In the aftermath of this Cinderella season’s premature end,Â my disappointment and frustration at the way the season ended has been balanced by the thoughts of a great foundation season. With all that being said, here are myÂ ten observations from the ball (game) and, more importantly,Â theÂ offseason.
1)Â Where do we start? With the man whose vision has gotten this team on the doorstep of being a legitimate contender, Jason Garrett? JGÂ further cemented himself as a gracious and admirable leader of men in his post game comments. He wanted to make sure he didn’t make excuses (and that was a damnÂ “FootballÂ Move”). He made sure no oneÂ thought he blamedÂ that the refs for giving the game away. Garrett was eloquent and answered legitimate questions about the mistakes made from his sideline. Garrett has earned his soon-to-come contract extension along with as many of the assistants that aren’t too pissed off from swinging in the wind this season to take a wagon barrel full of Jerry’s money.
2) Speaking of the assistants, twitter is already full of rumors that Rod Marinelli will be taking his talents to Tampa Bay.Â If anyone played the part of the fairy godfather with the magic wand in this Cinderella season it was Marinelli. He took a group that was universally belittled and turned that pumpkin into a carriage.Â You can find the rankings in any number of places on the internet but his true value was that he made the men on that defense believe that together they could be more than anyone else thought they could. Looks like he may turn down Jerry Jones’ millions and reunite with his buddy Lovie Smith. Linebacker coach Matt EberflusÂ looks to be ready but Marinelli will leave very big shoes to fill.
3) Another assistant that may not be long for Valley Ranch is Bill Callahan. He is universally respected as an outstanding Offensive Line coach and deservedly receives a great deal of credit for the quick progression of the Cowboys’ young OL acquisitions. He was rightfully unhappy during this past off-season when he was stripped of authority AND held captive in Dallas against his wishes. Hopefully his assistant with the OL, Frank Pollack, has learned enough from him to stay on and be an adequate replacement.
4) I have been very criticalÂ of Tony RomoÂ over the past few weeks for holding on to the ball and taking sacks. While I understand his past propensityÂ for what Parcells called “indiscriminate throws” that can lead to interceptions and intentional grounding calls, these two extremes are not the only choices. There have been several times where Romo held the ball to the detriment of the team. It usually occurred when there were fewer rushers and the defense flooded the passing zones with defenders. After a QB has taken as many damaging hits as Romo has, you begin to worry that they are looking at the rush. That is not the case with the Cowboys signal caller. He hasn’t lost his courage. On the contrary, his faith in his OL has made him overconfident in the time he has to throw from play to play. He needs to remember that, while sacks are better than interceptions, throwing away the ball on dead play is better than both. Hopefully this offseason will provide #9 with the opportunity to build up the strength in his legs that required Wednesdays off this season to maintain and to gain the balance of thought to better manage those 4-5 plays per game. The team also needs an upgrade at the backup quarterback position
5) The number of contributor that are free agents this offseason is a bit staggering. The first very difficult task in a salary cap era is to acquire sufficient talent to be competitive. The equally important, and more difficult, task is to figure out how to keep that talent when you picked well. Everyone eventually wants to get paid, and the salary cap means they won’t all get paid in Dallas. Deciding correctly whom to pay will determine whether this season is more like 1991 (the beginning) or 1998 (the last hurrah).Â Stephen JonesÂ will need to work his magic with the current roster while he is looking for ways to bring in new talent.
6) Stephen Jones will definitely have his work cut out for him. While bringing Dez Bryant back is the most important player issue, it is not in doubt as that Dez will Throw up the X with a Star on the side of his helmet in 2015. The team will simply use the franchise tag on #88 if a deal cannot be reached. What is in doubt, however, is the Cowboys future for the league’s leading rusher. DeMarco Murray will be worth more on the open market than the Cowboys SHOULD pay for any running back. Murray is an elite RB talent that will boost the running game of any number of teams (even if he will drive them crazy with fumbles at inopportune times). The Cowboys have the makings of an elite OL that will boost the running production of any number ofÂ Running Backs. This means, that while Murray is worth getting paid top dollar, the Cowboys don’t need to do it. Add that to the need to re-sign one or bothÂ of the right tackles (Free &/or Parnell), the outstanding slot receiver (Beasley) and the gift that dropped into their lap at MLB (Rolando McClain) and the Cowboys must balanceÂ not undervaluing Murray’s contributions with not over-valuing the running back position. As a general rule, you also have to be wary of Cinderella season production in a contract year.
7) One thing is for sure over theÂ past 3 years. The player acquisition has been stellar for the Cowboys. It is no coincidence that the improvement in this area has mirrored the rise of Will McClay as a strong voice in the team’s front office. Once the Cowboys get their coaching staff stabilized, the team will begin to focus on building the 2015 Dallas Cowboys roster. The challenge will be to maximize the talent left on offense (probably without Murray), while bolstering the defense. I am a big proponent of spending the bulk ofÂ a team’s defensive resources on the defensive line. In particular, today’s game showed a need for a far better pass rush even in a game where the DB’s played pretty well. Fewer 5 second pockets will make a good corner like Orlando Scandrick evenÂ betterÂ and should reduce the coverage issues for the safeties &Â linebackers. In short, the Cowboys need to improve their DLÂ via Free Agency AND the draft.
8) The fumble by DeMarco Murray; the Spread formation on 3rd & 1 in the 1st half; DanÂ Bailey’s blocked kick: these were all just asÂ big of reasons for the Cowboys’ Cinderella season ending sooner that expected as the poor referee decision toÂ overturn Dez’s catchÂ in the 4th quarter.Â I was proud to see the team mostly avoid that call as an excuse for the loss. Just another indication that Garrett’s message is getting through to his team.Â As for the call itself, even in the referee’s explanation, he admits it was his “judgment” that Dez had not made a “football move”. This is counter to everything the NFL says about its replay system. Anything that is up for judgment should revert to the call on the field. having a mixed officiating crew means the referee is less likely to trust the view of his Side Judge, etc. when there is a controversial call.
9) Dan Bailey was uncharacteristicallyÂ shaky over the two playoff games. I think this was apparent when he pushed the FG attempt right on his 1st attempt that was negated by penalty. This worries me greatly. We’ve seen kickers be brilliant & then get the yips. Billy Cundiff and Nick Folk come to mind in this century. Hopefully, we’ll see a return of Dan “Split ‘Em” Bailey (our friend KD’s brainchild) when the games count this fall and he will continue to be strong and accurate. If not, the security blanket provided by confidence in your kicker will be gone for Jason Garrett.
10) If you are aÂ Cowboys fan, be very proud of what your team has accomplished thisÂ year. Progress and Process blended to provide us with aÂ legitimate Super Bowl contender and they have set up the team to stay at that level for the next 2-3 years at least. More important than that, yourÂ Cowboys fought to the very end.