DALLAS COWBOYS: ARE INJURIES A GOOD ENOUGH EXCUSE THIS SEASON? By Terrence Jakes

For the Dallas Cowboys are injuries a good enough excuse to explain their 2015-16 season? At the risk of telling readers what they already know, football is a violent sport. Where violence reigns supreme, injuries are bound to happen, and in most cases, are unavoidable. All 32 NFL teams are aware of these factors, which is why the offseason is spent building a complete roster. Because the injury bug can hit any team, at any time, and at any magnitude, a team has to be more than the 22 players who start on offense and defense, respectively.

Yes injuries are the norm, but the rate and degree seem to be an anomaly for the team we all affectionately know, though maybe not all accept as America’s Team. The Dallas Cowboys, a team that finished 12-4 in the 2014-2015 season, in large part due to injuries this season, has effectively given itself the opportunity to flip that standout record. With a loss this Sunday at home against conference rival, Washington Redskins that can quickly come to fruition at this point, whether they finish with eleven losses or twelve…The damage has already been done.

The Physical Damage

It’s easy to see that injuries have played a big part in their current standings. To be honest, I began another draft of this article beginning with the defensive backs and every level of the defense and ending with all of the offense, explaining in depth why all of the Cowboys’ on field struggles were attached to injuries with their starters. Can you really blame me for that thinking? Look at just a small sample size of the key injuries on both sides of the ball:

DEFENSE
Orlando Scandrick-Torn ACL and MCL
Morris Claiborne- Hamstring injury
Sean Lee- Concussions
Randy Gregory- Ankle Injury

OFFENSE
Tony Romo-Clavicle fracture (twice)
Dez Bryant- Foot

We can easily add more to this list, but these are big names and big money players. Players who can make a real difference on the field. For a Cowboys fan, they can find some reassurance in next year knowing that all of these names will have had time to rest and be at full strength to make a run next season. Then I thought about it again as the Dallas Cowboys aren’t the only team without the choice of selecting who the injuries will happen to or how damaging the injuries will become. Every team suffers from these pains and this year in particular has seen across the entire league, too many injuries to key players. So injuries will always remain the known unknowns of the game. To really go in depth on the issues of America’s Team, we have to get past the surface area of football injuries.

The Decision Makers
Where do you look next to fix the issue? You go to the guys wearing the headsets on the sidelines and sitting in the suites on game day.

I would love to start with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones but why waste time trying to find reasons why a power hungry guy with all of the power in the organization should fire himself as GM. That’s not going to happen so all Cowboys fans have to pray that Stephen Jones will still make solid draft picks as he had the last few years and allow his dad to take credit for it. So instead of wasting time, let’s talk about the head coach, Jason Garrett.

A part of the organization in the 90’s, Garrett has special place in the heart of Jerry and Cowboys fans for holding down the fort with a 3-2 record while Troy Aikman was out with a collarbone injury of his own during the 1998 season. A former quarterback and a supposed offensive guru, I expected that his system would be proven successful for any decent NFL quarterback. With Tony Romo at the helm the offense has been one of the best in the league and he has met the offensive expectations. Events that have occurred offensively this season has really swayed me in an entirely new direction and has given me new perspective on what Jason Garrett is capable of doing with Dallas current collection of talent. Excluding Romo from the mix due to his injury, going into the final game of the season the Cowboys are on their third starting quarterback with all changes due to poor performance.

The facts are what they are. Without Tony Romo this season, the Dallas Cowboys have only managed to find a way to win one game this season. One. That means without Romo they are currently 1-10 with the potential to go 1-11 with a loss against the Redskins on Sunday. Not including first time starter Kellen Moore but to tell me a former quarterback has two quarterbacks who have started at least 10 games in their career, working in a quarterback friendly system cannot manage to win more than one game; it’s unbelievable. The lowliness of the NFL East speaks for itself and to not win more than one game against those opponents while Romo has been out is abysmal. As a backup quarterback Garrett had on the back end of their careers, Michael Irving, Deion Sanders and first-round pick David LaFleur to pass the ball to. Weeden and Cassel have had Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Jason Witten. The talent is pretty comparable so you can’t say that these current QBs didn’t have the weapons. What’s missing is the game plan for these non-Romo quarterbacks to be successful on a week to week basis. With the exception of two games against the Patriots and Packers, the Cowboys have been close deep into the 4th quarter. This may seem a good sign, but even a casual observer of the game would notice that it has been Rod Marinelli’s defense that has kept them in these tight games, not Jason Garret’s offense. It’s also too clear to see that the offense was given the opportunities in the crunch time, but were never able to truly capitalize. Taking all of this into perspective, this has a few different implications about the state of the Cowboys.

1. Romo is a lot better than even I give him credit for
2. Jason Garret’s offense isn’t as quarterback friendly as I thought (Scott Linehan is calling plays, but this is still Garret’s offense)
3. Jason Garret isn’t as great as once advertised in being able to coach up quarterbacks

I wish I could pin point the real issue, but I do at least see a common denominator. Jason Garret. That is unless you want to agree that Tony Romo is a lot closer to Hall of Fame status than we all realize and for that I won’t argue with you today. Sure Garrett seems like a nice guy and seems like the type of coach players would be able to rally around, but in the end the results speak for themselves. I know Jerry loves Garrett and he may have good reason, but after his disappointment displayed after the Cowboys one win without Romo against the Redskins, I’m not so sure Jerry Jones isn’t willing to consider making a coaching change.

Through the Star-Telegram, Jerry Jones expressed his feeling on the then current state of the team and its coaching staff, “I am stunned that we haven’t been able to win more games without Tony,” Jones said, “And I would have thought that we could have coached it up enough, and put it together enough, that we would not have lost those games without Romo early. We would be in better shape than we are right now.”

Jerry is usually more publicly positive regardless of the status of the team, but his choice to speak out and his timing, after a win that statistically kept them in the playoff race, may have some implications as to his offseason plans. Can you blame Jerry for considering a change if he goes that route? Yes it will be extremely costly to get rid of Garrett and sign a new coach, but if a tough decision will bring trophies, he is willing to count his losses.

One Possibility

There has also been some uncertainty surrounding an old Cowboy connection that may be available. With the New Orleans Saints on a downswing, there may be a head coach available that we all know Jerry has been keeping his eyes on. Sean Payton’s availability is no guarantee, but is an interesting choice should he become available. His past New Orleans Saints teams have gotten deep in the playoffs and has won a championship, something Jerry is looking to get his hands back on.

Current Saints QB, Drew Brees made a statement this morning on NFL Network’s NFL HQ, when he was asked if he believed he and Payton would be elsewhere beginning next season.

“No, I don’t,” he said. “…a plan was put in place throughout last offseason as to how we were going to build a foundation by which to make a run at it in the future. That includes some new faces, that includes some young players that, I think, will all have a chance to come together and kind of build a team that can make a run at it in the future.”

 

America’s Team

One thing about the NFL we all have to understand when it comes to player interviews, analysts making suggestions, and bloggers giving inside scoops and opinions, is that nobody ever knows what’s going to happen until it happens. In the Dallas Cowboys case, we don’t know if the Cowboys will have a healthy season next year. We don’t know if Garret will be on the sidelines. We do know though that regardless of what happens in the offseason and whether it’s justly deserved or not, Cowboys and their fans can look forward to another hype filled preseason in the summer as they will once again be declared the preseason NFC East Champs as well as a favorite to get to the Super Bowl. Whether you love to love them, or love to hate them, what would the NFL do without the drama of Dallas?

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