Only once in the history of the Dallas Cowboys has a head coach been fired in the middle of a season. It happened in 2010 following a humiliating 45-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Wade Phillips was shown the door and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett took over.
Six years later, Garrett is poised to earn his first NFL Coach of the Year award. The Cowboys reached 13-3, tying their best record in franchise history. The top seed in the NFC for these 2016 Playoffs, Dallas is preparing for their first game as they'll be hosting the Packers this Sunday.
With Green Bay back on the schedule and Garrett's stock never higher, it's an interesting time to reflect on how things have circulated since that fateful week in 2010.
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Jason Garrett was always known to be a favorite of owner Jerry Jones. In 2006, Bill Parcells was using a hybrid duo of Tony Sparano and Todd Haley as his running and passing game coordinators, respectively. When Parcells retired in 2007, Jerry brought in Garrett to run the offense. Sparano even stayed on staff as the offensive line coach but all coordinating duties now belonged to Jason.
After Dallas had the league's 2nd-best offense in 2007 there were plenty of teams interested in making Garrett their head coach. He reportedly turned down offers from the Ravens and Falcons that offseason. Jerry gave Garrett a raise that, at that time, made him the highest-paid assistance coach in the league.
Jason had other interviews the next two years but you always had a sense that both he and Jerry were waiting for the master plan to unfold in Dallas. That may have been why Jerry hired an older guy like Wade Phillips, someone who could only keep the seat warm for so long.
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The early part of the 2010 season is arguably the lowest point in recent Cowboys history. Even with Tony Romo starting, Dallas had a 1-4 record to begin the year. Then, against the New York Giants, Romo suffered his first collarbone injury and was lost for the season.
Veteran Jon Kitna took over and fared no better, losing that week to the Giants and again the following game. At 1-6 and seemingly lost as a team, the Cowboys traveled to Green Bay to take on a Packers squad that would eventually go on to become Super Bowl Champions that same season.
Going into that game, Jerry Jones had said that he wasn't a fan of firing a coach mid-season. However, the brutal 45-7 thrashing that the Cowboys endured pushed Jerry to take action. There was nothing left to lose with Wade Phillips, so Jones ended his tenure and named Jason Garrett the interim head coach.
Dallas won the very next week, on the road against the Giants. They would finish the year 5-3 despite Kitna remaining the starter. There seemed to be a new enthusiasm and effort throughout the team under Garrett's leadership, and this generated optimism about what the future would bring once Tony Romo returned.
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The only time Cowboys fans want to see "8-8" is when you're deciding between blue and white Troy Aikman jerseys. Otherwise, it conjures some disappointing memories.
From 2011-2013, Dallas finished each season with an 8-8 record. They narrowly missed the playoffs each year, either losing a Week 17 game or squandering a good record with a December collapse. Tony Romo's injuries also played a part as he missed late-season games in 2011 and 2013.
Coaches have been fired for less than what Jason Garrett produced during those three years. However, Jerry Jones likely saw what many of us did. Despite the roster undergoing a massive overhaul and Romo's occasional absences, Garrett kept them competitive. They were always just on the cusp of the postseason.
If Garrett could finally build his foundation and coach his roster, what would the results be?
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Jerry Jones' faith began to be rewarded in 2014.
The Cowboys jumped to 12-4, winning the NFC East for the first time since 2009 and only the third time in 16 seasons. Behind the dominant offensive line that began construction with Tyron Smith in 2011, Garrett's first pick as a head coach, DeMarco Murray set a team record in rushing yards.
Dallas won their first playoff game against the Detroit Lions and then traveled to Green Bay, their first visit to Lambeau Field since that fateful 2010 game. The Cowboys' postseason ended in controversy with a Dez Bryant catch that was ruled incomplete. Even with that disappointment, everyone was excited about what the future held and the foundation that Garrett had laid.
Those good feelings would be short-lived, though, because of another Tony Romo injury. The 2015 season would mark another low point in Cowboys history as Romo missed 12 games and parts of others. The team fell to 4-12, its worst record since 1989. To put that in context, '89 was Troy Aikman's rookie season, Jerry Jones' first year as owner, and Jimmy Johnson's first as a head coach.
Despite this fall from grace, many did not blame Jason Garrett. They remembered what he did the previous year and focused more on the lack of depth at quarterback, or the issues with the defense. However, had Garrett not earned the cache of success from 2014, it's reasonable to assume that last year might have been his undoing.
