The playoffs start this Saturday--one familiar truth resounds and it has the making of a “Groundhog’s Day” movie. For the third consecutive year the Dallas Cowboys finished 8-8 and lost their week 17 “win and you’re in” game.
Again, the Cowboys were battling unforeseen factors that seem to always haunt this team. It seemed like players were dropping like flies from the onset and the team struggled to recover, starting 19 defensive lineman who weren’t even thought to be good enough to be on active rosters.
That being said, it’s understandable that frustration is mounting amongst Cowboys Nation. Cowboys fans are used to a history of winning and the general thought is that this current crop of front office guys and coaches is marring the image of a once legendary franchise.
With the offseason upon us, it’s important to ask the question, “what changes are going to be made to put us in a position to contend?”
For this installment we’ll look at the coaches and what their future holds:
The Current Figureheads:
Jason Garrett: Coach Garrett isn’t going anywhere. Jerry Jones continues to echo his commitment to Garrett at least through his contract, which expires after 2014. Garrett is a smart guy who believes in a process but has been haunted by poor game management and a merry-go-round of supporting staff that has threatened any benefit of continuity he brings. With one more year to prove he’s the guy in Dallas, I expect Garrett to take some control and save face.
Monte Kiffin: Kiffin is over 70 years old and ran a defense, albeit decimated with injuries, that was historically bad—surrendering over 400 yards a game. There is a thought that Kiffin’s Tampa 2 scheme can’t win in this league but I tend believe that this scheme didn’t fit with this group of personnel. The biggest problem was trying to force fit players into a scheme instead of the opposite.
Bill Callahan: Callahan is a tremendous offensive line coach who can directly be credited the development of Pro-Bowl Left Tackle Tyron Smith. However, since his promotion to offensive coordinator, Callahan has been under fire. This offense is one of the most talented in the league and at times looked like they were comparable to that of Jacksonville. There’s no doubting the benefit of Callahan on this staff but his ineptitude calling an offensive ball game is a real issue.
What Lies Ahead?
Earlier this week I reached out to Dallas Cowboys writer Jeff Sullivan to discuss what we can expect coaching wise. Jeff replied via Direct Message on Twitter saying, “Kiffin is gone, that’s all that is certain right now. Some position guys will be let go. If not Marinelli, could start over on (defense).” Consequently, I asked if Kiffin goes if Marinelli (often known as a loyalty guy) would follow other guys he gets along with, namely Lovie Smith. Jeff had this to say, “(Marinelli) would leave if Lovie lands a head job.” So that leaves us with a very real possibility that defensively we’ll clean house.
What about the offense?
The team has been hush on what moves are pending but I would imagine that Bill Callahan is facing the same fate as that of Kiffin. This team needs a serious change but more importantly, Garrett needs an opportunity to bring in a staff he trusts to execute the “process” he’s trying work out.
The Cowboys will miss Callahan’s ability to develop offensive linemen but they will be happy to have a fresh face at the position that Garrett feels confident in letting run a gameplan.
Norv Turner: Turner and Garrett have history together and Turner also has history with this franchise. Too me, this is an appealing location for Turner, not just because of Garrett but because he knows there will be a possibility of becoming a head coaching candidate again if he has success here.
Gary Kubiak: Why not? Kubiak is a brilliant coach who really should be considered for Head Coaching vacancies around the league. However, there is a hot new trend of either getting successful older coaches (Gruden, Lovie) or big name college coaches (Bill O’Brien, Charlie Strong). If Kubiak is still looking for a job, why not contact him.
In-House: Why not someone like Wes Phillips? Or Derek Dooley? There is benefit to guys who already know the players and won’t want to implement an entirely different scheme. Dooley has bred some very good players and has experience competing tough SEC defenses. Some options there.
Leslie Frazier: Frazier was recently fired from Minnesota but is essentially a Garrett clone. He runs a similar style of defense to the Tampa 2 and has been successful in doing so. Frazier is a straight-faced, tough coach who players have loved everywhere he’s went.
Jim Schwartz: Not a likely candidate here but an option. Schwartz is fiery but I also think he’s a grade-A jerk. If this happens, God help us all.
Todd Grantham: Grantham has history with the Cowboys as a defensive line coach and has been making his bucks coaching strong defenses and NFL-caliber talent at the University of Georgia. Grantham can run any scheme but seems to prefer a 4-3. From that base he does everything from the 4-3 flex to the bear. He’s a strong defensive mind that has a good future.
Jason Garrett, as I’ve said before, is going to do everything that he can make sure he puts the best coaching staff together to ensure he achieves his goal and ultimately a contract extension. It's early but here is who I think he brings in:
Offensive Coordinator: Derek Dooley
Defensive Coordinator: Leslie Frazier
Defensive Line Coach: Todd Grantham (though you’d have to give him great incentive to leave the Georgia Program… $$$)
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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