Playoffs Show Why Cowboys Are Just Pretenders


The Dallas Cowboys’ glaring weaknesses are woefully apparent as the NFL playoffs unfold. Here’s why expectations should remain low entering next season.

The NFL Divisional round is arguably the best football weekend of the entire season. The wild cards have been weeded out. The proverbial cream rises to the top. The Dallas Cowboys are nowhere to be found. Conversely, the usual cast of characters–Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, Rodgers, the Legion of Boom–can be observed playing big boy football. This isn’t an accident.

For a team that entered 2015 with such heightened expectations, the Cowboys’ season evaporated into the late summer twilight on September 20th, 2015, when Tony Romo’s clavicle was broken in Philadelphia. Team, media, and fans tried to keep a stiff upper lip. Optimism abounded regarding his late season return. What wasn’t anticipated was the team losing seven of eight in his absence.

Oh sure, when Romo came back, there was the proverbial dead cat bounce in Miami on November 22nd. The cold, hard reality came home to roost, though, after the Carolina Panthers extracted their pound of flesh on Thanksgiving day. The Dallas quarterback’s collarbone was broken yet again. The downward spiral continued. In the end, a 4-12 record relegated to the Cowboys to also-ran status and afforded them the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft.

While it can be argued that the loss of their franchise quarterback was the root cause of this season’s woes, it doesn’t explain why they couldn’t get out of their own way in several other games where they had a chance to win in his absence. The bottom line is that this entire organization does not handle success well at all. The 13-3’s, 11-5’s, and 12-4’s are the outliers here. Abject mediocrity is the rule.

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Playoff defenses cause turnovers. The Cowboys, on the other hand, created a meager eleven takeaways during the season, which gave them the dubious distinction of having tied for the least amount of forced turnovers in NFL league history. The pass rush that was supposed to flourish with the addition of known miscreant, defensive end Greg Hardy, went game after game doing next to nothing.

Playoff offenses have punishing ground games. The Cowboys saw fit to let running back DeMarco Murray flee to the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency. They then stood pat and told us they’d be fine handing the keys to known knucklehead, running back Joseph Randle. After a series of fits and starts, Randle was summarily released. Darren McFadden stepped in admirably and provided some punch to the ground game, but it was a far cry from last year’s dominating meat grinder.

The running back situation in particular is where the Cowboys wet the bed. In an attempt to look smarter than everyone else, team owner and general manager Jerry Jones, as well as the rest of the team brass, decided to tinker with the element they could least afford to tinker with: chemistry. Yes, relying on a running back to repeat the load Murray carried in 2014 is asking for a minor miracle. But there was no indication that the falloff would’ve been severe enough to just let him go for nothing.

Throw in the injuries to Romo and receiver Dez Bryant, and the 2014 juggernaut was a shell of the itself a scant two weeks into the 2015 season. The in-game coaching couldn’t–or worse yet, wouldn’t–adapt to the personnel on hand. The team’s ability to respond to adversity disappeared. Losses piled up one on top of the other. Promise dissolved into stultifying indifference.

So here’s the bad news: Tony Romo will be thirty-six on the first snap of the 2016 season. There will be enormous questions regarding the running game and the receiving corps. Jerry Jones still runs the team. Head coach Jason Garrett isn’t going anywhere this late in Romo’s career. The defense may find a midpoint between 2014’s and 2015’s turnover differential, but no one knows if that will translate to wins.

Next: Dallas Cowboys: Marshawn Lynch a Cowboy in 2016?

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Amidst all these questions, it’s difficult to find a silver lining as the 2016 campaign looms. When your fortunes hinge on the health of a fantastic-yet-aging quarterback, hope rings hollow. As presently constructed, the Cowboys don’t offer much in the way of solid expectations. Perennial playoff contenders don’t have to deal with this. The only thing worse than low expectations is no expectations.