The Cowboys’ Current Conundrum

Coach Jason Garrett is pleading his case while trying to get things turned around in the right direction in Dallas. Photo Courtesy: Darryl Briggs

By Zach Walker

The 2018 NFL Season is now just over one quarter of the way through, and the Cowboys are floundering. They have a solid roster, full of youth, talent, and promise, and that’s resulted in a 2-3 record. The Carolina game was winnable, the team tried to allow the Giants back into the game by muffing an onside kick, and the Seattle game was a frustrating display of an inept passing attack. The Lions game was a battle where they had their star on display. The Sunday night Texans’ game… was winnable. The Dallas Cowboys through a five game sample size is a simple summary: they have a defense capable of holding teams to about three hundred yards of total offense per game, and under twenty points on average, there is youth at each level with draft picks looking to carry their water. On offense… I love Travis Frederick, his All-Pro play speaks for itself, but is he really the MVP of the offense? Over Ezekiel Elliott? Or fellow linemen Zack Martin or Tyron Smith? Obviously, those guys form a unit and a unit works optimal with all parts included, as any person who once got a RC car for Christmas who didn’t get the batteries required. This club isn’t going to scapegoat and throw all the blame on rookie left guard Conner Williams, that’s a bulls*** move by people trying to ignore the problem that must be addressed. It’s either a QUARTERBACK problem, a COACHING problem, or BOTH.

A Quarterback Problem?
The quarterback problem is probably the simplest to remedy, although tearing the bandage off will require some cajones. By the end of year three of a quarterback, the organization must know everything about their guy so they can commit that quarterback money to him. It is only that quarter way into Dak Prescott’s third season, but I believe we all see what’s the rub. Dak Prescott isn’t going to throw this team out of tight games. He’s shown a single game, where he’s been able to throw them back into the game, the lone playoff game against the Packers. But, if one would remember the circumstances in that game, it’ll become clear. The Cowboys got a fifty yard field goal from Bailey, then got DOWN 21-3 fast. At that point, there’s no holding anything in, the blinders have to be taken off and let it all rip, and that got the Cowboys back in the game, then Garrett’s mismanagement of the clock in the fourth quarter cost the Cowboys the game. Had Garrett not been, I’d say an insult but I think I’ll just call him Garrett, Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t have even had a second to rip the hearts out of Cowboys fans. That game showed me then, that it was coaching, not the players. But, last season, when Dak Prescott could have and likely should have taken the step up and been THE GUY, he was just an average quarterback. Throwing for a pedestrian 200 yards or more in eight games. The Cowboys were dealing with a constant rain cloud all season in 2017, with the Zeke Elliott court bull.

Dak Prescott
The Prescott showcase should have been then, but now it’s going to be a season of trying to boost Prescott’s stock back up, either by him personally because he must know that the money won’t happen with the type of play that he’s done through this point in his career. …Or by the front office trying to showcase what he could be for another club, because while Prescott is under that rookie deal, his trade value is at its peak. Dak Prescott has routinely shown an unbelievable, uninspiring lack of awareness needed to be truly successful at the quarterback position. Against Detroit, he tried to reroll in the pocket, got grabbed and touched the ground, then gave himself up where he took a shot from a guy continuing to play on the play. Where’s the actual sense of self-preservation on that? Later in the game, he tries to pull the same move, escaping the back of the pocket and runs straight into the grasp of the Lions, but had he stepped up in the pocket (as quarterbacks do) he’d have had a shot at something other than that sack. Same game, Prescott rolls right. And right. Still right. Then right out of bounds. For a loss of yards. He sacked himself. Had he tossed the ball in an arcing motion for any distance, it have been no loss of yards. That’s just bad. Houston had an aggressive front, and they made some of the Cowboys look pretty bad, La’el Collins was getting worked on. When Dak was getting protection, and I mean a decent pocket, he’d be unable to complete passes downfield. Sure, his improvisational skill to stay up on the JJ Watt missed sack then bomb to Tavon Austin was nice, but later on, in a similar situation, he can’t complete a pass to Thompson at the sticks. Now, I’m salty, as this pseudo-flame piece would indicate, but I’m not nose-deaf. The “weapons” around Dak Prescott would sink any quarterback. Wide receivers, tight ends, it doesn’t much matter, the skill positions are not up to standard.

Time for a Trade?
Where or who would the Cowboys trade Dak Prescott to? Before the start of the season I thought there were six teams that would make the trade with the Cowboys for Prescott. One preseason’s worth of show and New Orleans is out with their Bridgewater trade, and that leaves five. Tampa Bay, with them possibly being forced by their own quarterback to move on from him. Pittsburgh, though they did just grab Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs could still be looking. Denver, who is always looking for the next quarterback and who would likely pay the most coming Cowboys’ way to get Prescott. Then either the Los Angeles Chargers or the New England Patriots, who both have the same situation, no viable succession plan in place for their aging quarterbacks. The Cowboys would be in a tight spot, because Dak Prescott is a player and a guy that people and fans can and have gotten behind. His endorsements can be seen far and wide, and it’s because of the strength of his character, but those are endorsements, also why aren’t all of them have him wearing Cowboys’ gear, because he hasn’t been committed to long term yet. It’d be a tough pill to force down the throats of Cowboys’ fans everywhere, but so has been this beyond sub-par offense under Prescott, and so would committing 100 million dollars into Prescott. Replacing Prescott is not simple but in the upcoming draft there are some intriguing prospects. Mark Rypien’s nephew Brett Rypien is lighting up the blue turf in Boise, a Cowboys junior college seemingly given how the Cowboys love the Boise players. Jake Browning, Shea Patterson, Will Grier, there’s a lot of time between now and the draft so don’t get hung up on the list so far, but there are options out there. Now, I believe, or rather, I want to believe, that Dak Prescott can be made into the quarterback that Tony Romo handed the reigns over to, so I’ll put my heat on someone else.

