaching staff erosion, here's what I would prescribe that the Cowboys do:
- Franchise Spencer again, and look to trade him. He had a great year, and his stock has never been higher. With a youth infusion needed, this would be a good place to start, as he would need to demonstrate that he is capable of more seasons like this.
- Do not extend Romo. Let him play out the last year of his contract. The soon to be 33 year old is what he is: a compiler of stats who does not trust himself in the big spot.
- Rebuild the offensive line, and make DeMarco Murray the focal point of this offense. Romo has proven that he cannot carry this team beyond contending for a division title. To contend for playoff success, they need to relieve the pressure from him, and invest in the running game. I would target Andy Levitre and Phil Loadholt in free agency to bolster the run game, and look to add a running back to share the load with Murray. Felix Jones is not that guy.
- Call Jeff Ireland in Miami, and offer him Miles Austin in a trade. They have a ton of cap room, 5 picks in the top 100, and a crying need for a WR. Austin's hamstrings will like the warm air of Miami, and Ireland was one of the members of the Cowboy braintrust who brought him on board. Sounds like a great potential fit.
- Go DL/OLB heavy up top in the draft. They need good, strong young players up front, which they do not have a large supply of.
- Note that I left Jones stepping down as GM in this list. No point in mentioning something that won't happen.
- Let Garrett make the decision as to whether to add a play caller or not. He needs to be in control of his team, and if Jones is making him add a play caller, then he should quit.
Here's a suggested path for the 2013 draft (with no additional picks from the above trade possibilities, or compensatory picks):
1st Round - DT Jesse Williams - Alabama - Stout run player with a winning pedigree.
2nd Round - OLB Chase Thomas - Stanford - RKG who is a strong all around linebacker. Needs to develop pass rush, but is strong in all areas.
3rd Round - QB Zac Dysert - Miami (Oh) - Get Romo's future replacement on board now.
4th Round - DE Margus Hunt - SMU - Add a pass rushing threat from the DE position in the 3-4. Needs to get more stout against the run.
5th Round - C Braxston Cave - Notre Dame - Strong interior player who can also play guard.
6th Round - S Shamarko Thomas - Syracuse - Adds competition at safety.
Well, this is one man's view - thoughts?