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Requiem for the 2015 Dallas Cowboys

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Blog - Requiem for the 2015 Dallas Cowboys

Now two games behind Philadelphia and Washington, and perhaps the Giants as well after tonight, I am confidently sticking a fork in the 2015 Cowboys. Their ugly loss in Green Bay yesterday cost a lot of ground in the comical NFC East division race. What's more, the poor performance left no reason to think that they can suddenly pull off any kind of miracle.

I will soon turn my attention to offseason business: coaching changes, roster moves, and the beloved draft. But alas, painful as it will be, we have to have some final words about this season. I know Dallas is not officially eliminated, but I can't abide this fantasy any longer. This just isn't our year. It hasn't been since the third quarter of the Week 2 game in Philadelphia, when Tony Romo got smashed into the turf and took our 2015 hopes with him to the injured list.

The Romo injury casts a fog over everything that happened this year and even in the previous offseason. How accurately can you grade the offense without its most important piece? How much was the defense hampered by the lack of offensive production and ball control? Even arguments about what Dallas could or should have done last spring are problematic because of the hindsight element. I'll do the best I can, trying to push my frustration and sorrow away as I go.

My biggest takeaway from this season is that the Cowboys, particularly the front office and coaching staff, paid the price for hubris. There are a few key areas where this was evident:

Backup Quarterback

Tony Romo went down on September 20th and the Cowboys traded for Matt Cassel on September 22nd. Brandon Weeden had been here for two training camps and played a little in 2014. That they made the Cassel trade so immediately speaks to how little faith they had in Weeden, and makes you wonder why Weeden was here to begin with.

Did Dallas reach out to Shaun Hill last March, as some were reporting? That has never been confirmed. Maybe it's unfair to assume Dallas just blindly believed in Weeden and didn't try to upgrade the position. We obviously don't know every phone call that's made between teams and agents.

What's more, you can even make a case for why they felt sticking with Weeden for a second year was the best option at the time. Continuity and system familiarity are valuable things for all players, and none more than quarterbacks. But what changed between March and September? Why didn't you find a fallback option during the offseason if you had so little confidence?

Maybe it comes down to Dustin Vaughan and their missed projection of his development. I could see the scenario where they hoped Vaughan would improve enough in his second year to push Weeden out the door. That didn't happen, so now they were stuck with Brandy to start the year. They wouldn't be the first or last team to base their strategy around an expectation that never materializes.

Backup quarterback is the ultimate hindsight position. Nobody criticizes your strategy if Romo never misses time. Once you have to break the glass, though, your handling of the position is put in the crosshairs. The bottom line here is that Dallas clearly didn't love Weeden and, seemingly, didn't do enough to try and improve the depth behind Romo.

Running Backs

As I said last March, I have no issue with Dallas' decision to let DeMarco Murray walk. He wanted more than any team should pay for a guy at his age with a spotty history of both health and performance. Murray wanted to cash in on one epic season and, for once, Dallas was smart enough not be the ones writing the check. Even if he'd had a strong year for the Eagles that wouldn't change my praise of how Dallas handled Murray.

The issue isn't in letting Murray leave but rather how Dallas chose to replace him. Joseph Randle was a certified knucklehead already and Darren McFadden's stock had dropped harder than McDonald's. The run game was such a key to success in 2014 that you'd think they would've treated it with more care. It appears that the front office was far too cocky about the strength of the offensive line and the idea that anyone with two legs could produce behind it.

To their credit, they seemed to bet right on McFadden. He's been more than productive enough given the lack of a passing game, even handling heavy loads of carries better than anyone expected. But they whiffed so hard on Randle, and had more than enough reason to be concerned going in, that it's a blight on the front office's evaluation skills.

There's been a lot of hindsight complaining about Dallas not taking a running back in the draft, particularly in the Third Round. Obviously, getting Jay Ajayi, David Johnson, or Matt Jones would've been nice. Chaz Green became an afterthought after the La'el Collins pickup and his stint on the PUP list that makes it easy to look back with regret. I don't go there, though, because Green could wind up being a very important pick if he replaces Doug Free in the neat year or two.

Still, there was a pretty clear need for another bullet or two in the chamber at running back going into 2015. They picked up Christine Michel but, apparently, weren't able to deal with his issues any better than Seattle could. Dallas went to the scrap heap too many times with this position and, ultimately, ended up with mostly trash.

