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.