Monday, September 30, 2013

Decade of Futility - 2-2 Record Only Familiar Fixture For Struggling Cowboys

Jerry Jones would have everyone believe that his Dallas Cowboys are an elite club of the football variety.  No other NFL team, so his story goes, has the combination of talent, coaching, and will-power that can flatten opponents on a weekly basis.  Dallas, he proudly confesses, is a veritable palace filled with pigskin magicians that work the wonders of that managerial wizard ruling from the pinnacle of Mount Jerry.
If it weren’t for Sunday afternoons in autumn he’d have the entire world convinced. But Sunday came, and Sunday went with the truth too bold and glaring in detail to hide.  The 2013 Cowboys look all too similar to the many other squads of the past fifteen years that seems to have defined Jones’ rule in Dallas. 
By a 30-21 score, the Cowboys were officially out-coached and out-played by a San Diego Chargers team that was unanimously declared as “mediocre” by the national media before the game.  As a result, Dallas now stands at the exact same place they have stood at the quarter-mark in each of the past two seasons with Jason Garrett as head coach, smack-dab in the middle of mediocrity’s median, groping for answers and footing with a record of 2-2.
Jones spent many an hour this past off-season assembling his new-look coaching staff.  73-year old Monte Kiffin was brought in from the college ranks to fix what Jones perceived to be a broken defensive unit under Rob Ryan.  And Bill Callahan replaced Jason Garrett as the team’s offensive coordinator.
With early voting now complete, Jones’ fresh approach has been far from refreshing for the Cowboys.
Against two Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks (Eli Manning & Philip Rivers) in September, the Dallas defense has allowed more than 850 yards combined through the air.  And each of Manning and Rivers managed to toss three touchdowns against Dallas.
Help doesn’t appear to be on the horizon, either.  Anthony Spencer has been placed on IR, fellow defensive end Demarcus Ware is now dealing with stingers and a strained back, while stud linebacker Bruce Carter has proven to be susceptible to the big play in pass coverage.
Offensively, the Cowboys rushing attack is inconsistent from week to week, hinging largely on how committed Callahan wants to be to it.  And Tony Romo, though avoiding impulse throws, has yet to post a 300-yard game this season.
Receiver Miles Austin is now dealing with another nagging hamstring injury, left tackle Tyron Smith was banged up in the fourth quarter against San Diego, and rookie wideout Terrance Williams continues to suffer from lapses of concentration.
Callahan’s halftime adjustments have also proven to be ineffective.  Through four games, the Dallas offense has managed to score a total of 23 points after intermission.
From the smoke and haze of this less-than-inspiring start has come the realization that the Cowboys are a team with an uncertain identity.  Callahan seems hesitant to commit to running back Demarco Murray, yet has proven equally reluctant to let Romo go downfield with the ball.
Question marks pop up at nearly every position on the defensive side of the ball.  Can Jason Hatcher continue to play at a high level with Ware at less than full speed?  Is Mo Claiborne playing hurt, or is he suffering from a sophomore jinx.  Either way, he has proven to be anything but reliable thus far.  Can Kiffin patch-up the apparent weaknesses that have been exposed at the linebacker level?
When cast in the light of Jones’ lofty expectations, September was a month of regression for the Cowboys.  In search of that ever elusive Super Bowl, Dallas managed to turn a powerful offense into an aesthetically-challenged menagerie, and a struggling defense into an unholy question mark.
Not that there’s been any damage in the won-loss department.  The Cowboys are sitting at .500 today, the lone mark of familiarity for a club surrounded by unfamiliar struggles.