Fans of the Dallas Cowboys annoy a lot of folks. I’m not sure of all the reasons, but some of the things I’ve heard over the years are complaints about arrogance, Jerry Jones, and a garden variety of other things, some of which are quite entertaining.
I am a fan, and I have been since the Cowboys first came to town in 1960, hopefully without the annoyance.
This year, I’m going into the season with the same level of enthusiasm I’ve had for several other years. Like going on a blind date, I’m cautiously optimistic.
Dallas has never been short of local bashers in the media when the subject is the Cowboys. During my commute every day, I tune in to local ESPN radio, and I’ve made some observations about this year’s complaints.
Many fans believe this is the “fish or cut bait”* year for the Dallas QB. When he first relieved Drew Bledsoe in 2006, under head coach Bill Parcells, Romo was viewed as the second coming of Troy Aikman. The biggest criticism of Romo over the past few years has been his lack of leadership. Some optimistic local pundits cite as evidence of a different Romo this year his offseason role in getting the team together for practices during the lockout. I don’t buy the validity of this argument. It was a role thrust upon him by circumstances, not by an innate and effective leadership style. It’s still wait-and-see.
The Offensive Line
The O-Line of the Cowboys allowed 31 sacks in 2010, and locally, they drew the ire of the “chicken-fried nation”* for the loss of Romo for the season early in the year. They successfully signed two of their best linemen, Doug Free and Kyle Kosier. Salary cap issues were the more publicized reasons for letting go of Leonard Davis and Mark Colombo, but certainly their performances on the field made them more expendable than perhaps others. The line will have a better season than they did last year, barring injury.
Dallas was 7th in interceptions last year with 20, and 16th in sacks with 35, despite having the league’s number one pass rusher of 2010, DeMarcus Ware, who had 15.5. Someone in addition to Ware must put more pressure on the opponent’s quarterback if the secondary is to survive. Terence Newman, a local fan favorite, is blamed for missing assignments, and therefore causing long gains and touchdowns. But, he tied with teammate Gerald Sensabaugh for most interceptions on the team with 5. Sensabaugh, disappointed he did not draw more in his free agency year, signed a new contract earlier this week with the Cowboys. The Cowboys believe they have improved their secondary with this week’s free agent signing of Abram Elam.
The name of Wade Phillips isn’t spoken often in Dallas any more. He is probably glad, given the level of vitriol from the fans and talking heads during his last season and a half. Previously touted as a defensive-genius-not-a-head-coach, Jerry Jones replaced him at midseason last year with Troy Aikman’s clipboard handler, Jason Garrett. It was a good move, most believe (myself included).
At season’s end, Garrett named Rob Ryan as his defensive coordinator. A far cry from Wade Phillips, Ryan has his own reputation, the likes of which has never coached football in Texas, at least above the high school level. He is a character, one who will bring the fans back to the defensive side of the ball in a positive way.
Garrett himself is in his proving year. The fans are on his side. The media spewers are giving him a grace period, too. This could be a good sign, especially when Troy Aikman says Garrett is the right guy for the job. ’Nuff said in Cowboy country.
Reports are that “Camp Cupcake”* is a thing of the past. With the exit of Wade ”Aw-shucks”* Phillips, there are no more practices with players in visors, sunglasses, and flip-flops. The preseason games will not be the first time they’ll hit each other this year. Bets are on that the team will not be living on the laurels of the 1990s era any longer.
With Garrett and Ryan, a true test of the theory that coaching really matters will be played out on the gridiron. It was a long time ago when Jerry Jones implied coaching wasn’t all that important, thus the exit of Jimmy “The Jimster”* Johnson. Maybe, he’s learned something. Fans hope so.
Speaking as a fan of the Cowboys, and not as a blind and rabid one, my hopes are high. A 10-6 season would be a big boost to my confidence. Romo’s not my guy, but remember, I go back to the days of Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, and Aikman. I’m not sure anyone will ever replace those guys in the lexicon of Cowboydom.
I don’t dislike Romo. He has the skills, yes, but I just don’t think he has the leadership required to turn an offense around.
I prefer the defensive side of the ball, anyway. DeMarcus Ware is my god. Since I met Bob Lilly when I was a senior in high school, there hasn’t been another defensive player who comes close in my estimation, with maybe the exception of the late Harvey Martin.
Across the board, I believe the Cowboys are stronger. They are a little suspect with injury-prone Felix Jones as their lead running back, but the O-Line and a better passing game will help. Tashard Choice is a darned good replacement for Jones as the primary running back.
What Cowboys fans have learned, if we’ve been paying attention over the last decade-plus, is that other teams have deserved the wins they’ve had, not because of bad luck, bad coaching, or the refs, but because several other teams have simply been much better. This has been a hard admission to swallow for a lot of lifelong Cowboys fans since the 1960s, Jerry Jones’ opinion notwithstanding.
I’m certain of one thing. Locally, not much will matter on the Dallas sports scene once September rolls around. Yes, we love our Mavs and our Rangers, but until February, it’s about the Cowboys.
*All terms in quotation marks are the inventions of my favorite sports talk guy in Dallas, Randy Galloway, a homegrown guy who still has enough brain cells to remember what football is supposed to be about.