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Spagnola: Not As Bad As Some Might Think


FRISCO, Texas – Just yesterday, a guy at the health club stopped me to say the Cowboys should be congratulated for having such "a good season."

My initial reaction was, _Ha, this guy is pulling my leg._ Being sarcastic, because just a couple days earlier heard another guy walking through the locker room proclaiming as loud as he could how "average" the Cowboys are, and that's all they will ever be, "We're just stuck with the average Cowboys."

But as it turns out, this guy on Thursday was sincere. He was impressed that the Cowboys recovered from their poor start to not only win the NFC East, not only win a playoff game, but doing so "with such a young team."

He understood how much the acquisition of Amari Cooper at midseason meant to the team. He noticed the growth of rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup. How well the defense is playing. Never mentioned getting rid of the head coach or their two-time Pro Bowl quarterback in just his third year.

Wow, the guy was happy. Guess he didn't think the Cowboys were going to win the Super Bowl this year, just as most thought before this season began, probably for the very reasons they didn't make it to the NFC title game, either.

Evidently, he's not being influenced by talk radio or columnists thinking it is their journalistic duty to promote axing anyone within swinging distance.

Or just maybe he is smart enough not to be dealing in perception.

Hey, I get it. No one around here is satisfied after getting beat 30-22 in the NFC Divisional Round playoff game by the, as it turns out, NFC champion Los Angeles Rams. If you happen to be keeping up with the Joneses, they want better, too.

But how about pausing for a moment of realism.

There have been these cries for putting the next Sean McVey in charge of the offense, especially now that the Cowboys parted ways with Scott Linehan. And my guess is there were more reasons for that than just an offense averaging only 21.2 points per game, hand-strapped with an inadequate receiving corps the first half of the season, along with the loss of their Pro Bowl center and playing with four tight ends totaling nine NFL career catches, including three of them playing in no more than one game – total.

OK, great. Who might that next genius be? Accepting suggestions.

There have been cries of trying to lure Sean Payton away from the Saints. Hey, Sean knows offense.

Well, sure he does, and I see where the Saints, playing at home in the NFC title game, scored uno more point against the Rams last week than the Cowboys did playing in Los Angeles the previous week.

Keep hearing how imaginative the Saints offense is, how they use different formations and motion to accentuate what they do in the running and passing games. Maybe Sean just had an off day because the Saints only gained 290 yards against Uncle Wade's defense.

The Cowboys' boring offense the week before gained, uh, 308. In fact, the Cowboys scored three touchdowns against the Rams. The Saints, well only two, and they had the benefit of an overtime period.

Just sayin'.

Then there is the notion that Dak Prescott needs so much help. Needs better coaching. Needs his accuracy to improve.

OK, as I've been saying, quarterbacks don't complete 100 percent of their passes. Not even future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Did you see that incompletion he threw on a simple slant route to Michael Thomas in the fourth quarter when the Saints were first-and-10 at the Rams 13-yard line in a 20-20 game with just 1:58 to play, the incompletion stopping the clock, saving the Rams a timeout?

Oh, and I see where Drew threw for 249 yards against the Rams defense while Dak, attempting eight fewer passes, threw for 266. And he wasn't intercepted like Brees was. Dak also finished with a 99.2 QB rating to Brees' 88.4 vs. the Rams.

Maybe not so average there, bud.

Then there is this perception that the boring Cowboys only want to run the football. No imagination. Well, I see where the Patriots are going to their fourth Super Bowl in five years, thanks a lot to rushing for 176 yards and four touchdowns against Kansas City, two by Sony Michel and two by the versatile Rex Burkhead of right out here in Plano. That included both of the Pats' final two TDs: from 4 yards out and the 2-yarder, AFC title-game winner in overtime. And both on simple off-tackle plays.

Such imagination.

At the chance of committing blasphemy here, maybe the Cowboys just weren't good enough. Didn't have a consistently strong enough offensive line. Maybe the Patriots simply executed better on the goal line where the Cowboys struggled all season long, scoring just 13 touchdowns on 25 possessions inside the 10-yard line, although one of those was purposely taking a knee to close out the Saints.

Oh, that's right, the Saints. The Cowboys did beat 'dem sainted Saints in the regular season, 13-10, Dak throwing for 249 yards to Brees' 127.

See what I mean? Just be careful buying into all these perceptions, ones suggesting the Cowboys don't know what to do with Dak at quarterback, that Dak isn't this or he isn't that. Look, Dak isn't Tony Romo. But then Tony wasn't Troy Aikman. And Troy, well, he wasn't Roger. There are just different ways to get things done.

Now don't be pulling your hair out if indeed Garrett becomes the play-caller and is assisted in coordinating the offense by the youthful Kellen Moore, with Jon Kitna evidently coming in as the QB coach, which by the way is a great move.

Oh, and this notion Garrett just wants to run the ball? Yeah, this is the same guy who basically made Romo famous. Garrett was the offensive coordinator for Romo's first six years as an NFL fulltime starting quarterback. Hmmm, so old school.

Well, smoke this one in your pipe. The four teams winning divisional round playoff games to qualify for the conference championships totaled 747 yards rushing. The losers, well, totaled 205, or an average of 51.25 yards each. And in the conference championship games: winners 253 yards rushing, losers 89.

So yesterday offense, huh.

Also, here is a little more reality about this Cowboys offense. In 2013, when they managed to go 8-8 despite the worst defense in the league, the Cowboys averaged 27.4 points a game. In 2014, they averaged 29.2. In 2015, well heck, that season went right down the drain with Romo's back issues and that horrible decision to eventually put the keys in Matt Cassel's hands, not because of offensive concept. In 2016, with a raw rookie, fourth-round draft choice at quarterback, the Cowboys averaged 26.1 points a game, winning 13 games and scoring 31 in the three-point, last-second playoff loss to Green Bay.

And in the first eight games of 2017, before Ezekiel Elliott was suspended those six games, the Cowboys offense put the team on its back with 27.75 points per game.

Then 2018, with the deficient receiving corps, right? That's what everyone said before the season even began. But once Cooper came on board, the Cowboys boosted their average to 24.4 points over the final eight games. And in the playoffs, OK, 23 a game, but then that was better than the Saints' 21.5.

Just in case you are interested in raw numbers.

Look, I get it, the Cowboys are at the Pro Bowl not Super Bowl LIII, and no one is satisfied by that. Shouldn't be, though seemingly creating a trendy open season for piling on without reasonable regard.

So to me, you know what?

My health club guy just might be spot on. Take the emotion out of it, and this season wasn't as bad as many want to perceive.