Defensive Tackle

Dallas put a lot of eggs in the Tyrone Crawford basket, and rightfully so given how he played in 2014. Plenty of criticized the deal in retrospect but I can't fault them for the decision based on the information they had at the time. What bothers me more is the way they handled the rest of the defensive tackles, including Nick Hayden as the other starter.

Hayden is not a bad player. He'd be an okay running mate with proven, elite talent around him but Dallas's defensive line did not have that going into 2015. Once again, they were riding on hope that guys like DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory would breakout and that Greg Hardy would be a force after his four-game suspension. They've come up short on those projections, including their trust in Crawford. The result is that a guy like Hayden gets exposed far more.

With Hayden as the Cowboys "run-stopping" tackle they have ranked in the bottom half of the league three out of the last four seasons. Last year's run defense statistics were greatly helped by the offensive efficiency and an easily-exploited pass defense. If you watched those games, you remember that teams had little trouble running on the Cowboys when they chose to.

Hayden is hardly the only culprit here but he was one of the easiest targets for an upgrade last offseason. Dallas put their money into Crawford and hoped that someone between Hayden, Terrell McClain, or Josh Brent would emerge. McClain ended up on Injured Reserve, where he tends to live, and Brent retired in May with his ongoing personal struggles.

I'm not saying Dallas should've gone and signed Ndamukong Suh but they couldn't do any better than bringing back this same crew? Was their confidence in Rod Marinelli's ability to "coach 'em up" too high? Was their faith in the upgrades at defensive end enough that they felt the interior line would be okay? Whatever they based the gamble on, they clearly bet wrong.

Safety

One of my biggest wishes of the last offseason, and one that I'll wish even harder for next year, was improvement at safety. I was very excited when they drafted Byron Jones and hoped that he would emerge their, perhaps even taking a starting job by Week One. But Dallas kept bouncing him between corner and safety and ultimately sabotaged his ability to take over at either position.

The jury has been out on Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox since last year. Church is a tackling machine with no threat of making big plays in coverage. Wilcox is just another Roy Williams, big-hit obsessed safety with far less consistency, instincts, or talent. They are a horrible combination for this defense and yet Dallas didn't make the moves necessary to improve it.

Jones was scouted as a potential safety ace leading up to the draft. He showed his spark for the job almost instantly in mini camps. Why hold him back as much as they did? I think it comes down to something that I've noticed about Jason Garrett, and that I view as his greatest weakness.

As a former player, Jason has plenty of insight into the dynamics of the locker room and the mentality of athletes. This serves him very well as a motivator and leader. However, I think it also gives him an overly cautious concern for disrespecting veterans. I think he defers too much to older players and waits too long to recognize when a young guy is deserving of an opportunity. He wants everyone on the team, and perhaps even the veteran himself, to clearly see and accept that they should step aside for the superior younger player.

Kickoff & Punt Returning

What about Cole Beasley's history as a return man made you want to stick with him? Was it the lack of dynamic athleticism or the absence of any touchdowns?

As minor as this may seem compared to other areas we've discussed, this is one that really burns my biscuits. Garrett is an old school coach and, I know, has plenty of respect for field position. He's a smart guy that knows how to play the odds, and odds are that a better return man is going to set you up for easier drives way more than he might burn you with a turnover because he takes chances.

Dallas played it safe with Beasley, assuming their great offense didn't need help with field position. They trusted Beasley to secure the catch and that Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Joseph Randle wouldn't need those extra ten yards.

How'd that work out for you?

I know elite returners don't grow on trees but Dallas just so happened to find one on the street in Lucky Whitehead. His ability was clear in the preseason. He did have a fumble in the first game but otherwise was secure and consistently flashed dynamic ability. Lucky wasn't heard from again on special teams until Week 5.

Once the Romo and Dez injuries occurred then that should've been the switch flipper. At that point you couldn't let any opportunity to score or help your offense pass, and sticking with Beasley was either ignorance, arrogance, or more of the same "stick with your veteran" stuff that I talked about before. It was the least logical or excusable decision made all year.

~ ~ ~

The good news for Cowboys fans is that the team is set up to make a run again in 2016. They will bring back all of the important pieces and have plenty of opportunity to improve with increased cap space and what are sure to be some high draft picks.

My only hope is that this season kicked away whatever complacency or hubris may have set in from the success of last year. They simply weren't as talented as that 12-4 record, division title, and playoff victory led some to believe. Let's hope that reality check is evident in the offseason ahead.

And if Tony could stay healthy next year, that'd be nice.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Jason Garrett Can’t be Serious About Retaining Scott Linehan, Can He?

Brian Martin

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Jason Garrett Can't be Serious About Retaining Scott Linehan, Can He?

