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Helman: Why You Should Take A Deep Breath From The Cowboys' Coaching Angst

FRISCO, Texas –This is always a weird time of year for 62 percent of the NFL.

If you're one of the 12 teams good enough to make the postseason, you're gearing up for the excitement of the playoff run. If you're anyone else, literally everything is up in the air.

You're seeing it across the NFL landscape, as you do every year. Some teams are cleaning house, turning over front offices for a new regime. Some teams are simply looking for a shot in the arm, as they seek to make changes that will push them into the playoff picture in 2018.

Somewhere in the middle of all that sit the Cowboys, who find themselves somewhere between wholesale changes and moderate tinkering.

It's a little early to know exactly what is going on. Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones has confirmed that he won't be changing his head coach, and his offensive and defensive coordinators look likely to stay in place.

There are reports that special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia is leaving for Oakland, and a handful of position coaches are expected to look for new opportunities elsewhere.

From the outside perspective, the bottom line is that the big names, and the names that face most of the scrutiny – Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli – aren't going anywhere.

And honestly, I don't think that's the end of the world.

I'm going to pause for a moment to let you finish screaming at your screen.

But in all seriousness, as frustrating as this season was, I'm looking back over the Dallas Cowboys' 2017 season and I'm not sure the catastrophic failures that are prompting people to call for mass firings.

To prove my points, take a look back at the way the season started.

Despite a wealth of outside controversies, including the potential suspension of its star running back, this team started 5-3 en route to defending its NFC East championship. The Cowboys had issues in the red zone and with the passing game, and they struggled to cope without Sean Lee when a hamstring injury forced him out for two weeks.

They ran into a buzz saw in an inexplicable loss to Denver, and they were outdueled by Aaron Rodgers.

Even with all of that going on, the Cowboys were fairly impressive over the first half of the season. In the first eight weeks, they averaged 370 yards per game, highlighted by 148 rushing yards per week. They scored an average of 28.2 points per game.

Stack those numbers up against regular season totals, and the September-October Cowboys would rank sixth in the NFL in total offense, 17th in passing offense, 1st in rushing offense and fourth in scoring.

Of course, it's only half of the story. We know what happened next. Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for six games, Tyron Smith succumbed to multiple injuries and missed two games – and was never completely healthy down the final stretch of the season.

Lee once again missed time with a hamstring injury, and the Cowboys' total defensive collapse without him might be the most surprising part of the entire season.

The Cowboys found ways to function, albeit not always beautifully, without Elliott. The same can't be said for Lee's absence, as I can illustrate here:

For the season, the Cowboys finished eighth in the NFL in total yards allowed, with an average of 318 yards given up per game. They allowed 214 passing yards per game and 104 rushing yards per game. They surrendered 20.8 points per contest, which was No. 13 in the league.

During that three-game losing streak without Lee, they allowed an absurd 1,234 yards and 92 points. That's literally 100 more yards and 10 more points per game than the season average.


There's other fun stats we can pull out, too – such as the fact that Dak Prescott was sacked 10 times in the first eight games of the season and 22 times in the final eight games. From the time he was beaten down in Atlanta until the end of the season, he never seemed to recover the poise that had marked the first 25 games of his career.

I can feel you complaining at your screen again.

Yes, I know that injuries and adversities are the hallmark of any NFL season. The Eagles secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs despite losing Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks and even Carson Wentz to injuries.

The Cowboys' coaches and front office aren't without blame in the way their season got away from them. They assuredly could have found a better way to function in Atlanta without Smith. They could have been better prepared to absorb the loss of Lee to injury.

Their offense could have been more efficient. Their defense still needs to force more takeaways.

I'm not trying to absolve anyone of blame. There's plenty that needs to be fixed if the Cowboys are going to return to the postseason any time soon, let alone in 2018.

I guess my point is that this is a team and a coaching staff that scrapped to a 5-3 record despite a host of off-field adversities in the early going of the season. It was ugly, but they then tackled no small number of on-field problems to go 4-4 down the home stretch.

However frustrating it might have been, that's not a resume that screams for a house cleaning – it's just not. If anything, it sounds like it calls for some introspection and some smart decision-making to fix the problems.

Judging from my Twitter mentions, that's not what most Cowboys fans want to hear, but it makes a heck of a lot more sense than starting from scratch.

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