Watching the 2015 Dallas Cowboys was stressful.
I usually try not to tweet during Cowboys games. I don’t like to overreact to things or have haste reactions. But this season, I couldn’t stop. This team was particularly frustrating and I often times had to get out my frustrations by trying to figure things out with a community approach through Twitter.
My main problems were cosmetic. Just looking at the team, it didn’t appear to be working. They were missing that “It” factor that made them so successful in 2014.
As the season went on I came to figure out what was different…
What went right for the Cowboys in 2014?
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys had a hunger unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, out of any sports team that I follow closely. That team played with determination. You could see the hunger in every single player, especially on the defense. They were a defensive unit that the mass-media was labeling as potentially a historically bad defense prior to the start of the season.
You could tell that the defense was motivated by this and what did we get? A defense that fought!
Any time there was a pass caught, you would see every defensive player flying to the ball. It didn’t matter if you were a corner, defensive tackle, linebacker… EVERYONE flew to the ball. They hit hard and group tackled.
I remember, on Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden picked up on this and called the Cowboys defense “Unidentified Flying Objects.” What he meant by this was that you didn’t know the names of these players, but they flew to the ball.
Some of this defensive intensity that was missing comes from losing Orlando Scandrick’s presence on the field.
Scandrick is without a doubt one of the most fiery players on the Cowboys defense. He likes to chirp and he leads the “fly to the ball” movement. Throw a screen in Scandrick’s direction and forget about it.
What went wrong for the Cowboys in 2015?
This is where this article gets a little racy and debatable.
While I supported the Cowboys going out and getting Greg Hardy, and I thought it was a move that could potentially make the Cowboys a Super Bowl quality team, there were repercussions.
Disclaimer: I am not going to sit here and say Greg Hardy alone was the reason the Cowboys lost the group mentality as well as their fiery competitiveness. That would be completely unfair to Greg Hardy and to the Cowboys. There is no exact science to building a unit like the 2014 Cowboys had, or every team would be doing this. Cohesion is something that every successful team has and it is a key piece to successful football.
Now, when you add a big personality into a locker room, things change. This is just human nature. Even without Greg Hardy’s baggage, he is an elite-level player and that changes things. Add to it the obvious baggage and its clear effects on team chemistry.
The bigger point that I am trying to make here is that when high quality players join a unit, you run the risk of other players getting even slightly more complacent.
There is a reason that the Cowboys have seen much more success with Sean Lee off the field rather than on the field. The Cowboys have done even worse when Lee and DeMarcus Ware were on the field, compared to off.
I’m not saying those players aren’t good, because they are in fact great and elite players in the game today. The point is that the Cowboys have to carry that same intensity and level of effort with great players on the field that they do when they are off the field.
You can’t expect Sean Lee’s presence to mean you don’t have to go 100 mph on every single play.
I get that players get tired. They are humans. It is human nature to try to find a break here and there. It seems pretty obvious to me that when elite players join this defense it makes other players think they now have protection.
No. Keep that intensity and work ethic and you reach even further heights.
How can Dallas replicate 2014’s success?
Does this mean you should look away from players like Olivier Vernon or Mario Williams? I don’t think it does. However, I want someone that is coming in hungry. The Cowboys need players that are going to motivate everyone around them. There can’t be plays where anyone gives less than 100-percent.
This is the reason more and more teams are looking for youth movements. Young players are hungry. They haven’t received their second contracts yet. The Cowboys defense still has a lot of these players on it and where they have players on second or third contracts, they have high work ethics.
I still prefer Olivier Vernon due to his age. Though I think Mario Williams would come in hungry. He would be returning to Texas only to join the other team there. He is coming off of a disappointing season in which he will have had to be cut in order to join the Cowboys in the first place. He would be returning to a scheme that makes him comfortable.
There also has to be more competition on the second level of the depth chart. If you don’t want to give your all, it’s okay, because someone behind you will and they will take your job from you.
Competition breeds success. The 2014 Cowboys defensive line was filled with players that didn’t have name recognition and you could see these players fighting for playing time.
I am trying to build something new here.
While I think having great players is obviously important, I want to build a team filled with high motor players. A team filled with hungry players. A team of personalities that mesh well. A locker room that is a pleasure to enter into. I want a unit. I want a TEAM.
If that means I have to sign or draft a player with slightly less skill but a higher motor and is a better person, I will take that person every single time!
This is about team building. This is about assembling a group of men that are not just teammates, or people getting paid a lot of money, or people who want a Super Bowl… but a group of men that consider themselves brothers, and who want to share a Super Bowl with each other and fight for themselves and one another every single day of the week and on every single snap.
Is this easy to accomplish? It is the hardest thing to do in the NFL. People like Greg Hardy will always intrigue you. People like Noah Spence and Randy Gregory will intrigue you. Quite frankly, I can see a way you can add these types of players and still make my vision work. If you have a player who you truly think made a mistake and uses that as fuel to become the type of player and person I am looking for… then I’m all for it.
While I have no power and I don’t want to pretend like I do, I think this is exactly what Jason Garrett is looking for and is why I admire him so much. Jason Garrett gets it. Few coaches in the league do. Jason Garrett understands that it takes a group effort to attain success and he understands what it takes to build that type of group effort.
If the Cowboys can combine my philosophy for the defense and the philosophy I prescribed for the running attack yesterday, that gives the Cowboys an offensive and defensive identity. That is what leads teams to succeed.
I’m ready for 2014 on steroids (Not literally).