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Spagnola: Some Food For Super Bowl Sunday Thought

Posted Jan 31, 2014


IRVING, Texas – Here is the downside of the needle on this record getting stuck … 8-8 … 8-8 … 8-8 … or having now gone four consecutive years without a playoff appearance; or 18 straight seasons without a Super Bowl appearance, five longer than the previous longest 13-year drought in franchise history, between the 1979 season and 1991; or now also 18 consecutive seasons without having appeared in at least an NFC Championship Game, twice as long as the previous longest drought in franchise history, between 1983 and 1991:

No matter what you do, what decisions you make, you automatically are dead wrong in the court of public opinion until proven right, especially when you’ve been such a proud and successful franchise for the majority of these 54 seasons.

Ask Denver. The Broncos are returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in 15 seasons after going back to back in 1997-98. Miami hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl since 1984. Chicago finally returned after the 2006 season, its first appearance since the Bears won their only Super Bowl in 1985. The 49ers went back to the Super Bowl last year for the first time since 1994. Washington? Geesh, don’t even ask, 23 seasons ago. Minnesota, not since the 1976 season.

And this might be the saddest of all, Kansas City, the franchise playing in Super Bowl I, losing to the Green Bay Packers, hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl since the Chiefs won their lone Super Bowl following the 1969 season.

No, this is not meant for you to find comfort in other people’s misery, seeing that this will be yet another miserable Super Bowl Sunday for Cowboys fans, having to watch Seattle take on the Broncos at MetLife Stadium.

This is to provide you some facts to those seemingly pulling their hair out over the Cowboys promoting Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator and hiring Scott Linehan as the pass-game coordinator/offensive play-caller, moves being widely panned and mocked because of this purported “dysfunction” crippling these Cowboys.

Now, this is not to say every move the Cowboys have made over these past 18 years has been right, far from it. But to just point out past failures doesn’t automatically deem every move they now make dead wrong. So, let me just throw out some facts, just pure facts, as you are out shopping for chips and dip, and ordering your chicken wings for Super Sunday.

Defense first, and this probably comes with less contention I would imagine. The Cowboys finished dead last in total defense this 2013 season, meaning 32nd, and this is the first time in franchise history they have finished dead last defensively since that 13th-place finish in the 13-team NFL of 1960, their inaugural season, and the absolute worst finish since landing 13th out of what was then a 14-team NFL in 1963.

This, though, comes on the heels of last year’s 19th finish, which had matched the second-lowest defensive ranking since finishing 20th during the 1-15 season of 1989 – the Cowboys finishing 23rd during the 6-10 season of 2010 that got Wade Phillips fired after a 1-7 start.

Look, defense matters – a lot. Ask Seattle, right, and the Seahawks will be in big trouble if they don’t hold Denver to no more than, oh, 20 points come Sunday. And to further illustrate just how poorly the Cowboys have performed defensively over the past two seasons, think about this: From 1964 through the 1979 season, that is 16 consecutive years, the Cowboys finished in the top 10 defensively … every single season. Top 10!

 This, too, is overshadowed with memories of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith et al: From 1992-1997, the Cowboys owned Top 10 defenses, and were No. 1 in 1992 and 1994.

         Understood that injuries do matter, and injuries ravaged the Cowboys defense the past two seasons. I mean, come on, having to play 20 different defensive linemen in the same season while trying to figure out how to compensate for the injury losses of Anthony Spencer, Tyrone Crawford, Jay Ratliff and Ben Bass, and then the combined four games missed by DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, not to mention their limited ability in several more.

         The pitiful run defense surely illustrates these losses, the Cowboys finishing 24th against the run after being 23rd in 2012. Those two years are the absolute worst rankings since finishing 31st against the run in 2000. And get this, the absolute worst back-to-back seasons playing the run since … 1960 and 1961, finishing last in ’60 and 12th out of 14 in ’61.

         Still, face it, putting Marinelli in charge is the right move, yet not sure why everyone wants to just throw Monte Kiffin to the curb. His experience won’t hurt anything having him still around, especially since he would have gotten paid for this 2014 season anyway. Might as well get what you can out of him.

         OK, now the offense, and again just the facts.