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While you could've made a case in 2014, this season truly feels like we've come full circle from the start of Jason Garrett's tenure. 2014 could have been an aberration, but now he's won two division titles in three years and with two different starting quarterbacks. There is now a system in place in Dallas, Garrett's system, and it's getting results.
One of the most common mistakes in professional sports is when management doesn't give a coach time to fully implement his vision for a team. How often do we see coaches gone after just one or two seasons, still in the midst of trying to optimize the roster for their system?
This is a case when Jerry Jones' loyalty, which has gotten him in trouble in the past, yielded wonderful results.
Jerry handpicked his coach, groomed him from 2007-2010 and then stood behind him through some rough spots. The reward will likely be Garrett becoming the first Cowboy to win Coach of the Year since Jimmy Johnson in 1990.
In a way, it's like Jerry Jones has also come full circle as an owner. He finally seems to get what works and what doesn't, and Jason Garrett was one of the guys who helped teach him.
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Jason Garrett's career seems to keep intersecting with the Packers. You can go all the way back to his greatest day as a player, the 1994 Thanksgiving victory that he led over Green Bay as the Cowboys' third-string quarterback. That performance showed you that Garrett lived what he preaches now to his players, focusing on the moment and being your best at any given opportunity.
Garrett's coaching tenure began thanks to a crushing loss to the Packers. His peak thus far is the 2014 loss in Green Bay, a game Dallas arguably could've won but for a single bad call. Now the Packers are back in his crosshairs as he tries to lead the Cowboys back to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 1995.
It's not often that coaches get more than one window to try to win a championship. Garrett has navigated the closing of Tony Romo's and led the team into the Dak Prescott Era. He has instilled a culture into the organization that has players giving their best and seemingly fighting for one another and the franchise they represent.
This Sunday, Jason has a chance to separate himself from Wade Phillips, Bill Parcells, and every other Cowboys coach not named Landry, Johnson, or Switzer. A win would be a new milestone in his career.
As always seems to be the case, though, Garrett and the Cowboys will have to go through the Packers first.
Sean’s Scout: WR Deonte Thompson A Vertical Threat for Dallas Cowboys
Finally addressing their underwhelming cast of wide receivers, the Dallas Cowboys signed journeyman Deonte Thompson yesterday. The seventh-year pro spent 2017 with both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills, hauling in 38 passes for 555 yards and two touchdowns.
Thompson was undrafted in 2012 out of Florida, making both the Cowboys' free agent signings to date former UDFAs. The Cowboys added LB Joe Thomas earlier in the week, who you can learn more about in Sean's Scout as well.
In desperate need of speed and play making ability on the outside, here is a look at what WR Deonte Thompson can bring to the Dallas Cowboys.
WR Deonte Thompson: Strengths
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Deonte Thompson plays with a great understanding of his own frame, using his length to give defensive backs problems up the field. Not a true "burner", Thompson takes some time to accelerate down the field, but can separate vertically.
Thompson runs smooth routes, using his long strides to get on DBs in a hurry. Once in position to free himself at the stem of a route, Thompson showed the ability to consistently turn his hips and complete a number of underneath and deep routes at a high level.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Deonte Thompson may not win on many throws "above the rim", but he is above average at the catch point securing passes with his strong hands.
Snagging the ball outside of his frame is not much of an issue for Thompson, who makes the most of his run-after-the-catch opportunities by effortlessly receiving the ball in stride.
At this stage of his career, Thompson may not be an every down player, but this is a player the Cowboys can absolutely find a way to get involved in their sputtering passing offense next season - at the very least replacing the role of FA WR Brice Butler.
WR Deonte Thompson: Weaknesses
Deonte Thompson should not be expected to go over the top on many defenses for the Cowboys in 2018. While the traits are there to flash as that sort of player, Thompson simply is not at his best trying to track down deep vertical passes.
When Thompson does not create separation on his initial burst up the field, there was a tendency for him to get shoved around at the catch point. Still coming up with his fair share of passes, the degree of difficulty on these catches was often increased by his inability to truly play through contact.
This is not a player with a powerful lower body, relying on upper body flex and foot speed to free himself and create plays in space. Overall balance is a strength for Thompson, but he rarely is able to break tackles or move defenders as a blocker in the running game.
