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Should I Stay or Should I Go: Scott Linehan vs Rod Marinelli

Jess Haynie

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Should I Stay Or Should I Go: Scott Linehan vs Rod Marinelli

Despite their 9-7 finish and barely missing out on the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys were highly disappointing in 2017. After going 13-3 last year, expectations were very high for this season. The Cowboys didn't come close to meeting them, and now many are naturally expecting heads to roll.

While the news right now is about position coaches, such as WR coach Derek Dooley not re-signing or TE coach Steve Loney retiring, most are focused on coordinators Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli. With head coach Jason Garrett getting a clear vote of confidence from Jerry Jones, fans are clamoring for change at the next level down.

This article isn't about whether or not Scott Linehan or Rod Marinelli will be fired.

Right now, the last we've heard is Jerry Jones recently commenting that he'd like both to be back next year. However, we also know that the season is still under review and the future of both coordinators is hardly written in stone. So, what we'll look at today is whether Scott Linehan or Rod Marinelli should be back in 2018.

Did the performance of their offense and defense, respectively, make or break the case for them to keep their jobs?

Scott Linehan

Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan

Scott Linehan, Offensive Coordinator

The raw data on Linehan's offense is pretty damning.

The total offense (yardage) dropped from 5th in 2016 to 14th in 2017. The same drop, from 5th to 14th, occurred with scoring. Dallas had one of the top offenses a year ago and was middle of the road this season. Of course, the six-game suspension of Ezekiel Elliott was a major factor in this decline.

Elliott still led the NFL in rushing yards on a per-game average. If he'd played all season, the total offense would have gone up a fair bit. It may not have been top-five, but close enough that we might not call what happened a regression.

But this is where stats can be deceiving. Even when Elliott was playing, the Cowboys offense did not have its same function or flow from 2016.

Dak Prescott's historic efficiency from his rookie season cratered. He threw 13 interceptions compared to just four in 2016, his completion percentage dropped from 67.8% to 62.9%, and his passer rating went from an elite 104.9 to a pedestrian 86.6.

This was never more evident than in the Cowboys' Week 16 debacle against the Seattle Seahawks. Even with Elliott back and rushing for over 100 yards, Prescott looked lost, throwing two picks and barely functioning against a Seattle defense that has struggled all year.

Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor didn't need to be out there; Dak wasn't getting it done against anybody that day.

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

Part of Dak's issues this year has been the missed time by left tackle Tyron Smith. Most notorious was the Week 10 game in Atlanta, where Prescott was sacked eight times, but Dak has been under duress for much of the season. Which is thanks to health issues from Tyron and also right tackle La'el Collins, as well as the decreasing ability of his receiving options to beat their coverage and get open.

That's a lot of factors, but in the end it goes up to the man in charge. Scott Linehan has proven, both in 2015 and this year, that he is not good at overcoming adversity as a coordinator.

He can run a great offense when all the pieces are in place and running smoothly, but even minor issues can unravel his guys. He doesn't adjust well, which was never more evident than the Atlanta game, when there was no answer for the Falcons pass rush.

Prescott's regression in 2017 is a major blemish on Linehan's resume.

Sophomore slumps happen, but Dak went from one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the game to a major liability. Some of that is assuredly on Prescott, but he's not Tony Romo out there calling audibles left and right.

Prescott relies far more on the coordinator than Tony did, as most second-year players would, and Linehan let him down with a predictable offensive strategy that even average defenses were able to contain.

Having Ezekiel Elliott all year -- and none of the distractions that came from his ongoing legal fight -- would've helped. There's no denying that. But the Cowboys needed more than a front-runner at offensive coordinator this year.

They needed someone with the ingenuity to devise new strategies based on missing personnel. They needed a guy who could see that his young QB was struggling and find ways to settle him down.

Instead they got what Scott Linehan had to offer; plays that even fans on their sofa could predict.

They got the 2016 playbook with seemingly no adjustment for 2017 realities. And they got one of the ugliest losses in Cowboys history when Dallas could barely run a play against a broken Seahawks defense.

The Cowboys can do better than Scott Linehan. I only hope they try.

Rod Marinelli

Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli

Rod Marinelli, Defensive Coordinator

Again, let's start with the stats. The Cowboys improved from 14th in total defense (5,503 yards) in 2016 to 8th (5,089 yards) in 2017. They allowed 19.1 points-per-game in 2016 and that number was about the same this year at 20.8 points.

Surprisingly, total sacks were about the same. Despite DeMarcus Lawrence breaking out with 14.5 sacks this year, the team total only improved from 36 last year to 38 in 2017. This may help explain why opponent passer ratings stayed almost exactly the same, averaging about a 94 rating both seasons.

Unlike the offense which returned most of its personnel, Marinelli's defense had a lot of changes.

They said goodbye to four major defensive backs in Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox, and replaced them with rookies. They tried to integrate redshirt rookie Jaylon Smith at linebacker with mixed results.

