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, 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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
4th-and-1 Conversions Against JAC Were Hollow Victories for Garrett
The Dallas Cowboys' Head Coach Jason Garrett was under fire all week-long after his passive decision to NOT go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Houston Texans 42 yard line in overtime last week. Instead of taking a shot with a really good offensive line and one of the best running backs in the NFL, Garrett opted to punt the ball to a Texans offense that the Cowboys defense struggled to stop -- until it got inside the five yard line that is.
Well, in typical Jason Garrett fashion, in a game in which they were leading from start to finish en route to a 40-7 victory -- that was never really that close -- the Dallas Cowboys' head coach kept the offense on the field on two 4th and 1 occasions. Converting both of them.
The head coach and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys organization may feel vindicated in pulling the trigger in situations that the Dallas Cowboys have been almost automatic in converting since the start of 2016. The reality is there was nothing at risk in the point of the game in which Garrett opted to try to convert the fourth down.
Though they converted on both 4th-and-1 attempts, they were nothing more than hollow victories for the much maligned head coach.
Their first 4th and 1 attempt was late in the first half of the game with the Dallas Cowboys already leading 17-0. They were driving with under two minutes to play in the half at the Jacksonville Jaguars 37 yard line. The Jaguars had only crossed midfield once and hadn't sniffed any scoring opportunities. There was little risked at that point in the game. If you miss on the conversion, the Jaguars would have to pick up at least 26 yards to get into field goal range. At that point in the game the Jacksonville had only picked up two first downs. The Jaguars had only averaged 13 yards per drive on their four first half drives to that point and three of those drives went three and out.
You can make a case that if the Dallas Cowboys missed on this opportunity and the Jaguars took the ensuing possession and scored, it could have had an impact on the outcome of the game. But with the way that the defense completely dominated the Jaguars in the first half, there was little chance of them driving the length of the field to score a touchdown with under a minute to play.
The next time the Dallas Cowboys went for it on 4th and 1 was with 10:22 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys up 37-7. The game at this point was already decided.
Unlike the week before.
Tony Romo said it best during the broadcast. He talked about the leeway Garrett would have gotten from Jerry Jones had the Dallas Cowboys gone for it on 4th-and-1 against the Texans and missed because Jones is a risk taker (paraphrasing). Now, I know Garrett has been known to take a chance or two at times, think of the Chris Jones fake punts, but there are situations in football that aren't that big of a risk. When you're in opponent territory and have the run game that the Cowboys have, picking up 4th-and-1 is about as sure a thing as you'll find in the NFL. Since 2016, the Dallas Cowboys had gone 18 for 19 on 4th-and-1 situations. Even if they don't make it, the opponent still has to pick up a 2-3 first downs to have a shot at winning the game.
Don't be fooled by what Garrett did on Sunday. He wasn't being aggressive. He wasn't taking the fight to an opponent who was still in the game. He was kicking a team while it was down. The Jaguars had zero answers for the Cowboys on either side of the football. The Cowboys wouldn't have lost the football game if they missed on either of those two opportunities.
If anything, Garrett was just being petty about all the criticism he took this week for declining his offense the chance to keep the ball week five. I've always been a Garrett believer because of the way he gets his teams mentally prepared to play. They rarely have bad games and typically when their backs are against the wall, they respond. On 4th and 1 against the Texans a week ago, their backs were against the wall as a team and he didn't give them the opportunity to respond. Had Garrett had faith in his defense, he would have gone for it because he would have believed in their ability to prevent the Texans from getting into field goal range. He showed a lack of faith in both sides of the ball by not giving the offense a chance to convert and by trying to help the defense with better field position.
I don't believe for a second that Jason Garrett changed his philosophy on those types of calls and I fully expect us to be rather frustrated by another conservative call in the future. Like I said before, these two 4th-and-1 conversions meant nothing in how the game was going to play out. Is it possible that Jerry Jones got in Garrett's ear about taking those kinds of chances to win the game? Absolutely. If we see a similar situation come in the future and Garrett goes for it, perhaps there was a change, but change is a difficult thing. Most humans do not like change and most people don't change.