         The Cowboys finished 16th offensively this season, their lowest ranking since checking in at No. 30 during the third consecutive 5-11 season of 2002 (29th and 25th were the offensive rankings those other two 5-11 years). This after finishing an impressive sixth in 2012.

         In fact, since Jason Garrett took over the offense and play-calling in 2007, simultaneously with Tony Romo becoming the fulltime starting quarterback, the Cowboys offensive rankings had been 3rd, 13th (but 2nd rushing), 2nd, 7th, 11th and 6th. And a passing game that was third last season fell to 14th in 2013.

         Oh, there is this argument in defense of this offense: But the running game was much better. Well, feint praise since the Cowboys would have been hard-pressed to be worse than last year, the 1,265 yards (31st) the franchise’s absolute worst since the 1,049 gained in the 12-game inaugural 1960 season. So, yes, rushing for 1,507 yards in 2013 is an improvement.

         Yet, that too comes with a but: But the 1,507 rushing yards then became the second-lowest rushing total since rushing for 1,500 yards in 1990, and that got offensive coordinator David Shula fired after two seasons. In fact, since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, only three times have the Cowboys rushed for fewer than 1,507 yards in a season: Of course in 2012 and 1990, along with 1,409 in 1989, again that 1-15 season.

         Funny how there have been complaints all season long about the Cowboys’ inability to create offensive balance, how the Cowboys didn’t get the ball to Dez Bryant enough and how the Cowboys didn’t throw down the field enough. But then Garrett makes a change in play-caller and it’s as if he’s lost his ever-lovin’ mind.

         Also, if you remember, when the Cowboys hired Bill Callahan in 2012 as the offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, it was not to call plays but to improve a struggling offensive line, which he and Frank Pollack have done wonderfully over this two-year span. And that the Cowboys have retained Callahan with at least a year left on his contract, while not allowing him to leave for a lateral move with another team, is not unprecedented.

         Remember, back in 2006 Bill Parcells kept offensive line coach Tony Sparano as the run-game coordinator when Sean Payton tried to take him to New Orleans as his offensive coordinator. And you know what, that same year Miami blocked Garrett, its quarterbacks coach, from going with Linehan to St. Louis as his offensive coordinator.

         Oh, and as for the “too many cooks in the kitchen” argument, do you remember back to 2005 when Payton was the pass-game coordinator and Sparano was the run-game coordinator, but were you ever sure if they were calling the plays or if Bill Parcells was? In fact, Parcells did the same thing in 2006 after Payton left for New Orleans, Sparano the run-game coordinator and Todd Haley the pass-game coordinator, yet it still seemed as if Bill was calling the plays.

         Or as Cowboys COO Stephen Jones told Chris Mortensen of ESPN the other day, “Half the time, you couldn’t tell who was going to call plays under Bill any particular week – it could be Tony Sparano, it could be Sean Payton or it could be Bill himself,” with most of us taking Door No. 3 in that scenario.

         “In this instance, Linehan and Garrett have a good history together, they’ll be on the same page, and it will still allow Jason to grow where we want him to grow as a head coach.” 

         You know the weird thing about all this? You would have thought a team with an epically poor defense and declining offense, one changing defensive coordinators and bringing in a new offensive play-caller, would have finished like 4-12 or worse. Yet the Cowboys finished 8-8, losing five of those eight games by a grand total of eight points, though that probably doesn’t make a whole lot of folks – especially the Cowboys themselves – feel any better.

         This probably won’t either. But if you combine the Cowboys offensive and defensive rankings – 16 and 32 – they total 48. Only one other team had a higher combined total, Jacksonville coming in at 58 (31 and 27). And yes, the Jags finished 4-12. The Cowboys then tied Miami for the second-highest total.

         Tops? That was New Orleans at 8, fourth offensively, fourth defensively. Next Cincinnati at 13, then Seattle, Arizona and Houston (go figure) tied at 18. Denver’s combined number by the way was 20, (1st and 19th).

         Again, as promised, just the facts, no compounded hysteria over past failures, or hollow criticism of these moves because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do with these Cowboys until …

         So just maybe give some pause to any or all of this come Super Sunday while chomping on your nachos.

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