The Five Stages of Cowboys Grief, the Team Edition

Wade Phillips announced today that he’s going back to basics, working on the team’s fundamentals, so lacking in the Cowboys’ play.

It’s good to see this core problem is being addressed, but I’m also puzzled why it took this organization this long to recognize the flaws?  Twelves penalties in three of the first five games should have demonstrated the basics were not there.  The assignment mistakes, the drops, the whiffed blocks, the consistent lane mashups on kickoff coverage.  These problems were evident from week one.  Miles Austin’s drops are nothing new.  He dropped a few passes in San Antonio and has dribbled them through this year’s games.  He had other veteran partners in crime.

It’s possible to see how this can escape the coaches in week-to-week once the season starts.  Time is limited in game weeks.  Monday is a players day off.  The coaches spend game night reviewing their tapes and the rest of the players break watching the next opponent and developing game plans.   Tuesday through Thursday the plans are installed. The focus locks onto the next opponent and scheming properly.

That’s been probably the one constant I can see this year.  The game plans Wade and Jason have cooked up for the games have gained yards and given the team a chance to win.

What’s more, the team does respond to the little things.  As blogger Os_b pointed out yesterday, the team’s penalties dropped precipitously in the two games after the staff worked on them.  What’s also clear, is that the malaise goes beyond one area.  The penalties could be curbed, but the drops bedeviled this team.  The soft coverage persisted.  I also wonder if improved fundamentals will have any effect on the team’s intensity level, which cracked with Tony Romo’s collarbone?  Better attention to detail will help, but a well-schooled team that’s out-hit, and the Cowboys have been badly out-hit the last six quarters, is still a losing football team.

The remedial training camp, coming three losses after the bye, points out the fundamental flaw in this group, pun intended.  These problems should have been worked out in those weeks when the team was backsliding, hopscotching from San Antonio, to Dallas, to Oxnard and back to Dallas again.  Because the regular season gives you only so much time for teaching.  It’s the time for installing, and adjusting.  The basics need to be part of the collective muscle memory.  They are not, which is why one improvement, in pre-snap execution, in this case, still sees so many other holes still leaking.

The camp reboot provides a perfect camouflage for a youth movement.  If you’re back to basics, the rookies are on equal footing as the starters.  As former scout Bryan Broaddus notes in his ESPN Dallas piece today, that order comes from up top.  But with Terence Newman ailing, Romo out and so many offensive linemen hobbled, now is the perfect time to give those guys who missed so much of the first camp, the Sean Lees, the Akwasi Owusu-Ansahs, the Josh Brents, the Sean Lissemores and especially the Dez Bryant, a chance to regain those lost reps.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • Hatetheiggles

    This post illustrates the whole crux of the matter and that is simply that football takes a backseat to the PR/marketing/money making machine that is the Dallas Cowboys. Sure, they talk a good game. The players salaries indicate that football is numero uno, but If football was such a high priority then how can they justify the carnival like atmosphere of training camp? While the Steelers and Ravens are working on their fundamentals, Jerry is looking to see what entertainment he can book for tomorrows air conditioned practice that resembles a rock concert. How the hell can you assemble a team and install discipline and invent schemes that all pro’s like David Garrard can’t figure out in that environment? Even the damn stadium is a distraction. Although I want Wade jettisoned right now, I find it a little unfair to him to try and get a team ready under those circumstances and under meddlesome Jerry Jones. A culture change in Dallas is long,long overdue. I just don’t know how that happens when the GM is also the owner. How the hell can the GM worry about football when all the owner does is worry about marketing his product?

    • That’s some poor risk-reward. How much more summer money did they make approaching the pre-season like some barnstorming baseball team from the ’40s? How much post-season money are they losing on the back-side because they’re out of the playoff race by Halloween?
      I’ll bet the latter is 50 times the former.

      • Hatetheiggles

        Obviously, its not a pre-planned agenda,but rather misshaped priorities and a total lack of focus sprinkled in with an air of entitlement. I think they call it arrogance.

      • Luis Garcia

        Not to mention the TV money he will lose when dallas gets flexed out of primetime games this year and next year if the product does not improve.

        • Emmitt>Barry

          I believe those TV revenues are part of the shared pool, so Jerry wouldn’t be losing out on anything there.

