The 2019 NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys has been a literal up and down roller coaster of emotions. From the hope that came with the initial three-game winning streak the first three weeks of the season to the three-game losing streak that followed. From the blowout win over the Los Angeles Rams in week 15 to the disappointing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in week 16. This season has toyed with the emotions of Cowboys fans everywhere and left us wondering what’s next.
The Cowboys still have an outside shot to make the playoffs if they’re able to beat the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants defeat the Eagles on Sunday afternoon. But the hope that once was has faded to a small burning ember after the bonfire has gone out. There isn’t much hope this team can do anything if they find they’re way into the playoffs.
It’s strange that even with an opportunity to make the tournament that there’s little thought to this weekend and the focus has already turned to the 2020 offseason. But that’s where we are with this team. A season that had so much promise is ending with a thud and there are several reasons why.
1. Players Jumped on the Hype Train
One of the biggest reasons for such disappointment that surrounds America’s Team is the failure to meet expectations in 2019. For much of the offseason and preseason, there was a lot of optimism, including from yours truly, that this was the year the Dallas Cowboys would end the drought and make a deep run into the playoffs.
There weren’t many sources out there talking about the inadequacies of the team, because there didn’t appear to be any. Even after a 3-0 start, albeit against lesser competition, the positivity boiled over.
Players always say they don’t read or listen to what’s said outside their locker room Inside The Star, but if you spend much time on social media, it doesn’t take long to find a player confronting something negative that was said or written about them. They absolutely heard all of the hype that this club was getting and they felt they could sleepwalk through the regular season and find their way into the playoffs. Which, however, is still a possibility.
Even though there were excellent team performances throughout the year, this team never seemed ready for adversity.
One of the hallmarks of Jason Garrett coached teams since becoming the Dallas Cowboys head coach has been their ability to overcome adversity and play hard. There were few games this year where the Dallas Cowboys overcame adversity. Yes, they made late comeback attempts that resulted in more respectable final scores, but one has to ask, how did they get so far behind in the first place.
It wasn’t simply coaching or talent or execution. A lot of what happened with the Dallas Cowboys happened mentally. In many of their games this season, they didn’t look engaged and appeared to be lacking intensity.
This team believed the hype from the beginning. Whether it was the “Hot Boyz” or the “Purge Squad,” on defense or the idea that they could run over every team on offense. Unfortunately, the Cowboys got hit with the “reality stone” and didn’t look prepared mentally or physically for the challenges and adversity they faced in 2019.
2. Coaching Staff No Longer Had the Players’ Ears
Jason Garrett was named the Interim Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys in the middle of the 2010 season. In the 2011 offseason, he was given the permanent head coaching job and has been with the Dallas Cowboys, for now, nine years.
His coaching tenure spanned the back half of DeMarcus Lawrence‘s career, the entirety of Dez Bryant‘s career (to date), and Tyron Smith has been with the team the same amount of time. Garrett’s been with the Cowboys long enough to see Jason Witten retire for a year and then come out of retirement.
Nine years is a long time to coach a team without having deep playoff success.
There are seven active NFL coaches with more games coached than Jason Garrett coaching in the league in 2019: Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Pete Carroll, Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton, Jon Gruden, and John Harbaugh. Of those seven, six of them have won a Super Bowl. The only one who hasn’t, Andy Reid, has been to the Super Bowl and looks poised to make another run with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019. Garrett has the worst playoff winning percentage stacked up against the seven coaches with more tenure.
At some point, as a coach you have to have success to back up your message, otherwise, it begins to fall on deaf ears.
Garrett’s greatest strength as a coach has been his ability to rally his players and get maximum effort. Well, that simply hasn’t happened in 2019. They’ve looked lifeless at times and in games they should have or even could have won, didn’t have enough belief in their plan or in themselves to go out and execute the way we all thought they could.
I’ve long argued that Jason Garrett is a good coach, and part of me still believes that. On the flip side, I know that the time has come to make a coaching change if anything to shake up the chemistry in the locker room. The Dallas Cowboys are no longer responding to Jason Garrett.
In hindsight, it looks like Jerry Jones should have pulled the trigger last offseason to make a change at the top of the coaching hierarchy. Though they still have a shot to make the playoffs, it’s more likely that they wasted a year of this young core by allowing Garrett to coach on the final year of his contract.
There’s a fear in sports about letting your head coach remain without an extension in place. Generally, the idea is that players who are committed long-term may not respond to a head coach in the final year of his contract the same way they might if they knew the coach would be around a while as well.
Not only has Garrett been the proverbial “lame duck” head coach, but Rod Marinelli, Kris Richard, and a total of 18 of the 25 coaches on the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff are in the final year of their contracts. Up and down the staff, the players saw a group of coaches that wasn’t going to be around for the long haul. For better or worse, it becomes easier to tune a guy out that isn’t likely going to be with the team the following year.
When it’s your head coach and top two defensive guys, it become more clear as to why this team underperformed in 2019. They no longer bought into the vision of their expiring coaching staff.
3. Simplicity Has Run its Course
For much of the Jason Garrett era, he’s preached the idea of lining up and winning their matchups. Being better than the player across from them. The unfortunate reality is that’s simply not enough anymore.
As the NFL has evolved, coaches have evolved too. It’s still important to beat the player across from you, but modern NFL coaches are looking for ways to help their players win their matchups and make plays to win the game. Coaches like Sean Payton, Bill Belichick, Sean McVay, and Kyle Shanahan work to get their players in the best position for success based on the opponent they’re facing that week.
We hear the phrase, scheming players open, and more often than not, that hasn’t been the case for the Dallas Cowboys. We saw glimpses of it against the Los Angeles Rams in week 15 when Tavon Austin and Blake Jarwin ran a rub route in the middle of the field that left Austin all alone and able to walk in for a touchdown early in the game. Against the Eagles, though there didn’t seem to be any of that.
On the defensive side of the ball, the goal has been to keep the defensive scheme simple, simply because the idea is that if the scheme is simple, then players can play fast. It’s a philosophy that works, but for the Cowboys, it’s been a hindrance as teams have grown accustomed to what they want to do on defense.
Much like on the offensive side of the ball, where teams are having to get creative to get guys open or to help the offense move down the field, the defense is the same. Bill Belichick looks for ways to beat his opponent. He doesn’t just rely on what they do and hope it’s enough. He takes an aggressive approach to game planning. While the Cowboys sit back and wait for teams to make mistakes, the Patriots attempt to force those teams into mistakes.
That’s a stark contrast.
This team has a lot of talented pieces in place and there have been times this season where that has shown. The unfortunate thing is this coaching staff on both sides of the ball has kept things too simple for too long. Whether it was taking what the defense gave you on offense or attempting to prevent big plays on defense, it’s not working anymore.
The Cowboys’ simplicity led to passivity, which is one of the reasons this team looked flat at times. When opponents weren’t making mistakes, the Cowboys struggled.
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With the failure of the 2019 season, there will be a lot of fingers pointed in a lot of directions. We’ll dig into that more as the season comes to a close. However, the culture surrounding this team hasn’t been good this season and the team hasn’t bought in this season. Regardless of how Sunday goes for the Cowboys, even if they make the playoffs, big change winds are blowing.
The NFL season comes and goes so quickly, this may be your last opportunity to watch your favorite team for more than nine months.