One of the few positives most of us were looking forward to after the Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams was the fact that Scott Linehan would no longer be the offensive coordinator for America's Team. Everything was pointing to his dismissal, but that may not be the case according to Head Coach Jason Garrett.

Todd Archer on Twitter

Jason Garrett said on 105.3 The Fan that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will return in 2019. "We don't anticipate any significant changes on our staff," Garrett said.

I can't say that I was happy upon learning Jason Garrett plans on retaining Scott Linehan as the Cowboys OC in 2019. In fact, my first thought was… Well, something better left unsaid. I'm sure many of you can kind of read my mind, because I'm pretty positive you had all that the same thoughts running through your head as well.

In all honesty, I didn't think there was a snowball chance in hell Scott Linehan would return to Dallas after the conclusion of the 2018 season. After all, the Cowboys nearly fired him during the bye week earlier this season, meaning his job security was already on thin ice. He didn't do anything to improve things in my opinion.

I know Jason Garrett has said Scott Linehan will return as the OC in 2019, but not for a second do I believe it. We are less than 72 hours hours removed from the Cowboys exit from the playoffs and I highly doubt any of Dallas' decision-makers has had the time to sit down and discuss who stays and who goes. In fact, I know they haven't.

Jeff Cavanaugh on Twitter

Stephen Jones says they won't comment on anything with coaching staff but that they need to take a deep look at why they fell short. Says it a little early to speculate about players or coaches. They haven't had a meeting about it yet.

I think once the Cowboys brass sits down and reevaluates the 2018 season, they will come to the conclusion they can do better than Scott Linehan as their offensive coordinator. There were just too many times throughout the season where the playcalling was a problem just. It's just time to move on, despite the vote of confidence by Jason Garrett.

Of course, this could just be me trying to read between the lines hoping and praying Scott Linehan is finally fired. Like many of you, I've grown way too tired of his predictable and dated playcalling. It's time to move on and find someone more innovative who can maximize the talent the Dallas Cowboys have on the roster, much like Kris Richard did with the defense.

You can either choose to believe Jason Garrett or not. I for one have a hard time seeing the Dallas Cowboys staying status quo with their coaching staff, especially their offensive coordinator. But, only time will tell.

Do you think it's time for the Dallas Cowboys to fire Scott Linehan?



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Cowboys Rammed Out of Playoffs but 2019 is Bright

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Cowboys Rammed Out of Playoffs but 2019 is Bright

If you were to have clicked over to Sportsbook Review, you could have seen what all the premier online sportsbooks were dealing on the Cowboys/Rams game before kickoff. Sites like Bovada, which incidentally you can read a Bovada Review at Sportsbook Review as well, had the Rams favored in every quarter, in both halves, and installed LA as seven-point favorites over Dallas. As is often the case, the number was nearly spot on as the Rams bounced our 'Boys out of the postseason 30-22. It was a heart-wrenching loss for Dallas fans everywhere but for those who put their money where their mouths were, it was particularly painful in what turned out to be a one-point difference between losing and pushing.

Let’s look on the bright side, though. The Cowboys not only copped the division crown but the draft picks from April bore fruit this season. Linebacker and No. 19 overall pick Leighton Vander Esch is a certified stud while third-round pick Michael Gallup proved he is a bona fide NFL receiver. Second-round offensive lineman Connor Williams had difficulties at left guard, but at the very least, has a season under his belt at the next level and could turn into a legitimate bodyguard for Prescott in 2019.

And let’s not forget about the trade for Amari Cooper, which turned Dallas from a squad struggling to find its identity to an NFC East champ in winning seven of its last nine games since Cooper arrived. This year’s edition also bested a tough Seahawks team in the first-round of the playoffs.

Let’s face it, folks, no one expected the Cowboys to win a Super Bowl this season and what we got was about as much as we could have hoped with the current roster as it is presently constructed.

Dak Prescott has one more year on his rookie contract and will be looking to score a big payday at the end of next season, if not sooner. The Cowboys could enter negotiations and lock Prescott up for the foreseeable future, but it might be best for both parties to see what 2019 brings and go from there. Either way, Dallas will pay beaucoup bucks to keep Prescott in a Cowboys uniform so watching and waiting will most likely be the tact management takes with their star quarterback, with a franchise tag in 2020 as an option as well.

In the team’s immediate future will be signing their second-round pick in 2014, DeMarcus Lawrence. The talented defensive end provided the Cowboys with the edge rusher they needed for parts of this season and his combined 25 sacks over the last two seasons would be nearly impossible to replace. Dallas franchised him this season but will most likely put together a long-term deal for Lawrence in the offseason.

