On this one, I’m going with scapegoat. Here’s why:
He was not the principal cause of the Cowboys demise last season. He and the media have the sort of relationship that makes it difficult to discern where the problems really lie with the Cowboys. For me, it’s fairly simple.
When the Cowboys lost last season… the defense allowed more than 100 yards on the ground. They were 0-5 when they allowed more than 100 yards rushing. In four of those games they surrendered more than 160 yards…in two of them, more than 200. That’s not championship defense.
The Cowboys were 3-7 when they failed to run for 100 yards. They were 6-0 when they ran for 100 yards. Now, if your team has injuries to Marion Barber and Felix Jones — and you lose your quarterback allowing teams to stack the box vs. the run, you might have a tough time running as well. Exhibit A: Brad Johnson and the running game do nothing in a road loss at St. Louis.
When the Cowboys lost last season, they turned the ball over. The offense had two 5 turnover games (vs. Philly, vs. Pitt) and two 4 turnover games (vs. St. Louis, vs. NYG). All four of those high turnover games were on the road.
The Cowboys lost to Arizona because AZ scored 2 touchdowns on special teams and defense.
All in all, the Cowboys appeared to be a team that lacked focus. And herein lies the rub. Terrell Owens has been universally reviled as a distraction – someone who shifts the focus from winning to personal issues stemming from a bottomless insecurity. Owens routinely loses his cool in big spots (sideline in Pittsburgh (pick a year)). He drops passes he should catch. Still, the fate of this team was decided long before the blow up in Pittsburgh and Tony Romo’s radar lock on Jason Witten led to Deshea Townsend’s game ending touchdown. I have not had the privilege of placing Mr. Owens on “the couch” for a probing look inside, but I know he is not alone when it comes to distractions.
There is no doubt that this all stems from the top.
- Jerry Jones’ principal focus is not on winning games. A significant portion of his attention is on keeping the Dallas Cowboys relevant as a media/marketing entity. The Dallas Cowboys have not won a playoff game since 1996, and they remain at the top of the 24-hour news cycle because of high profile signings, soap opera-style drama, and their history of winning. The Cowboys will be opening a new stadium next year and football remains a business. Jerry Jones’ principal focus is on the business of football. When it comes to winning games, Jerry Jones is as preoccupied with being perceived as a genius as anything else. He is still fighting the ghost of Jimmy Johnson and as he punches air, he begins to look more and more like Don Quixote every day.
- Wade Phillips has been looking over his shoulder for a replacement ever since he was hired. During last season, Phillips was compelled (or chose, depending on your perspective) to throw his defensive coordinator under the bus after the St. Louis Rams gained 190 yards on the ground in a shocking win. The next week, Phillips made the defensive calls and the Cowboys won a hard fought defensive struggle (with a little help from the officials) over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two weeks later, the Cowboys were mauled to the tune of 200 yards by the rampaging New York Giants. The Cowboys defense was clearly running on fumes. The thumb injury to Tony Romo resulted in decreased offensive production, more “3-and-outs,” more turnovers, less time of possession, and more opportunities for the opposition to score. The bye week came just in time. The defense wouldn’t surrender 100 yards again — until it really mattered — in Week 16 and 17 with a playoff berth on the line. The one-dimensional Baltimore Ravens gutted the ‘Boys for 265 yards on the ground. The Eagles followed up with 137 – and the season was over. At season’s end, Denver fired Mike Shanahan and speculation began anew about the future of Wade Phillips in Dallas. He’s distracted – and rightfully so. He could be gone before the next setting sun.
Shanahan Shows Wade the Way. Wade Doesn’t Want to Go!
- Jason Garrett – the Cowboys offensive coordinator has been looking for work as a head coach in the NFL for at least the past two seasons. Garrett likely believes that his best opportunity to have his own shop was lost following the Cowboys 13-3 march through the 2007 season. Contrary to “news” reports from ESPN and other unreliable entertainment sources, Garrett has been deeply involved in a number of things that constitute distractions: conspiring to unseat head coach Wade Phillips; failing to develop innovative game plans against elite competition rather than relying on past performances; shielding a QB whose work ethic undermines the overall effectiveness of the team; contributing false information to isolate and castigate team members. It’s a long list. That Garrett has escaped media scrutiny is as revealing as the fact that he has not made the climb to the next level. His search for more, better employment has been a distraction.
Jason Garrett and Tony Romo during loss to Steelers.
- Tony Romo’s myriad distractions have been identified by the media, current and former players and fans since his infamous trip south of the border during playoff time. Perhaps more importantly, Romo is a quarterback who has copped to not working hard enough to master his craft. Confession is good for the soul, but not for the franchise. Tony Romo has admitted he simply does not WORK HARD to be the best he can be. “Practice?! We’re talking about PRACTICE!!!” That’s never been said of Terrell Owens. In order for the Dallas Cowboys to snap their 13 year string of playoff ineptitude, Romo will have to make sacrifices he has yet to make. Perhaps the stardom has come too fast and too furious. Perhaps that fumble in Seattle was not the helping of Humble Pie he needed. Perhaps that embarrassing home loss to the Giants in the 2007 playoffs was insufficient to wake him from his slumber. Maybe this year’s 44-6 thrashing at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles will prove to be the right tonic. Or not. The questions surrounding his work ethic are not new – in fact, they’ve been widely condoned. That was then. This is now.
There is enough distraction to go around in Dallas. Maybe the only thing that gets this team to focus on its ability to run the ball, stop the run, and win the turnover battle is a less prolific passing game which operates without one of the best receivers in the history of the game.
That sounds like a scapegoat to me.
So long DeAngelo, So long Dallas!