Along with that, stud defensive lineman David Irving missed half the season with an early suspension and then a concussion later on. Maliek Collins, one of last year's stalwarts, battled a foot injury all season and was clearly not the same. Worst of all, Sean Lee missed five games and the defense was clearly lost without him.

Taco Charlton, Rams

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton

However, unlike the Cowboys offense, the defense got better as the season went along.

Those rookie cornerbacks and first-round DE Taco Charlton were playing well in December. Jaylon Smith showed improvement almost every week. Backup safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier were making strong cases for bigger roles.

You could say Maliek Collins regressed some, but how much of that was due to injury is hard to say. The defense's biggest disappointment was safety Byron Jones, who did not show the kind of growth in his third year that you'd have wanted.

Overall, though, Rod Marinelli's boys overcame turnover and adversity and mostly showed individual development throughout the year.

Despite the failings of the Cowboys offense from last season, Marinelli's defense was able to improve on some of last year's stats and at least maintain performance in other areas.

It may seem underwhelming, statistically, but the way the defense responded to carrying a heavier burden this year deserves praise. Last year's efficient offense that dominated the clock and kept the defense out of tough spots was gone. But we saw numerous occasions where the defense responded to bad field position or ongoing punts and did their job.

The defense kept the Cowboys in games that the offense didn't deserve to win.

Again, we go back to Week 16 against the Seahawks. Dallas forced Russell Wilson into one of the worse games of his Pro Bowl career, and it was solely the offense and special teams that let the Cowboys down. The defense did its part this year to get the Cowboys into the playoffs.

I don't know how much more Rod Marinelli could've done with the hand he was dealt. He had to integrate a lot of new and inexperienced players, plus adjust to meltdowns on the other side of the ball, and still came out with a stronger-looking group than he had in 2016. If that doesn't do it for you, your expectations aren't realistic.

Conclusion

Scott Linehan showed an inability to adjust to changing circumstances and a lack of growth among his personnel. The offense, even with Ezekiel Elliott, was worse than a year ago. Rod Marinelli showed the opposite; players improved and obstacles were overcome as the defense grew from last year despite significant turnover.

While some new players would also help, a new voice is needed on offense.

Even if Linehan can do the job when everyone's healthy, Dallas needs to find a guy who can still get it done when it's not easy. They need a coordinator who can identify and adjust to changing circumstances, both in a single game and over the course of a year.

Even if all of that isn't enough, Dallas needs to find a guy who doesn't try to get too cute. When it's 1st-and-Goal from the 3-yard-line, they need a guy who won't outsmart himself by not giving the ball to Ezekiel Elliott.

That one series alone -- you all know which one I'm talking about -- was unforgivable.

On the other side of the ball, there is ample reason to keep Rod Marinelli.

His players are responding and improving. His scheme may be frustrating at times because of the soft coverage, but it works. It keeps points off the board. And as these young corners get better and more aggressive, it will lead to a lot more turnovers than you've seen.

Linehan should go. Marinelli should stay. We'll see if the Cowboys agree.


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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2 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    No way you get rid of Marinelli. The defense surprisingly kept them in way more games than last season. You got a pro bowl year outta D Law, Good play from the LBs, and over time Good play out of a very young secondary. Most games we lost came from poor offense. The defense improved

  • desmund

    Great points , a surprisingly objective logical perspective in an increasingly irrational world

Dallas Cowboys

REPORT: Cowboys DL David Irving’s Accuser Retracts Claims Of Domestic Violence

Kevin Brady

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David Irving

After what was a rather crazy day which resulted in reports the Frisco Police Department were investigating Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman David Irving for domestic violence, the accuser has now retracted her claims.

https://twitter.com/DCBlueStar/status/988527577915674624

This retraction comes after the mentioned reports of domestic violence claims against David Irving earlier in the day. Irving was neither arrested nor charged for the incidents, though two separate allegations were made.

Jobin Panicker on Twitter

BREAKING @FriscoPD confirms allegations made against Cowboys player David Irving were reported on April 22nd. At two separate times: 5pm & 10pm. Allegations made by girlfriend @wfaa

Irving has claimed through his own social media account that his accuser is an ex-girlfriend looking for retaliation over a breakup. Irving has already said he has changed the locks on his house in attempt to change behavior moving forward.

Whether or not Irving abused his reported ex-girlfriend is not for me to say, but it will be interesting to see how Roger Goodell handles the matter after she retracted her claims later in the day. As we know very well, the NFL can claim violation of the personal conduct policy even if the justice system pursues no charges.

And the results of both the Frisco PD's investigation and that of the league office will be intriguing over the coming weeks and months.


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Player News

REPORT: Cowboys DE/DT David Irving Suspected of Domestic Violence

Jess Haynie

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David Irving

[4/24/18 UPDATE: Irving's accuser has since recanted with police. However, the NFL could still investigate under their domestic violence policy.]