WR Deonte Thompson: Summary
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The Cowboys should know what they are getting in Deonte Thompson, who has not had the benefit of great quarterback play in recent seasons. The hope in Dallas is that a number of receivers on the bottom of the depth chart can stand out this summer to make the team out of a crowded room.
This group of Ryan Switzer, Lance Lenoir, Noah Brown, and KD Cannon will now include Deonte Thompson - who should have the edge over most of these names.
Thompson won't be the difference in the Cowboys' offense having a bounce back season in 2018, but his raw athleticism and effortless ability to serve as a deep threat could surely make an impact in Dak Prescott's progression.
Using Win Probabilities To Evaluate Decision Making: Cowboys Kick Vs. Raiders
The Philadelphia Eagles have surpassed the Dallas Cowboys in more ways than one, but on Super Bowl Sunday, their willingness to "be aggressive" and "take chances" shined through the most. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was congratulated by the masses for not coaching scared, and instead going for it on key fourth downs and even attempting trick plays.
When you really evaluate those decisions, however, they shouldn't even be thought of as "risky." If anything, they were simply the obvious call.
Over the last few months I have been working with win probability models, looking to validate and refine those available to the public. I can't share too much about the work as of yet (there will hopefully be a published article in the future), but the work is certainly promising.
What I can say is this. Dennis Lock and Dan Nettleton worked to utilize random forests to estimate win probabilities before each play in an NFL game. These "forests" are similar to decision tree machine learning, cycling through random trees of past data to predict future outcomes.
Brian Burke has been utilizing his model for a while now, and Pro Football Reference has a simple, yet effective model as well. For my project, I have been working to find the "best" ways to estimate those win probabilities in order to inform decision making by head coaches and coordinators.
If you aren't utilizing analytics correctly in today's NFL, you're falling behind. And if you aren't willing to take calculated risks based off of what these numbers say and mean, you are really falling behind.
How does this all relate to the Cowboys?
Well, Cowboys Nation has been pretty consistent in their main criticism of head coach Jason Garrett: he's too conservative. They say he coaches scared, and they believe he punts the ball away too often between the 40's. Numbers accumulated by writers such as Bob Sturm and Marcus Mosher back up these claims, but I wanted to examine Garrett's decision making through the win probability lens.
I took to Twitter to ask the fan base for specific scenarios in which they felt Garrett was too conservative. Then, I ran these situations through the win probability model to determine how these decisions affected the outcomes.
Over a series of posts I will detail what the model says about the Cowboys' decision making in these key moments. First, we go back to December of last season where the Cowboys had their season on the line in Oakland.
Cowboys at Raiders, 2017
One instance which was consistently brought up was ironically from a Cowboys win. Yes, a win!
The Raiders had played the Cowboys close all game long, and with their season on the line Dallas was in position to put those pesky Raiders away. Tied at 17 they entered a fourth and goal situation at the Raiders' 1 yard line. The Cowboys decided to kick the field goal and grab a 20-17 lead. While Dallas did hang on to win, this was only because of a miraculous play by Jeff Heath which resulted in a fumble and a touchback.
Many of the fans who tweeted at me seem to think the Cowboys should have went for the touchdown on fourth down, rather than take their three points. But what does the model say?
Prior to the fourth down play, the Cowboys had about an 85% chance to win the game. After kicking the field goal and kicking the ball away to Oakland, that probability went down to just above 80%. Had the Cowboys gone for it and been stuffed at the Raiders' 1 yard line, that probability would have dropped all the way to just over 57%.
But the model does believe that Garrett made the right decision. Of course, had Dallas scored a touchdown, the game would've virtually been over, but the variance in probabilities suggests that kicking the field goal and taking the sure points was a good move.
Next week, I explain where Jason Garrett and company may have gone wrong during a key 4th down decision against the Los Angeles Rams. If you have any suggestions for plays/situations you'd like evaluated, please comment below!
Cowboys en Español: Nuevas Contrataciones, ¿Podría Ser Allen Hurns la Siguiente?
La agencia libre de los Dallas Cowboys comenzó un poco tarde, siendo el último equipo en toda la liga de la NFL en realizar una contratación este offseason. Ahora, con algunas caras nuevas en el equipo, comienzan las preguntas inevitables. ¿Qué jugadores tendrán un impacto y qué jugadores serán una contratación irrelevante?
Sólo el tiempo lo dirá. Las piezas que añadieron los Cowboys no son agentes libres de gran renombre pero podrían llegar a tener algún impacto en el 2018. Sin embargo, no todas las adquisiciones de Dallas han sido por medio de la agencia libre.