I hope I'm wrong and this marked a change in the approach of Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. With their offensive line and the running ability of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, I don't care if they only convert half of those opportunities, those two are too good with the ball in their hands to not go for it.
Hopefully Jason Garrett realizes that running those two are his best avenue to winning football games and is aggressive on future 4th-and-1 situations. Since I like my life, I'm not going to hold my breath.
Report: Jason Garrett “Not Going Anywhere” with Possible Extension Coming Soon
With his 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Jason Garrett's Cowboys did more than enough to silence talks of possible firings on the coaching staff for at least a week. According to a report from Dallas Cowboys Feature Writer Jeff Sullivan, it's possible Garrett has earned much more than this, with an extension for the eighth year head coach looming.
@Markbristow22 Sounds like another extension could be signed soon he's not going anywhere.
The Cowboys have alternated wins and losses through the first six weeks of the season. Thanks to the rest of the NFC East getting off to an equally slow start, the 3-3 Cowboys are still playing for first place this week in Washington.
When considering these marginal victories in the grand scheme of what Garrett has achieved since taking over fully in 2011, the timing to extend him early in 2018 feels peculiar. The Cowboys went 8-8 in Garrett's first three years as he turned the roster over, and in similar fashion his young team has done little to prove they're not on track for a .500 record this year.
Sullivan does go on to explain Garrett's impact at The Star throughout the week, which is often forgotten about once he's in the public eye during game day. The Cowboys comfort with Garrett leading the way still has to be considered alongside the deficiencies of his staff to put players in the best position to win.
@Markbristow22 Six days a week top-3 coach in the league. Just struggles a bit on game days
As their last franchise quarterback said on his way out the door, "football is a meritocracy," where, "nothing is given".
It is widely accepted that the Cowboys coaching staff will be mainly responsible for at least one loss a season. Be it Scott Linehan or Garrett, the Cowboys chance at victory is snatched away from them by coaching annually.
Even with a win at the Redskins this week, it's hard to imagine not bringing up early season defeats in Carolina, Seattle, and Houston, as games the Cowboys missed out on.
The duality of Garrett punting away a chance to win at the Texans last week before leading his team to their largest win since 2014 is simply who he is. Even before the Cowboys took the field for a seemingly tough match up against the Jaguars, Jerry Jones delivered a vote of confidence in Garrett - as he's done before in an offense that finally capitalized on their talent, making 40 points come easy on the league's top defense.
Garrett's current contract runs through 2019. If you believe he's struck gold in Quarterback Dak Prescott, a young passer he hitched his wagon to early in order to survive the post-Romo era, the Cowboys would have a decision to make on both Garrett and Prescott at the same time.
Of course, that is if they're willing to let Prescott play out the final year of his rookie deal before signing an extension, and if an extension of his own isn't coming Garrett's way eminently.
This story has not gained traction with the rest of the local or national media, and that's likely because Garrett still has time in Dallas. Not only has he been afforded an amount of time that some would call unearned, but the time ahead of him makes the idea of a new extension obscene.
Regardless of when Garrett sits down to discuss his future with the Jones', it's become clearer by the day that he'll have their full support behind closed doors. Such is the stability Garrett provides the Cowboys, as well as the mediocrity to never advance past the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The Cowboys have done nothing so far in 2018 to prove they can be the team that snaps this streak for Garrett, and must first prove that their 40-7 win over the Jaguars was no anomaly. Earning their first win on the road and improving to 2-0 in the NFC East is another way for the Cowboys to take strides towards winning the division.
The Redskins would drop to 0-1 with the loss, and the Eagles have managed just one divisional win against the Giants thus far.
Let's not forget that this is where the team expects to be every year. Even though the 4-3 Cowboys would face far fewer questions about the future for their coaches and tenured players, buying in to Garrett even more after each win, the week-to-week nature of the NFL should have Dallas weary of locking in Jason for a single game past next season.