    • Jeff Arrowood

      Some media-type asked Jerry about the demands of training camp/preseason schedule, and its potential ill-effects on the team. He replied that he wasn’t concerned and in fact, the last time the Cowboys won a Super Bowl, their preseason was equally split including a game in London.

      Wonder how much superstition went into making this season’s itinerary?

  • AustonianAggie

    Lets grab Randy Moss and make him play safety. Muhahahaha still never play WR for Dallas

    • Jarhead

      hell, thats not a bad idea.

  • AustonianAggie

    Man I’m just so bored watching the games now. That’s why I’m interested in seeing Stephen McGee start. Just change it up. Every drive with Kitna is just as wasted.

  • JimmyJohnsonSB

    Excellent point. The only time I visited Cowboys’ training camp was in 1982 in Thousand Oaks and I was just a kid so I don’t know exactly how a training camp works.

    Nevertheless, I have been taken aback at the Cowboys training camp reports the past few years. It sounds like it was 75-90% scrimmaging or running plays against each other instead of drilling all the little things (like staying low in your blocks or wrapping up when you tackle). Maybe we don’t have to remind our players what a football is. But I would think teams like the Steelers probably reverse that ratio and concentrate on mastering the basics of football.

  • Os_b

    NFL head coaches are not stupid and know how to play the game…double entendre intended.

    Wade Phillips does not want to be fiired mid-way through the season.

    Jerry Jones does not want to fire Wade halfway through the season.

    Wade is indirectly blaming a poorly conceived training camp for the underlying troubles of the team by returning to the fundamentals. In addition, I am sure that he recognizes that Jerry would like to prepare this team for next season, and what a better way than to focus on the fundamentals.

    Blocking, tackling, and sharpening techniques will carry over to next season. It will also expose the pretenders on this team from the talent: case in point, Anthony Spencer. Spencer has been a shadow of what he was the final eight weeks of 2009. I suspect that Spencer’s play, like that of Jenkins, Miles, and Bennett will improve over the last few weeks of the season before the younger players take more snaps.

    Spencer is a player that flashed greatness last season: so much so that even Peter King named him to his 2010 all-pro team. Jenkins was a Pro Bowl alternate last season, and despite putting up great numbers, Miles is still dropping too many balls (which may be attributable to sloppy routes, poor footwork, or improper technique).

    Bennett, and players like Bennett, that show great potential but do not play well consistently will reap the benefits of Wade’s new approach. Younger players like Lee, Young, Ansah (although he is currently injured), and maybe even McCann should improve.

    It is interesting how great veterans like Newman, Ware, and Ratliff have continued their high-level of play this season. My theory is that their fundamentals were so sound, that a small slippage has not affected them nearly as much as those younger players.

    Gurode, Colombo, Brooking, and Davis will probably still struggle because their decline is a combination of technique and age. Players like Sensabaugh and Ball may find themselves on the street next season if they do not respond to this teaching.

    Wade is no fool. This was his only way to buy enough time to make it to the end of the season and garner favor with his employer. The team will improve, but with games at GB, NYG, IND, ARI, and PHI, as well as hosting DET, NO, PHI and WAS, it is the classic example of too little, too late.

    If all goes very well, however, Wade may be able to return to the Cowboys in 2011…as a defensive coordinator. Or maybe I am still bargaining…

    By the way, thanks for the mention. It is always my pleasure to stop by and read your analysis.

    • Os_b

      I am glad that I did not include Jason Williams in that comment: he was waived today. What an awful draft that turned out to be. I bet Jerry never waits for an offensive lineman to fall to him again, and trades up to get his man every draft.

      • All physical talent, poor instincts with that one. I dubbed him Mr. 75% in camp. Blew up everything he could chase. Could not pick up coverage. The coaches concluded he wasn’t ever going to get to 85%, much less 95%.

    • No problem, your questioning of whether I’m also bargaining spurred some thinking on the whole idea of communal fan grief, which I’m working into another story.

      Good discussions generate more good material. Thanks.

    • Northern Exposure

      “Ware and Ratliff have continued their high-level of play this season”

      What games have you been watching?

    • MontecitoTex

      Wade Phillips is stupid… not to mention; out-of-shape, sloppy, downtrodden, uninspiring, dour, and one of the five worst coaches in professional sports.