How do the Cowboys improve in 2014?
I’m sure the question of how to improve this Cowboys team in 2014 has left Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett with many sleepless nights. I am also sure the answer is as simple as sound fundamentals and a pure football philosophy.
Football is very complex and sophisticated in some ways. The playbooks, the terminology, the speed at which the game is played, and the speed at which a mind and body has to operate at the NFL level…. It seems downright baffling that so much information can be processed and executed both mentally and physically in split seconds.
In other ways football is a very simple game dominated by a few basic laws and principles. Low man wins. Run the ball, stop the run. Build inside/ out. If you win in the trenches, you most likely win the game. Don’t turn the football over. These are all things players and coaches have heard thousands of times since their days in pee wee football, and for good reason. The basics of football will never change.
There is no need to get cute and out think yourself if you are Jason Garrett or any coach on the staff. No need to try and reinvent the wheel. The great teams, the teams that hoist the Lombardi at the end of the season, are the teams that do not deviate from a simple tried and tested formula proven time and time again throughout the history of football.
In a nutshell, the Cowboys need to run the football at a significantly higher rate than what they have the past few seasons. I know the biggest thing on every Cowboys’ fans radar is improving that dreadful defense. And rightfully so. But that defense at best is a work in progress. Demarcus Ware, gone. Jason Hatcher, gone. Sean Lee , gone ( for the season). Anthony Spencer…..your guess is as good as mine. Enter Demarcus Lawrence, Henry Melton, Devonte Hollowman, Â Tryone Crawford, Kyle Wilbur, and Anthony Hitchens. Guys we really don’t have a clue of what to expect. Maybe they fill in the shoes of the players this defense was built around the last 6, 7, 8 years. Maybe they don’t. The front office tried to get bodies and talent in here. The rest will be settled on the field
But my point is, weather this is a top 10 defense, or a bottom tier defense, you still have to play football. And play it the way it was intended to be played. Tough, physical, and hard-nosed. That will improve this team as much as anything.
I watch ESPN. I watch the NFL network. I listen to talk radio. The big myth is this is a passing league. You have to air it out to win these days. That’s what this league has become. I firmly disagree.
The perfect example is the 2013 Denver Broncos. They aired the ball out like no other team this league has ever seen. They broke all kinds of records. Points, yards, passing yards, touchdown passes. They were the media’s wet dream. What did all those glamorous records get them? A whopping 8 points in the super bowl. There is your passing league. Getting an epic thrashing for the ages by a team that showed up and played football the way it was intended to be played. Tough, physical, and hard-nosed. There is no substitute for this. No way around this. And no deviating from this. Building a team to be a glamorous passing team is building to finish 2nd.
I took a look back to the turn of the millennium to see just how much the the eventual champion relied on the run. In this ” passing” era, four of the last 14 champions actually ran the ball more than they passed it. Last years Seahawks ran the ball 55% of the time. The 2005 Steelers ran the ball a whopping 59% of the time. The 2004 patriots with the legendary Tom Brady relied on Cory Dillon and their running game 52% of the time, and the 2000 Ravens ran the ball just over 50% of the time.
Then you have another set of teams that achieved nearly perfect balance. The 2008 Steelers ran the ball 48% of the time, the 2003 Pats ran the ball 47% of the time, and the 2001 Pats ran the ball 49.5% of the time. So all together that is 7 of the last 14 champions that strongly relied on their running game. Especially by today’s standards. And one thing that really stands out to me is the Patriots dynasty. This being the last dynasty the league has seen. All together in their 3 super bowl winning seasons they ran the ball 1470 times and passed the ball 1504 times. That Is unbelievable balance.
Then you have the 2007 giants who ran the ball 46% of the time and beat the 18-0 patriots. What was it the Pats did that year differently than when they won rings? They decided to air it out and break offensive records. Coincidence?
Even the Sean Payton/ Drew Brees 2009 Saints ran the ball 46% of the time. That is 9 of the last 14 champions who ran the ball no less than 46% of the time.
The other 5 champions since 2000 being the 2012 ravens ( 44%), the 2011 giants ( 41%) the 2010 packers ( 44%), the 2006 colts (44%), and the 2002 buccaneers ( 42%). 12 of the last 14 champs ran the ball no less than 44% of the time.
Since Jason Garrett arrived in 2007 the Cowboys have gone downhill as far as utilizing the running game. He started off half decent in 2007 running the ball at 44%. In 2008 it dipped a little to 42%. Garrett got it back to 44% in 2009. Then the downward trend begins. 43% in 2010, 42 % in 2011, a pathetic 35% in 2012, and a dismal 36% in 2013.
I notice the two years they ran the ball the most were 2007 and 2009. Those just happen to be the 2 years they went to the playoffs. In 2007 they went 13-3 and earned a 1st round bye. In 2009 they went 11-5, won the division, and won the franchises only playoff game since January of 97.
Tony Romo is still a capable NFL QB at 34 years old. But he can not try and carry this team anymore. The injuries are starting to become somewhat of a concern, and frankly he cannot do it by himself. Give him some help carrying that load. Some real help.
This defense as I stated earlier is at best a work in progress. They are young, and unproven. You don’t air the ball out and expect to win a title. Let alone coming off a season where your defense finished dead last and and lost several of its key contributors. You keep them on the sideline as much as possible. You do this by running the ball and controlling the clock.
This might be the most talented offensive line the Cowboys have had since 1995. Three 1st round picks are expected to anchor this line for years to come. Turn these guys loose and let them dominate their opponents. Offensive lineman don’t dominate by moving backwards. They dominate by moving forwards, run blocking.
Running the ball is a mindset. A culture. Don’t give me that b.s. that….oh the defense dictated a pass on that play. That’s how you end up passing the ball 65% of the time. You cram the ball down the defenses throat. You do this because that’s what you practice starting in July. Play this game the way it was intended to be played and this team will improve. And for the sake of our blood pressure it better start when training camp opens