Is it the Coach?
As much as believe everything I have previously written, I believe in Jason Garrett even less than Dak Prescott. We’ve seen the poor management of the clocks, the seemingly lack of faith, in game, in his players going back to the Romo days, and the truly knife-twistingly frustrating absence of anything that could even be misinterpreted as innovation on offense. I am not joking, go back and watch the Thanksgiving game where Jason Garrett actually played for the Cowboys, the formations and plays are the same as those in that game. We all know that this team DOES NOT make adjustments to the game during the halves, as displayed to almost comic levels as in the Atlanta game from a season ago where they didn’t so much as slide protection or move a player over to aid the drowning Chaz Green from getting eviscerated and getting his quarterback decimated in the process. It’s that innovation that might be the worst. If something worked in the game before, you can seemingly guarantee that whatever it was won’t be rearing its clever head around for a second week, no sir. Week two against the Giants, Dak Prescott moves the chains with his feet, week three, “hey Dak, don’t run so much, it was too effective”. Against the Seahawks, Dak won’t run, so let’s run our beast Zeke at six yards a slice, so we all knew that Zeke would be secondary against the Lions, despite the fact the Lions are statistically the number one pass defense coming into the game and are super vulnerable to heaps of yards on the ground. If you at home can’t predict run or pass from this Cowboys offense just from formation and personnel alone, just keep watching your way, because I’m sure it’s less frustrating, because being the living room linebacker against the Cowboys is hilariously sadly easy. One of my favorites from the Seattle game was in the redzone the Cowboys brought in Rico Gathers, a piece we all dream could burst from cocoon into a redzone mismatch nightmare. The Seahawks take a timeout, realizing that a person isn’t on the field to combat the potential mismatch, coming from the timeout, no Rico for the Cowboys. Solid move to get the Seahawks to both, admit they respect the weapon and burn a timeout, but why take him back out? Seriously, a coaching pump fake? I DO get it, but also, why not see a play with him in there. Or the first quarter challenge of a second down incompletion? Sure, it was a successful challenge, but it brought up a third and three. In the real estate acquisition by violence game of football, solid challenge, but circumstances. First quarter, ringing up a third and manageable. Big deal. The second challenge, looked like my favorite, the old-school “Jack Del Rio Emotion” challenge, where it’s more a sort of hope that it comes back his way than the evidence. OH! The Texans’ game. Oh my… That challenge. Egregious! Garrett was the closest person to where Austin landed on the sideline. The ball came out instantly. Did Garrett not live through the #DezCaughtIt offseason? If he truly saw the play happen, given his proximity to the play, then he sabotaged that challenge. And if he actually saw it, and threw it having seen replay, then he displayed behavior of which could be described as lacking intelligence. Fourth and one, the Texans’ side of the field. The previous play, a rush up the middle for a gain of nothing. So, Garrett brings out the punt team. We all knew that was the game. Two outcomes then, lose or tie. The win went off the foot of Chris Jones. By not going for it on that fourth, by not even lining up for it on the fourth, Garrett through away the ENTIRE philosophy of this Dallas Cowboys team. Picking up crucial conversions when they must. That’s why they drafted Ezekiel Elliott. Why they draft Frederick and Martin. Why they paid La’el Collins big undrafted money, and why they selected Conner Williams in the second. They did those things to punt the ball while in opponent territory with a chance to take the game still in hand. As I stated, EGREGIOUS! Going out swinging beats what happened. Had they not converted, that have shown something previously unassociated with Jason Garrett, and that’s the ability to gut one out. Instead, we’re all regathering ourselves from a bittersweet loss from a game that was winnable.

The Replacements
Now, I’m not fully dumb, I do understand that I’m sure not going to let Scott Linehan skate on the faults of this offense, both go hand in hand in my book, so they can both walk. The personnel move to cut Dez Bryant and replace him with a handful of unknowns’ looks to be both a Garrett move and a huge mistake, and every game Dez Bryant is looking more and more like a martyr who was cast aside for unclear reasons, don’t take the side of money or philosophy of the offense, wake up people! Who would we get to replace Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan? The Cowboys have a future head coach on staff in Kris Richard, whether it be here or elsewhere, he’ll be a head coach within the next two seasons. Richard could probably even convince Rod Marinelli to stick around and continue on the defense, and admittedly I tail off into the realm of unrealistic but could make Sean Lee a linebackers coach, we all see coaching in the future for Lee, and getting out before he’s fully broken would be a good idea. To replace Linehan… I’d hire from the College ranks than some rewash from the NFL sidelines. Tony Franklin, Kliff Kingsbury, Chris Petersen. I don’t know, that’s a hard gauge. There’s not an answer well to travel to, to find the next fixer for this team, but something must change.

There’s cracks in the foundation of this franchise right now, and from what we’ve all seen through 2018, we all know that this is another eight win season and nothing is going to change. Man, we’re all so low right now…