Hace unos días, los Raiders y los Cowboys acordaron un trade por el fullback Jamize Olawale. Días después de perder a Keith Smith (quien fue contratado por... los Raiders), Dallas no quiso echarse todavía otra necesidad encima, así que solucionó rápidamente su hueco en la posición que le abrirá camino a Ezekiel Elliott.
Además de enviar a Olawale a los Cowboys, los Raiders consiguieron una selección de quinta ronda de parte de Dallas y ellos entregaron su sexta ronda. En otras palabras, los Cowboys sólo renunciaron 19 turnos en las rondas tardías del Draft por un fullback que será de ayuda constante para esta ofensiva.
A pesar de ser tres años más grande que Keith Smith, Olawale le brinda a los Cowboys potencial para participar en el juego aéreo así como en el terrestre.
Por la agencia libre, los Cowboys obtuvieron ayuda ofensiva y defensiva.
Joe Thomas, (no, no el que todos conocemos como uno de los mejores tackles de la historia) el linebacker que viene de los Green Bay Packers, usará la estrella este 2018. Mi compañero y escritor de Staff Sean Martin escribió una excelente pieza analizando a detalle al nuevo defensivo.
Thomas definitivamente no será un titular, pero sin duda ayudará a un grupo de equipos especiales que necesitan bastante apoyo esta temporada. Además, es un linebacker rápido y atlético que podrá brillar como un jugador de rotación en una defensiva que incluye a Sean Lee y a Jaylon Smith.
Esta contratación no hace que los Cowboys dejen de tener una gran necesidad por un LB, pero da una profundidad que urgía a la posición.
El último movimiento y quizá el más discutido por los aficionados de los Cowboys es la adquisición de Deonte Thompson. Un receptor abierto que ha batallado para conseguir una casa en la NFL llega a un equipo que cuenta con nombres como Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams y Cole Beasley, pero que aún necesita mucho más producción.
¿Acaso la adición de Thompson al roster hace que WR deje de ser una necesidad para el equipo de los Cowboys? Claro que no, pero añade un talento que quizá pueda ayudar al equipo en ciertos aspectos.
Thompson es un jugador muy rápido, lo cual es algo que esta ofensiva necesita para abrir el campo un poco más. Un corredor de rutas bastante sólido con manos seguras. Thompson viene probablemente a ser una versión mejorada de Brice Butler por $2.5M.
Quizá fue un error de parte de la administración garantizarle un millón de su contrato. ¿Por qué garantizarle dinero a un jugador que ni siquiera debería tener un lugar asegurado en el equipo? Sin embargo, Thompson parece ser un contribuidor a la ofensiva.
Pero no fue el WR en la agencia libre del que se ha hablado esta semana en el mundo de los Dallas Cowboys. De hecho, aún después de firmar su contrato, no es el más discutido entre los aficionados.
Allen Hurns, receptor que fue cortado de Jacksonville, es un jugador que podría llegar a hacer un impacto inmediato en la ofensiva de Dak Prescott y proveerle al QB un potencial mejor amigo. A pesar de que muchos esperarían que conseguir a Hurns significaría decirle adiós a Dez Bryant, la verdad es que no sería necesario.
Hurns podría tomar el rol que Terrance Williams posee ahora como receptor "Z" y llevar a esta ofensiva a otro nivel. Todd Archer de ESPN reportó que la reciente adquisición de Deonte Thompson no significa que la posibilidad de ver a Hurns usando la estrella ha acabado.
Todos queremos ver acción en la agencia libre, aunque a veces lo sensato sea ser conservadores. Así como muchos aficionados de los Cowboys se quejan de la falta de movimientos, muchos aficionados de los Steelers y los Patriots agradecen que sus equipos tengan esta filosofía de no gastar mucho en agencia libre.
La diferencia son los resultados en el campo.
Sin embargo, Allen Hurns definitivamente parece como una opción muy viable para los Cowboys, y una adición que simplemente tendría mucho sentido. Sólo queda esperar si lograrán firmarlo o si un equipo (como los Jets, quienes han mostrado mucho interés y tienen bastante espacio en el tope salarial) logra convencerlo de no regresar a Dallas.
Por ahora, esperamos. Quizá hasta que los Cowboys firmen a alguien más. O quizá hasta la llegada del NFL Draft.
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