The Blue Mile

Six games left for the Cowboys this season and Jason Garrett has a lot to prove.
Six games left for the Cowboys this season and Jason Garrett has a lot to prove.

By Zach Walker

Can Jason Garrett break the .500 mold, propel the Dallas Cowboys into the playoffs, and prolong his Cowboys’ coaching career?

After taking the reins of a Romo-less 1-7 team on Nov. 8, 2010, Garrett managed to coach the Cowboys to a final 6-10 record. He was seen as the savior, the red-headed answer man, from the moment he took over.

The coach who would save the team from the pits of despair would become the new Cowboys head coach. There were hopes he’d bring a bit of what he learned as a player under Jimmy Johnson plus his own changes in the Cowboys culture, and bring in the right assistants including former Cowboys players such as Leon Lett and Chris Boniol. But has anything changed since Garrett has been head coach? How much better off has Garrett made the Cowboys? And how secure is Garrett?

Changing the Culture?
How much has really changed? All of the pictures hanging in the hallways, and the wearing suits, pre- and post-game have amounted to zero effect on the field under Jason Garrett. Obviously, because those things don’t correlate to on-the-field play. But on the field, nothing has changed; the Cowboys still haven’t been able to close out games on the ground since Marion Barber. They still seemingly play down to opponents and struggle to get out of their own way. But Garrett has done positive things, and it’s been through the draft.

Over the last four years, he has brought in a healthy mix of hard-working, dedicated players often with local ties. Unfortunately, a lot of players who have been drafted have been injured over the last couple of seasons, most crucially DeMarco Murray and Sean Lee. But injuries aside, the players who have been brought in are the right guys to build a team around. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Dez Bryant are great guys to carry the team for the next seven years or so.

What about the wins?
With great power, comes the need to flex that power, ask any tool in a black wife-beater tank top. And with the Cowboys, you have to win, plain and simple. And since 2000, the Cowboys are exactly .500, sure there were a few of good years, a couple of great years, and a smattering of horribly, frustratingly, agonizingly dreadful years. Not all Garrett’s fault, and he has the time, with the remaining part of this season, to remedy the situation and make a run at the playoffs. But it’s going to take a break in mediocrity to take a step towards being great.

Will just making the playoffs save Garrett?
Making the playoffs will probably prolong his tenure as the head coach, but not if they fall into the playoffs. They have to earn their way into the post-season and I realize any playoffs, despite how you get there, would be excellent for the Cowboys. Yet if they just make it, Garrett’s head is likely to roll off Jerry Jones’ desk.

This year the Cowboys roster has been ravaged by injuries to the defensive line, but the NFC East doesn’t seem to be as strong as usual so it might balance out in the Cowboys favor. It will require players to step up to get the job done. Players like Brian Waters, George Selvie, and Kyle Wilbur need to keep going and continue to be a presence.

Who’s really at the helm?
Who is the leader of this team? Romo? Ware? Lee? Jerry? Well, it is Jerry, but I think he’s waiting for a coach to step up and take full reign of the team. Is that person Garrett? Well, he hasn’t shown much in terms of taking the load off of Jerry, but Garrett has changed himself, and it has come at an interesting time. Garrett knows that the writing is on the wall, in terms of not making the playoffs, so he’s taking a familiar approach. Anyone who has held some sort of employment has seen people get fired. On the weeks leading up to the termination, you really see two methods of handling it, take the tighten up and fly right and try to keep your job approach or to be more brash, outgoing, and open because you know what’s on the horizon. Garrett chose option two, becoming more approachable and all-around media-friendly.

Can Garrett get the job done?
Yes, this season, this team definitely can win the division and do it convincingly. It’s going to take a top-to-bottom, all-in effort by the whole team to get what must be done, done. If not, Garrett is a dead man walking.