By Tim Cowlishaw
11:58 AM on Nov 29, 2019
On Thanksgiving we learned, if nothing else, why Jason Garrett doesn’t like to hear talk of win probabilities in his headset during football games. It’s because sometimes — for his Cowboys — there are none.
It’s understandable why so much outrage following the Cowboys’ 26-15 loss to Buffalo has been directed Garrett’s way while owner Jerry Jones has answered with a steadfast refusal to consider a late-season coaching change. The media wants answers, fans want solutions, and everyone is confused by the Cowboys’ 6-6 record, even if it has them clinging to first place at least until the Philadelphia Eagles tie things up Sunday by beating the Miami Dolphins.
I don’t think there’s any question that Garrett will coach his final game here Dec. 29 against Washington and then Jones will go in search of solutions. And while that’s definitely the direction it needs to go after what will have been 91/2 seasons with Garrett at the helm, it doesn’t solve everything. May not even solve much when you look back at what transpired here Thursday as the Cowboys fell to .500 and Garrett tied Tom Landry for Thanksgiving day losses (six) despite the fact Landry coached 21 of these games to Garrett’s 10.
Let’s start with the fact that Garrett is here because of his past as a quarterback and a play-caller, not as a defensive guru. The Cowboys defense showed us once again their players are either wildly overvalued or one of the worst coached units in the entire NFL.
I don’t know, maybe the entire game plan was to stop Frank Gore from creeping closer to Emmitt Smith on the all-time rushing chart. If so, mission accomplished. Unfortunately, everyone else from quarterback Josh Allen to rookie Devin Singletary to — as expected — wide receiver Cole Beasley had a field day against this defense.
Another game without a takeaway. The Cowboys are tied for 27th in the league with one turnover created per game (12 in 12 games). Management refuses to believe it needs to pay a premium for defensive backs, holding the salary cap line at the back end of the defense, and yet take your pick of these three players — New England’s Devin McCourty, Pittsburgh’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Baltimore’s Marcus Peters. Each has more interceptions than the entire Cowboys team.
The most hopeless sight you can have as a fan is to watch the opposing quarterback standing completely flat-footed in the pocket, surveying the entire field and not even anxious about the pass rush. We saw that Thursday with Josh Allen, who had a much better day than Dak Prescott, which brings us to the next major issue.
Passer rating is hardly a tool that provides an all-encompassing view as to how a quarterback is leading his team. For one thing, it includes no rushing stats, although Prescott doesn’t run as much as he could or should, anyway. Regardless, Prescott has gone from the rare perfect passer rating on opening day to ranking 12th after 12 games. The man who so remarkably shied away from interceptions as a rookie has thrown 11 and is knocking on the door of the top five in this error-free era of the NFL.
Prescott had two costly turnovers Thursday and basically had a third when he fumbled on fourth down. The fact the Cowboys recovered was irrelevant. Another interception was squashed by what appeared to be a very shaky hands-to-the-face penalty against Buffalo. Let’s not forget the fourth-and-goal pass he bounced towards Ezekiel Elliott. It was a poor target decision since Zeke almost certainly wouldn’t have reached the end zone, anyway, but still a terrible pass.
The problem with all of this is that getting rid of Garrett fixes none of it unless Jon Kitna and Kellen Moore are being cut loose as well. And those coaches are largely seen as having been good teachers in promoting more confidence in Dak’s ability to throw it all over the field. To be sure, Prescott leads the NFL in passing yards. If you think that’s the ultimate goal, you must love Detroit’s Matt Stafford and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan most years because they are regular contenders for that top spot.
Maybe Prescott is simply weary of carrying this team. Perhaps that changes with a new head coach. And I think we can be certain that the next coach won’t provide such needless blind loyalty to an inefficient kicker just because he has a big leg.
The Cowboys have reached a head-shaking crossroads. Garrett won’t ultimately be part of this team’s future, but the next man up has plenty of work to do to figure out why this team’s presumed strengths haven’t amounted to much in years.