After Sunday’s frustrating loss to the Panthers, the Dallas Cowboys are left looking for answers. For fans, a disappointment like that leaves them looking for someone to blame. Depending on who you ask, Head Coach Jason Garrett and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan are usually their two favorite targets.
With only 232 total yards and eight points from the offense last week, all attention is currently on play calling. This goes back to last year, when Dallas’ offense was accused of being predictable and was clearly inefficient, especially when Ezekiel Elliott was out of the lineup.
Even though Linehan runs the offense, Garrett’s history as the team’s prior OC stills pulls him into the discussion. If nothing else, he is the head coach and accountable for all aspects of the team’s performance.
It’s been quite a turnaround since the 2016 season. Garrett was Coach of the Year and Linehan was credited with helping rookie Dak Prescott have an exceptional season. This coaching staff looked ready to lead the Cowboys back to championship contention.
But then 2017 happened. Roger Goodell’s persecution of Ezekiel Elliott happened. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten getting older and less effective happened. Tyron Smith’s injury happened. Chaz Green happened. And either coincidentally or as a result of all these things, Prescott’s sophomore slump happened.
If one or both of Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan weren’t on the hot seat before Week 1, that ugly offensive performance raised the temperature a bit. But if Jerry Jones does wind up making a change, who will be the first to go?
Garrett has the benefit of a broader of range of responsibility, and thus more areas to point to for success. If you’re going to assign Jason blame for the struggles of Linehan’s offense, then you also have to credit him for Rod Marinelli’s defense.
Jason also has the support and admiration of the owner, who handpicked and groomed Garrett for this job and desperately wants him to succeed. Jerry loves the way that Garrett conducts himself as a leader and representative of the organization.
That isn’t to say that the Joneses will tolerate failure indefinitely. They certainly didn’t with Wade Phillips, who got fired midway through the 2010 season after the Cowboys’ woeful 1-7 start. Just a year before, Dallas had gone 11-5, won the NFC East, and won their first playoff game since 1996.
But in 2010, Jason Garrett was waiting in the wings as Offensive Coordinator to take Wade’s job. That guy may not be on the coaching staff right now.
It’s too soon to think that Kris Richard, current Defensive Backs Coach, is that guy. While his fiery demeanor has been a welcome addition to the staff, it takes more than a big personality to lead a team. Just ask the 49ers what they thought of Mike Singletary’s work.
Barring a total disaster, like the 2010 season, I can’t see Garrett getting axed in the middle of the year. Jerry didn’t do that even with Chan Gailey or Dave Campo. It only happened in 2010 because Garrett was already the handpicked successor.
That brings us back to Scott Linehan. Right now, he’s got the hotter seat; a far easier scapegoat and target for a mid-season shakeup.
For one, Dallas can hand the play-calling duties to Jason Garrett if Linehan were fired. It wouldn’t be the first time that Jason has handled that role which also serving as head coach.
They also have Tight Ends Coach Doug Nussmeier, who was the offensive coordinator for top college programs such as Alabama, Michigan, and Florida since 2012. He could assist Garrett with the OC duties in some capacity.
Linehan’s firing wouldn’t be unwarranted. He’s shown an inability to find creative ways to deal with adversity, be it a missing running back or starting center. The team seems to crumble unless every single piece is in place.
It’s been clear the last few seasons that the Cowboys are trying to move to an organizational model that mirrors what the New England Patriots do. One of the key traits of the Patriots’ success has been their ability to adapt to whatever happens on the roster and keep winning.
You could argue that not having Tom Brady is why Dallas can’t do the same, and it’s fair to criticize Dak Prescott for his role in the current offensive issues. Even Jerry Jones said following Sunday’s game that receivers were open but the ball wasn’t coming their way; a clear criticism of his quarterback.
But that problem is now becoming two years old, and Dallas isn’t going to turn to Cooper Rush or Mike White to fix it. If Jerry feels the need to make a change on offense, Scott Linehan is clearly the guy who will bear the brunt of that desperation.
It’s just one week and one loss, so we may all be singing a very different tune by next month. Dallas could still go 3-1 in September and nip this discussion in the bud.
But if they don’t, Scott Linehan may soon be joining his good buddy Dez Bryant in unemployment.