Last night showed that it probably doesn’t matter who’s under center – the Cowboys have an uncanny way of giving up the game in the final stretch. Nevertheless, the season is now behind us, and it is time for decisions to be made.
After a disastrous loss to the Packers, Jason Garrett and company seemed to learn a lesson. The offense over the last two weeks featured a more balanced attack and was visibly more productive. Many fans may be surprised to learn that the ‘Boys actually scored 27.8 points per game – 4th best in the league. This offense may have been dysfunctional, but it was probably good enough to earn Garrett and Bill Callahan another year.
This brings our attention to the defense which, most would agree, was an absolute disaster. Monte Kiffin’s group allowed 418.6 yards per game – worst in the league. After such a performance, many are calling for the 79-year old’s job. The decision, however, is not so obvious.
While the switch to a 4-3 obviously did not help, there were times when the system actually appeared to fit the Dallas personnel. Considering only the front seven, one would have to agree that with a healthy Sean Lee, Ernie Sims, and Anthony Spencer, the year might have gone different.
Regarding the secondary, however, there is little room for excuses. Aside from Morris Claiborne, the unit was not without any player for a long period of time.
Originally, many criticized Kiffin for playing too much zone despite having talented corners. Upon playing to their “strengths”, however, Kiffin watched as Brandon Carr and others got burned on numerous plays.
Responsibility for the secondary’s woes truly lies with person(s) who made decisions about the personnel. How much of a say did Kiffin have in cutting Wil Allen, for instance, or in starting Jeff Heath and not pursuing a veteran free agent? If these choices were truly out of Monte Kiffin’s hands, then it’s possible the coordinator gets another chance with some new, [hopefully] improved personnel.
If Jerry Jones decides that the fault really lies with Kiffin, however, who are some candidates to replace him? Many fans would root for defensive line coach Rod Marinelli who did a sensational job given the group he had to work with. He revitalized Jason Hatcher, breathed life into George Selvie and Nick Hayden, and – perhaps most importantly – was countlessly spotted getting fired up on the sideline, even as he hopped around on one crutch during the Eagles game.
If looking outside Dallas, Jones may seriously look at Lovie Smith, who was let go rather unexpectedly by the Bears after last season despite enjoying moderate success over his eight-year tenure. Before coaching the Bears, Smith was defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams in 2001 when they won the NFC. The experience and passion is clearly there, but also intriguing is the fact that Smith ran a 4-3.
If not Marinelli or Smith, consider Cincinatti’s Mike Zimmer, who was the Dallas defensive coordinator from 2000-06. Zimmer is not particularly happy with the Bengals, and some believe this will be his last season there. Now, is it likely that Jones makes nice with a former Dallas coach? Probably not. But if Kiffin is gone and the two other choices are excluded, pickings will be thin.
It’s hard to blame the defense’s struggles all on Monte Kiffin. At the same time, when your group finishes with the worst statistics in the league, there needs to be a degree of accountability. The final decision is anybody’s guess, but one thing is clear: some things need to change.