ORIGINAL STORY

Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman David Irving is under investigation by Frisco, TX police for charges of domestic violence, according to a report by Jobin Panicker of WFAA-ABC in Dallas.

The following was tweeted from Panicker's account not long ago:

Jobin Panicker on Twitter

BREAKING @FriscoPD confirms it is investigating serious allegations against Cowboys player David Irving. No arrests. Assault-Bodily Injury, Unlawful Restraint, & Assault-Impeding Breath and Circulation @wfaa

Jobin Panicker on Twitter

BREAKING @FriscoPD confirms allegations made against Cowboys player David Irving were reported on April 22nd. At two separate times: 5pm & 10pm. Allegations made by girlfriend @wfaa

The veracity of the accusations are certainly not ours to judge, but other recent events on Irving's social suggest he is in the middle of a breakup with his girlfriend. Posts early this morning on his Twitter account appeared to be from an unauthorized user, and David later posted on both Twitter and Instagram that someone had hacked him.

Furthermore, Irving shared that he was already taking steps due to the volatile situation.

David Ja Rodd Irving on Twitter

@DCBlueStar Changed the locks yesterday

While personal lives should stay that way, Cowboys fans are understandably concerned after what happened last year with Ezekiel Elliott. As we saw then, Roger Goodell's "justice" system allows for just an accusation to lead to a suspension. There is no burden of proof on the accuser.

And as in that case, even if the police dismiss the allegation, the NFL can still pursue the matter under the personal conduct and domestic violence policies.

It would be nice to just say "let the process play out," but the NFL commissioner doesn't hold himself to that standard. Therefore, we have to report this as it could mean consequences for David Irving and the Dallas Cowboys no matter how legitimate the claims are.


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Jaylon Smith Practicing Without AFO Brace

John Williams

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Jaylon Smith Voted Cowboys' Ed Block Courage Award Winner 1

A lot of the talk circling the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL Draft is the need for the Cowboys to draft a linebacker as insurance to Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith's injury issues.

One of the questions, Sean Lee, will always be a question. When he's on the field, he's as good a linebacker as there is in the NFL. In 2016, he finally got in a near full season and rewarded the Dallas Cowboys with an All-Pro season that led the team to the playoffs. Talent has never been the issue with Lee. Keeping him on the field has been.

Jaylon Smith's question isn't his health as much as it is his recovery. The surgery to repair his ACL and MCL that he suffered at the end of his final season at Notre Dame was considered a success. There was a caveat, however, that there was no telling how much functionality would return because of the massive nerve injury that occurred.

Last year, Jaylon Smith actually played football games. No small step. In some games he made some plays and in other games, it was clear that he was still struggling with changing directions and running with receivers and running backs in coverage.

Time is Jaylon's biggest ally and another offseason removed from his injury should only help him get stronger and more confident in his recovering knee.

Lost in all of the Dez Bryant hoopla was a beautiful little nugget that Jaylon Smith teased Cowboys Nation with last week.

Jaylon provided a great look at his training regimen on the first day of team workouts and if you look closely, you'll see with a Clear Eye View that Jaylon Smith isn't wearing a brace, tape, or any other kind of support. On his knee or foot.

Jaylon Smith on Twitter

Focused vision, Determined belief, Earned dreams. #ClearEyeView

Remember that even after Jaylon was playing and practicing without a knee brace, he was still requiring an AFO brace to help with his foot drop.

Oh, how much one offseason can change things.

Mike Fisher, now of 247Sports.com, quoted Smith as saying, "I have more power and more flexibility now. And the dropfoot (issue) is fading. Absolutely!'' over on Scout.com, and there was this:

"As our colleague Bryan Broaddus has previously noted, it does seem that some of the testing is behind him, that the nerve is regenerating, that the repaired knee is stronger than ever and that more improvement is ahead of him. Smith's 6-2, 245-pound body is about as sculpted as is imaginable. His mind is sculpted, too, the result of his faith and his intellect and his personality and more. He suggests now that more improvement is inevitable, and that includes the medical improvement that is now, to him, simply "a matter of timing.'''

Mike Fisher - 105.3 The Fan and 247Sports.com

There is still a lot of hope around The Star and Cowboys Nation that Jaylon Smith can return to the All-American form that was projecting him as a top-five talent in the 2016 NFL Draft. If he's healthy and moving with better lateral movement and agility than he was in 2017, that's a huge step forward for Jaylon Smith and the Dallas Cowboys.

The progression of his knee and his confidence in said knee is going to be a huge determining factor in Dallas' plans to draft a linebacker. If they feel confident that he will be a more functional linebacker in 2018 than he was in 2017, then perhaps they could wait until day two or three to address the linebacker position.

We can't fully know their intentions as we get closer to draft day. How they address the linebacker position in the 2018 NFL Draft could give us an excellent indication of how they feel about Jaylon Smith's progression.

What we do know is that Jaylon Smith will never give up working toward being an elite middle linebacker. Let's hope he can realize his dreams. Everyone will be better for it.


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