Saturday, May 15, 2010

Former Cowboys Weigh-in: Is this finally the big year in Big D?

by Steve Greenberg

Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright speaks for many a former Super Bowl champion when he says: "I may not be a saint, but I'm a Dallas Cowboy. Even when the performances are not there, I pull for the Cowboys. Always will until the day I go home."

Panelist Connection
Gil Brandt = VP of player personnel from 1960-88
Tony Casillas = DT, 1991-93, 1996-97
Walt Garrison = 1-time Pro Bowl RB, 1966-74
Cliff Harris = 6-time Pro Bowl S, 1970-79
Tony Hill = 3-time Pro Bowl WR, 1977-86
Daryl Johnston = 2-time Pro Bowl FB, 1989-99
Lee Roy Jordan = 5-time Pro Bowl LB, 1963-76
Leon Lett = 2-time Pro Bowl DT, 1991-2000
Drew Pearson = 3-time Pro Bowl WR, 1973-83
Dan Reeves = RB, 1965-72
Rayfield Wright = Hall of Fame OT, 1967-79

Although America's Team has been a popular pick to win the Super Bowl each season since quarterback/holder Tony Romo bobbled away what looked like a sure playoff win after the 2006 season, the performances just haven't been there. Not in 2007, when the 13-win Cowboys and their NFL record 13 Pro Bowlers coughed up a Texas-sized hairball in the divisional playoffs against the Giants. Not in '08, when Dallas was the league's most disappointing team. Not even in '09, when the Cowboys won their first playoff game in 13 years — only to suffer a monstrous defeat to the Vikings that may have set the organization back a ways.

But these are the Cowboys — talented, star-laden and always too impressive on paper to overlook. Go ahead, call 'em contenders.

What has kept the Cowboys from capitalizing? There certainly are some popular theories, five of which we examine here. Only it's not really we who are analyzing the team's crimes against itself. For that, we called upon a jury of 11 Cowboys champions from Super Bowls 6, 12, 27, 28 and 30.

If the members of the jury are a little biased, well, you'll have to forgive them.

1. Cowboys QB Tony Romo can't win the big game
Guilty (0 votes)

Wright: "But I'll say this. When Tony first began to play (in 2006), he was Tony. And as the years progressed on him, I think he got more into trying to perform in the system a certain way — and he stopped being Tony. I think he's starting to bring those two sides together now, and he just needs to keep going with that."

Harris: "He's talented enough to perform under pressure in the big game, but I don't think adjusting on the field during games is a strength of the organization or of Romo. There are other less talented quarterbacks who are able to do that. Under the right circumstances, though, Romo can get there."

Not Guilty (11 votes)

Casillas: "The criticism is a little unfair. He's maturing as a quarterback. I think he has turned the corner."

Jordan: "Tony Romo can win the big one, but the game plan has to be better. I'm not sure the offensive coordinator (Jason Garrett) is doing the best job in the world to have the team prepared."

Brandt: "He has won some big games. I just think he doesn't have the experience to do it the way that Roger Staubach did it or the experience and talent to do it the way Troy Aikman did it. But he's pretty good."

Reeves: "He definitely has the ability to do that. The Cowboys just have to improve the supporting cast. I just felt bad for Romo in the playoffs last year because he had no chance."

2. Wade Phillips is the wrong coach for the job
Guilty (0 votes)

Jordan: "I don't think (owner) Jerry Jones is going to let him be the coach because Jerry is in charge and Jerry won't let him have enough discipline to control the team. Jerry has his hand on all the control parts and takes away from Wade's ability to have the discipline you have to have to win the Super Bowl."

Pearson: "Sometimes he seems to be a little soft with the players, giving them too much rope—not like Tom Landry or Jimmy Johnson, who were both disciplinarians and very vocal about it. But I'm starting to believe he can get the job done."

Not Guilty (11 votes)

Johnston: "I think he takes a lot of unfair criticism. He got the monkey off his back by winning a playoff game. That's a big thing from a mental standpoint."

Garrison: "I think Wade is the ideal coach. There's probably nobody smarter than him when it comes to the 3-4 defense."

Reeves: "I have tremendous respect for him. I think what he did last year was phenomenal. It's a very pressurized league, and especially with that owner."

Hill: "I believe Wade Phillips will have a championship in the next two years ."

3. The Cowboys have three good running backs, but they're screwing up by not featuring one of them
Guilty (5 votes)

Hill: "Felix Jones reminds me of Tony Dorsett. He needs to be the featured back."

Reeves: "Having been a running back myself, it's very difficult to get into a rhythm when you're going in and out. As a coach, I always had a hard time knowing when to put the other guy in. I do think you need one guy you rely on."

Pearson: "The Cowboys need to make a decision. In my opinion, it should be Felix Jones because of his speed and what he can do with the football. To me, with his body (6-0, 222), Marion Barber could play fullback."

Not Guilty (6 votes)

Lett: "Emmitt Smith successfully carried the ball in an era when it was common to see a single back carry the load. I'm not sure if there will ever be another Emmitt Smith. These days, guys are getting banged up too often. The league has evolved. … I certainly think the Cowboys should stick to the approach they have now."

Johnston: "It's been tough for me to buy into this new formula, but I have because guys now are bigger, stronger, faster. The collisions are just more violent."

Garrison: "It's according to what works. When we went to the Super Bowl, we had three running backs — Calvin Hill, Duane Thomas and I — and thank God we did because I got hurt."

4. The offensive line can't hold up against top playoff competition
Guilty (4 votes)

Wright: "When I watch a game, I don't watch the ball—I watch the offensive line. A lot of their techniques lead to mistakes when they're facing a top team. The Cowboys, since their inception, have had great athletes, and the Cowboys today have great athletes. It's up to the athletes to perform. I think the offensive line needs to make a commitment to the game."

Jordan: "We probably need two or three young players to start rebuilding this offensive line because they are getting on a downward spiral—and this is going to be an ugly thing when it really starts."

Casillas: "It's my biggest concern heading into the season."

Garrison: "I'm going to abstain (from voting). But, yes, they have struggled at some key times. They just lost Flozell Adams, and he was kind of a mainstay. We'll see about Free. Maybe they're not good enough."

Not Guilty (6 votes)

Lett: "The offensive line has played well, especially in the running game. They have some big guys up front who do a great job."

Pearson: "No. 1, they're experienced. No. 2 is their size—they're just huge. Just to get around them is going to take time. What kills the Cowboys in pass situations isn't defensive ends and linemen —it's when they blitz."

Brandt: "They're not a top five offensive line, but they are above average."
5. The secondary can't hold up without the benefit of a dominant pass rush
Guilty (2 votes)

Harris says: "You saw they got rid of Ken Hamlin. That's an indication the secondary needs improvement. From what I've seen, it looks like there can be improvement . Some of the players out there need to step their game up, but I think they can."

Casillas: " Mike Jenkins is going to be a great player. Terence Newman, to me, has become somewhat of a liability. If he's going for the big play, it seems nine times out of 10 he isn't getting the breakup or the pick off that. "

Garrison: "I'm going to abstain—again— because any pro quarterback will beat you if he has time. But I have seen (receivers) open."

Not Guilty (8 votes)

Johnston: "I think they're in a unique position to have one of the better secondaries, if Newman is at the top of his game and with the competition between Scandrick and Jenkins."

Wright: "If you go back and look at the big plays, what kind of a pass rush was there on those plays? You've got to look at all aspects of the game. You have to remember that professional football is a team sport, not an individual sport. The personnel is there."