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Some of the Thoughts That Run Through an Oversized, Bald Head

Posted Jan 9, 2013

@DCStarMagazine

The author of “America’s Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys,” Jeff also writes a new column each week in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.

 
  • This one was a stunner. Been trying to think of what could have shocked me more: Jason Garrett being fired or Tony Romo being traded or released? Yeah, that’s the list. The announcement Tuesday night that Rob Ryan had been dismissed as defensive coordinator was obviously what Jerry Jones was speaking of last week when he said no one should be comfortable at Valley Ranch.

 

  • Would think the entire defensive staff will be gone, meaning the only assistants returning would be offensive line coach Bill Callahan, special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, unless he’s hired as the head coach of the Chicago Bears, which seems unlikely, wide receivers coach Jimmy Robinson and tight ends coach John Garrett. Oh, Chris Boniol, too, who has worked wonders with Dan Bailey.

 

  • Now, if the Cowboys elect to bring in an offensive coordinator, well, a new one as Callahan actually has that title, one who would also call the plays, then perhaps he would like to bring in some of his own people. At this point, anything and everything is possible. There’s even a chance Jason Garrett is the only one returning on the staff outside of Boniol.

 

  • Going to talk extensively about the incredible job Ryan did here last season in a moment, but first off, this obviously wasn’t what the majority, myself included, was expecting. Honestly thought Skip Peete, the running backs coach who was dismissed Monday, would be the lone change. Thought the injuries would be factored into the 8-8 finish and the staff and team would be given an ultimatum for 2013: Playoffs or we’re blowing this thing up. Well, not so much. The fuse has already been lit.

 

  • Again, at this point and time, every thought/prediction for this offseason needs to be revamped. Seriously revamped. Thought Anthony Spencer returning, either franchised or signed long-term, was a lock. Not anymore. Thought Jay Ratliff would be back. Now? Possible, but not likely. Miles Austin, Doug Free, Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins? Perhaps Austin if he restructures his deal, the other three are all but gone.

 

  • Jan. 8, 2013 kicked off a restructuring of the Dallas Cowboys. Moving day is here, a year earlier than anyone expected. Was just on a radio show this past Sunday saying the team would have very little turnover this offseason. That was wrong. Completely and totally wrong. Still stunned; will be for a week or so.

 

  • Think this absolutely guarantees the Cowboys will be playing a 4-3 in 2013, with DeMarcus Ware moving to defensive end and Bruce Carter moving to the weak side. Obviously, personnel-wise, much depends on whether Spencer returns.

 

  • Never thought Ryan was Dick LeBeau, Bill Belichick or even his father as a coordinator. Because many were stunned, surprised at the least, by Ryan’s dismissal, a lot of people are assuming that we’re saying he was all this and a hot-fudge sundae with marshmallows and cherries on top. That’s not the case. Just after what he dealt with – a patched-up, off-the-couch unit, and the results weren’t all that bad – never thought he wouldn’t return for a third season. Never for a nanosecond.

 

  • Never mind 2011, as Ryan, like all, was hindered by the lockout and was able to institute only a portion of his encyclopedia-sized playbook. Let’s just review 2012 for the time being.

 

  • First, the final numbers, then we’ll dive into the injuries and such. The Cowboys finished 19th in total defense, allowing 355.4 yards per game, and 24th in scoring defense, at 25.0 per. They committed 89 penalties for 726 yards, both numbers were the seventh fewest in the NFL. What they didn’t do well was force turnovers, finishing tied for 28th with just 16, including seven interceptions, which was tied for dead last. The league average for turnovers was 25 and for interceptions was 14.6. The defense was also tied for 20th with 34 sacks.

 

  • For those wanting to go a little deeper inside the numbers, Football Outsiders ranked the Cowboys defense 23rd in the league via its Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, or DVOA, while in terms of grading each player, ProFootballFocus.com had the Cowboys defense 12th.

 

  • So statistically speaking, the performance on the field this season was below average more or less across the board. Based on these numbers alone, and the lack of success in 2011, Ryan’s firing could be seen as justified. And who knows how his and Garrett’s personalities meshed. Certainly seemed like an awkward fit. For now, though, we’re just focusing on the field.

 

  • Let’s move onto the intangibles, which Ryan had no control over this past season. Injuries and tragedy, not to mention the fifth-toughest schedule in the NFL according to Football Outsiders.

 

  • The Cowboys had 25 players on the field this season for at least 100 snaps and 36 overall. Both were easily league highs. Also, no Cowboys defense on record, dating back to 1989, has had more than 20 defensive players take 100 snaps. In 2010, just 19 did. The 49ers this season had only 14.

 

  • Think about that. The 49ers had 11 fewer defensive players see 100 snaps this season than Dallas. That’s mind-boggling. The Cowboys also saw five more players than at any time in the last 23 seasons, at the least, take 100 snaps. This wasn’t by design. In a perfect world, all coordinators enjoy the luxury San Francisco had, 11 starters, three or four specialists, a pass rusher, a slot corner, nickel, whatnot. And that’s the lineup every game, everyone knows their role.

 

  • Almost no one knew their role on the Cowboys defense this season for the simple fact the roles were changing on a week-to-week basis. Four different players called the signals in a span of six weeks. That has to be some sort of record. Ten players tallied between 300-394 defensive snaps, which is guaranteed to be an NFL record. Eight players who were seeing regular snaps the last month of the season were either signed off the street or from another team’s practice squad.

 

  • The expected defensive starters going into Week 1, including slot corner Orlando Scandrick, missed 56 games this season, which also led the league. Throw in Mike Jenkins, Dan Connor and Sean Lissemore, and the top-15 defensive players on the team entering the season missed 67 games. That’s not including the time they missed in the game they were injured. Also, factor in that DeMarcus Ware could have easily shut it down in early November and was 70 percent at best over the final stretch. Still feels weird to write these next words, but the team would have probably been best served not playing him in the finale at Washington. He could barely move.

 

  • Also worth mentioning is the loss of Josh Brent, who was playing really well in a starting role at nose. Seemed to be making the leap before the tragic car accident that took the life of teammate Jerry Brown.

 

  • Let’s be crystal clear. The Cowboys, Jason Garrett, Jerry Jones, whoever made the decision, had every right to fire Ryan. Not even saying this won’t make for a better defense next season. Like the idea of going to a 4-3, and if it’s, say, Lovie Smith, think fans should dance a jig. The timing of the dismissal can only mean the Cowboys know who they want and have a short window in being able to hire the candidate. Could be Smith, could be Romeo Crennel, could be Arizona coordinator Ray Horton. Could be someone no one is even thinking about right now, although that seems unlikely.

 

  • Guess in the end, my two cents is this: Ryan didn’t deserve to be fired and his dismissal, at least to me, was stunning. But having digested the news for 14 hours or so now, maybe this wasn’t a bad move for the team. Know Ryan was popular with the majority of the players, especially Sean Lee, Jason Hatcher, Bruce Carter and Anthony Spencer, but am guessing his replacement could be just as popular. And perhaps produce better results. Maybe blitz more, maybe create some turnovers.

 

  • If nothing else, this move sounded the alarm. Jones wasn’t issuing any sort of warning shot last week. He was preparing one and all for an offseason of change. Think we’re just getting started, too.

 

  • A new defensive coordinator should be in place by week’s end, think a play-caller will be hired as well, allowing Garrett to concentrate on being a head coach. Maybe even a consultant of sorts, too, in the front office. Who knows? It’s all in play now outside of Romo will be the quarterback, Garrett will be the head coach and after that, well, it’s not going to be a boring winter and spring at Valley Ranch.

Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.

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