Over the first few weeks of the season and really, for me, up until the moment I found out that Tony Romo was out with a broken clavicle I still believed the Cowboys were just off to a bad start. Now it has become obvious that there are much bigger problems with the team than just bad luck and untimely penalties. I've been trying to figure out what is wrong with this team since early in the season.
It blows my mind that a team can go from a dominating playoff win, an NFC East championship and an 11 win season to what they have become this year. In order for the Cowboys to fall so far so fast there have to be multiple problems with the team and the organization. Here is what I am thinking is the root of the problem. You will notice that the list is long. And you can't pinpoint one specific reason for the downward spiral.
1. Jerry Jones was overconfident in the offseason. He made essentially no moves to fill the obvious holes in the roster at safety, kicker and offensive line depth. I don't know if Jerry was trying to save money or if he really believed that all of his young players were ready to step up but obviously the offseason was a disaster. I don't think you can say that unloading Flozell Adams was a bad move, but just about every other move was suspect.
2. Wade Phillips has lost his effectiveness as a defensive coordinator. It seems as though the opposing teams know exactly what they Cowboys are doing with their defensive schemes. It is almost as if teams have studied the tendencies in Wade's play calling for the last three seasons and now know exactly what is coming. That makes sense since the fans can tell what is going to happen with the defense before the snap just as easily as the opposing quarterback and offensive coordinator.
3. Wade Phillips was never a good head coach to begin with. I truly believe the Cowboys have won in spite of the "leadership" of Wade Phillips over the last three seasons. Now that things are going downhill Wade lacks the skills to motivate his players and turn things around.
4. Jason Garrett's play calling is extremely predictable. Once again, the fans know what is coming as soon as the Cowboys line up. 99% of the time the quarterback calls "kill, kill, kill" the play changes to a run up the middle. And based on down a distance I know about 8 out of 10 times what play will be called. You can get away with that if your offense is dominant, but the Cowboys aren't good enough on the offensive line to succeed when the defense knows what is coming.
5. The offensive line is a disaster. Marc Colombo is obviously playing hurt and it shows. Leonard Davis is either having a terrible season or he is declining in ability rapidly as he ages. Kyle Kosier can't say healthy. Andre Gurode can't seem to adjust his blocking techniques to avoid holding calls now that there is an extra official watching the offensive line from behind. And Doug Free is not a very good run blocker even though he is a very good pass blocker.
6. Miles Austin is having major drop issues. I don't know what is going on with Miles but he is good for a drop or two every game over the last few games. That isn't what we should expect from Miles after he was awarded a huge contract extension.
7. Dez Bryant was hurt in training camp and just recently started practicing regularly. The injuries have drastically limited the offensive impact that Dez could have had early in the season. Dez could have been a difference maker when the season was still salvageable had he been able to practice and learn the offense. It is very apparent that he is going to be a special player for years to come.
8. Martellus Bennett is never going to develop into a dynamic playmaker. I don't know if Marty B. gained weight to help his blocking but it has really hurt his speed and quickness. He looks like just an average tight end now that he looks like he is carrying an extra 15 pounds on his frame.
9. Jason Witten is committing too many penalties. It pains me to criticize Jason because he is my favorite Cowboy of all time. But his false starts are getting ridiculous. He is good for one a game this season.
10. The middle linebackers have both regressed. It seems like the Cowboys kept Keith Brooking for one year too long. Brooking was a good player last year but he seems a little late to react on nearly every play this season. And Bradie James has gone from average to below average. I think these two guys are the main problem with the run defense. Hopefully Sean Lee will help correct this problem but his injuries have slowed his development.
11. Alan Ball is terrible.
12. Orlando Scandrick is awful this season. It appeared early in Scandrick's career that he would develop into a starter. Now he'll be lucky if he isn't flat out released in the offseason.
13. Mike Jenkins has regressed. I think Jenkins still has ability but he has been hit with so many pass interference penalties that he has lost his aggressiveness. Without his intensity and tenacity Jenkins has become a liability in coverage.
14. Anthony Spencer is not playing good football. I don't understand why his habit of jumping around blocks is not being corrected by the coaches. His jump to the outside at the snap is opening up huge running lanes. And Spencer's pass rush has been nearly non-existent.
15. David Beuhler has been inconsistent. I think the Cowboys would have two more wins right now if Beuhler had not missed crucial kicks in the first few games of the season. He may turn out to be a good kicker in the long term but he hurt the team badly while he struggled early on.
16. Tony Romo's turnovers were crippling. I don't think the majority of the interceptions Romo threw were his fault. But the interceptions came at the worst possible moments in the game against the Titans and the Vikings.
17. The special teams punt and kick coverage has been inconsistent. Big kick and punt returns have cost the Cowboys games. Kick returns have been flat out terrible. Maybe they Cowboys should try Dez out there on kick returns.
18. Jay Ratliff is not dominating the middle of the line. In the past Ratliff would split the double team and blow up plays. Now he is getting dominated by double team blocking. His ability to disrupt the middle of the line is the key to the defense.
I could continue this list for at least 10 more items if I really wanted to nitpick. I didn't even get into the bad draft picks we've seen over the last few seasons. But I think the point has been made. The Cowboys have a giant mess to clean up. Hopefully they can fix these problems before next season so we don't have to live through another dreadful season.