A star is the universal symbol of quality. As children, we recall getting a star at the top of an assignment. Movies are awarded stars based on the critics estimation of the movie’s quality and marketability. In the NFL, the star represents the Dallas Cowboys.
As every NFL team, training camp is a time for optimism and certainly the Cowboys have plenty of reasons to feel good. Coming off a year that finally matched his talents, where Dez Bryant caught 92 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 TDs, the Cowboys offense merely needs a running game to keep defenses honest. By drafting Travis Frederick, it appears the Cowboys have addressed some of their needs to upgrade their interior offensive linemen.
While the defense has been less than spectacular in recent years, the addition of Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli is expected to reinvigorate the defense. The last time Kiffin and Marinelli worked together, they led a stalwart Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense from 1996 to 2005.
Now, eight years later, they are back together and rejuvenated – both as coaches and leading the Dallas defense.
“When you have guy that comes in the age sometimes doesn’t matter its the rebirth of having new guys, a new team and teaching you philosophy,” Demarcus Ware explained. “With him coming in and teaching us a different deal, it fees like he has a new birth. So the age is not a problem. It’s us learning what we need to do and doing it effectively.”
In Ware’s perspective, it’s not about Kiffin. The responsibility is on him and the rest of his teammates to pick up the new defensive scheme and execute it effectively.
Kiffin and new defensive tackle coach Rod Marinelli have nothing to prove, as they already have skins on the wall from their many years in the league and their success together in leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in 2002.
“They are really really great coaches and have the heritage of playing the Tampa Two, playing different coverages, having great pass rush and guys that get pressure and get turnovers,” Ware said.
“That’s what this defense is predicated on. We had 16 turnovers last year and each team they have in the past have consistently gotten 35 to 40 turnovers. We are trying to get that.”
Ware said he’s excited about the new defense because it’s simple and it allows the players to be more aggressive. He said the Cowboys are already seeing a difference in practices now.
“I’m real excited with the way that we are playing,” Ware said. “Guys aren’t thinking so much. They aren’t making a lot of mistakes. When we go through each day there is a chart we go through on how many mistakes we made, how many turnovers, how many missed plays. There aren’t a lot of missed plays and lot of errors. we are making more plays and getting more turnovers. I think that is what we needed.”
So far, the defense has shown up in preseason.
In the Hall of Fame game, the defense surrendered 20 points, but rookie Devonte Holloman’s 75-yard interception return with a tipped pass keyed the Cowboys’ 24-20 victory. The defense was also directly responsible for the first points of the game, when Ryan Tannehill fumbled on the eight yard line during their first possession. Moments later, Phillip Tanner ran the ball in from the one yard line.
However, just as the preseason brings hope for a solid Dallas defense, it has opened more questions about the offense. If you factor out the first game “gift” points generated by the defense, the Cowboys first three games have generated 10, 17, and 7 points respectively.
Jason Garrett decided to sit Tony Romo for the HOF game, and while that decision made a great deal of sense at the time, the subsequent performance of the offense in the next two games opens the door to second guessing.
Despite starting with the ball on the Oakland 16 (again a fumble recovered by that defense), the cowboys offense under Romo could only muster a field goal in the second game. On their second possession, the offense drove the ball deep into Oakland territory, but again was forced to attempt a field goal, which was blocked.
Against the Arizona Cardinals, the turnovers went against the Cowboys, as Dallas gave up the ball six times to Arizona.
While the defense played solidly, the Cowboy offense continued to move the ball, but failed to score.
One bright spot on the offense is Alex Tanney. The young quarterback connected with TE Escobar on a 5-yard touchdown pass with 10:55 to play in the fourth quarter to bring the Cowboys to within 9-7. The score capped off a nice 16-play, 89-yard drive that lasted just under 10 minutes. Alex Tanney had two more chances to give his team the lead in the final five minutes, but one drive ended with a punt and the other on an interception. Tanney finished 14-of-19 for 136 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
It’s preseason folks, and no doubt the powers that be will be looking to fix whatever is ailing the Cowboy’s offense. However, keep in mind the subplot where Garrett is no longer calling the plays, which are now handled by Bill Callahan.
“I was named interim coach in middle of the 2010 season, and we had conversations about how are we gonna handle the play calling,” he said, “and for different reasons we decided to do it as we have done it over the past couple years.”
“Being a head coach is a big job and being an offensive coordinator or play-caller is a big job. You have to somehow, someway separate yourself from the two. I’ve divvied up a lot of the responsibilities I had over the past couple of years, and this is just the next step in doing that.”
The decision to segregate the play calling was intended to help the offense and the overall team. Keep an eye on the issue as the season starts. If this offense doesn’t show up in a big way soon, you can expect a lot of discussion over the play calling assignments.
Written by: @milroyigglesfan