Cowboys Defense Stands Out in Blowout Win over Jaguars
The Dallas Cowboys defense has found different ways to get the job done at different times during the 2018 season. They're a big reason the team is 3-3 and sits only a half game back of the first place Washington Redskins.
Even last week, I was critical of the defense for giving up a ton of yards and felt like they were very fortunate to only lose by three in overtime to the Houston Texans. They were amazing when the Texans got inside the five yard line forcing a turnover on downs on four first and goal attempts inside the five last week.
After giving up 462 total yards to Deshaun Watson and the Texans in week five, the Dallas Cowboys' defense only allowed 204 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. They held Jacksonville to 4 of 11 on third downs. The Cowboys forced four three and outs during the game and only allowed three drives to cross midfield.
The Cowboys' defense was led by Leighton Vander Esch with 11 total tackles (7 solo) and Jaylon Smith with nine total tackles (6 solo) and a forced fumble. Jourdan Lewis made an excellent hustle play along the sideline late in the third quarter to recover that Smith fumble.
Byron Jones was excellent in coverage yet again on Sunday and if this were hockey, would get a primary assist for his pass deflection that led to the Jeff Heath interception in the third quarter. The Cowboys were able to turn both turnovers into field goals.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive line blocked the Dallas Cowboys front seven pretty well and Quarterback Blake Bortles was really good at avoiding pressure. Bortles was only sacked three times during the game. Randy Gregory and Maliek Collins each had a sack, while Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford combined for the other sack.
Though he didn't register a tackle or a sack on the stat sheet, it was awesome to see Defensive Lineman David Irving on the field for the first time since the middle of the season last year. He had an impact early in the game. Irving had a pressure on Blake Bortles and forced a hold on a punt in the first half of the game. His presence was definitely felt.
As a defense they held Jacksonville Jaguars Quarterback Blake Bortles to 149 yards passing and a 70.8 passer rating. Even as the Jaguars were down 20 points at halftime, they never could get much offense going in the second half. The Cowboys kept Bortles and the Jaguars passing game in check for most of the night, only allowing a touchdown when Anthony Brown fell down when he released his receiver to try to get to the intended target, Dede Westbrook. Westbrook went relatively untouched into the end zone for the Jaguars score of the day. That play aside, the Cowboys did a really good job limiting big plays against a receiving corp with a lot of speed.
Even with Bortles scrambling, the Cowboys were able to hold the Jaguars as a team to 3.6 yards per carry on the day. The Jaguars' T.J. Yeldon was able to come up with some decent runs, but the defense kept those positive gains from having much of an impact on the game.
The Dallas Cowboys' defense isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a unit that has played really good football for much of the 2018 season. On Sunday, the Cowboys did an excellent job getting off the field on third downs and forcing turnovers and other errors, which were created by the Cowboys pressure.
Everything seems to be coming together for Dallas with David Irving and Maliek Collins getting back into the lineup. If Sean Lee and Chidobe Awuzie are able to go for the Cowboys next week, this defense is going to make life extremely difficult for Alex Smith and the Washington Redskins next Sunday.
After allowing a ton of yards last week, the Cowboys defense rebounded with a dominant performance against a Jaguars team that played for the AFC Championship last season. For the Cowboys to get to the playoffs in 2018, they're going to have to play at a high level like they did on Sunday.
I, for one, don't doubt that they can.
Star Blog6 days ago
If Jason Garrett’s Out, Who’s In? Potential HC Candidates
Star Blog2 days ago
Should the Dallas Cowboys Trade for These 2 Oakland Raiders?
Player News6 days ago
Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL’s Top 10 Rookies
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dez Bryant Tweets Desire to Return to Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Did Garrett’s OT Decision Cost Him More Than Just the Game?
Star Blog5 days ago
Is Jason Garrett Losing the Cowboys Locker Room?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Dallas Cowboys Players Who are Performing at an Elite Level
Game Notes2 weeks ago
Takeaway Tuesday: CB Awuzie Hasn’t Met Expectations in 2018