Ezekiel Elliott has also reportedly been hinting at his own contract extension even though he is contractually committed to the Cowboys for next season with a team option in '20.

Ironically, one of the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys in recent years was a relatively weak link this season. The offensive line was decimated by injuries and Pro Bowler Travis Frederick missed the entire season. But those wounds will heal for next season and the old gang will be back together again.

The Cowboys have loads of cap space but are without a first-round pick due to the trade for Amari Cooper. Nevertheless, the young blood on the team looks poised to contribute for many years and there will be money available to woo free agents to a club now viewed as a legitimate contender.

If you want to look at next season’s odds, make sure to educate yourself on which online sportsbooks are the most reputable, trusted, and reliable. Read the Bovada Review over at SBR and see what customers are saying about one of the industry’s top sportsbooks. Then, when the lines come out on next season’s division, conference, and Super Bowl winners, you can be informed and maybe throw a few bucks on the 'Boys from Dallas!



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Cowboys’ Window Depends On Maximizing, And Helping, Dak Prescott

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Future Hinges Heavily On Dak Prescott And Their Future Offensive Coordinator

Saturday night's Division Round loss was met with mixed reaction among Cowboys Nation.

Some fans, claiming they are the rational ones who hold the Cowboys to a higher standard, believe this might end up being their best chance at a Super Bowl for some time. The young players this roster is built around will only get older and more expensive as the years go by, and 2018 ends with yet another Jason Garrett-led playoff loss.

Other fans, claiming they are the rational ones, said that Dallas accomplished a lot this season, climbing back from a 3-5 start to win the NFC East and a home playoff game before losing a competitive game to one of the league's best. This group believes that the Cowboys championship window is as open as it has been in years, with young talent galore on Dallas' roster.

Whether this is true, however, hinges on the shoulders of two individuals. One of which, ironically, hasn't even been named yet and the other a source of constant debate among those same segmented fans.

Those people, of course, are quarterback Dak Prescott and whoever ends up as the offensive coordinator in 2019.

Dak Prescott is a good quarterback.

Let's start there. I firmly believe that Dak Prescott did enough during his third season to earn the contract extension he will likely receive from the Cowboys within one of the next two offseasons. Especially once the Cowboys acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Clearly, Prescott is far from "perfect" is a passer. He makes mistakes in decision making, he sails some throws, and he sometimes exhibits inconsistent footwork when the pocket breaks down. But we focus too much on his mistakes while simply glossing over his accomplishments, talents, and upside.

Not only is Dak Prescott someone that the team responds to and believes in, but he is also a good football player. Prescott finished the 2018 season 12th in total Expected Points Added, ahead of quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Baker Mayfield. He's also finished 3rd and 4th in raw QBR during his first two seasons in the NFL respectively. And, despite his slow start to 2018, Dak Prescott ended his third season on the best run of games in terms of QBR he has ever had.

Prescott is improving, and this is evident each week. He played more comfortably in the pocket over the last 6 games of the season, panicking less, taking fewer dumb sacks, and abandoning his technique fewer and fewer. And, while he doesn't run as often as many would like, the times Prescott does carry the ball often change drives and games.

And while I despise "QB Wins" as a determining statistic, the fact remains that bad quarterbacks don't win at the rate Dak Prescott does. Three straight winning seasons has been rare in Dallas over the last 15 years, and Prescott orchestrated this his first three seasons as a starter.

Passing Wins Championships.

Though very different than the old cliche, this appears more accurate by the season. The final four teams remaining in the NFL are each top 5 in passing DVOA, while not a single one has a top 10 defense by DVOA.

Neither the Chiefs nor the Rams have had a good run defense at all this season, but stopping the run doesn't matter as much as stopping the pass most weeks in today's NFL. I know this sounds absurd after the Cowboys run defense got abused by Los Angeles, but the numbers often bear this out.

The Cowboys have to do everything in their power to aid Dak Prescott and the passing offense this offseason. They need to draft another pass catcher, preferably with their second round pick. They need to continue to improve the chemistry between Prescott, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.

And, maybe most importantly, they need to hire an offensive coordinator who can maximize this passing game.

Scott Linehan simply is not the answer. And if the Cowboys are going to make the most out of whatever title window they may have, the offensive play caller will be the most critical man in the building going forward.

Unfortunately, latest reports point to Linehan returning in 2019.



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