By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"The biggest thing [with the Cowboys] is, 'Who's making the decisions?' I always used to say this to the coaches: 'Who you choose to listen to will determine your success.' And somebody obviously has Jerry's ear and has been giving him bad advice. Whoever it is, because you don't make all those decisions without listening to somebody, whoever it is that Jerry's listening to isn't telling him the right things. They can't be making the right decisions over there. They can't. They have a lot of talent, but they don't have the right people on the field."
Right. The right people. The Boys have had some debilitating injuries--Galloway and Ismail--but that doesn't quite explain this mess. It's been said before, right here, that the Cowboys don't utilize their best players. How long did it take to rediscover Emmitt Smith, who's still their top offensive option most Sundays even if he has slowed a step? And still, the starting linebackers are a problem. Case in point: When Dat Nguyen went down with an injury, Barron Wortham filed in. Since being inserted into the lineup, the former Titan has played better than anyone on the defense, so why wasn't he out there from jump? Of a similar, though not completely comparable, vein, Brandon Noble has filled in well for Chad Hennings, who's out with a bad neck. Then there's Aikman, who's suffered through a number of ailments and played poorly for much of the season as a result (don't be too excited about his 308-yard performance against the Bengals--it was his first 300-yard outing in 24 games and it came against, again, the Bengals).
"Wortham is much better than Nguyen, but you could say that about a lot of their players," the NFC East scout replies. "I mean, Troy is hurt, and Randall was scoring points for a while, but Jerry pushed to get Troy back. Why? He doesn't have the velocity on the ball he used to have. Look at how many balls he's underthrown. And he's got a bad back, too. Randall could have bought Troy some time. That's called teamwork. But they kept letting Troy back in. Are they trying to force him into retirement? 'Cause that's the way it looks.
"A lot of their decisions don't make sense. Tight end is their biggest problem right now. Jackie Harris is better for what they're trying to do, know what I mean? I just don't think LaFleur is the player they think he is. And then they went and gave up [fourth and seventh round] picks to get O.J. Santiago, and he's not even playing. It's kind of befuddling. I have lots of respect for Dave Campo...but I'm not so sure he's even the one making the decisions over there."
Therein lies another pratfall for the Pokes. Since the departure of Jimmy Johnson, it's been widely believed that no coach has had complete autonomy regarding who plays and who doesn't. And if the head coach is merely a figurehead, don't you think the players have a little less respect, don't you think that makes them more prone to second-guessing?
So where does all this leave them? They have an overbearing owner, an aging core group, salary cap constraints, a dearth of talent--albeit, in a lot of cases it's unused talent--and a qualified coach who has less control than he likely should. Again, where does that leave them? At least in a division that woke up recently--the Giants, Redskins, and Eagles are two games over .500 or better--it leaves your Boys way behind. Like, Arizona Cardinals behind. Like, "Shit, can this be happening?" behind.
Regardless of the pall that shrouds Texas Stadium, not everyone believes the Cowboys are forever lost.
"Look at what they've done," Modrak counters. "History is the best predictor, and Jerry's done it before. If my theory is right, it won't be long. I don't see it being one of those things where the people in Dallas have to suffer for a long time."
Perhaps. He could be right, you know. Modrak could prove to be prophetic, because the NFL has fluctuated often and strangely in recent years, and the Cowboys do have an unparalleled pedigree.
From here, though, it doesn't look as easy as all that, doesn't appear things will change for the better so quickly. From here, this looks to be a mammoth undertaking.
Rags, then. Rags for now, rather than riches.