Cowher should be on Cowboys owner’s mind
Jerry Jones should be talking to Bill Cowher every week. He should be watching Cowher on CBS’ “NFL Today,” contributing to Cowher’s favorite charities, and mowing Cowher’s lawn in North Carolina, too. And when the season ends, Jones should offer Cowher the richest coaching contract in football, and move fast to dump his Texas-sized mistake of a coaching staff.
Jones should do all of the above because the longer he endorses Wade Phillips, the more money and talent he flushes down the drain. Yes, many of us have criticized Jones in the past for meddling with his head coaches or unnecessarily butting heads with them. But he’s seemingly gone too far in the other direction with Phillips, watching as four years’ worth of talented Dallas teams reached new depths on Sunday, losing to the Vikings 24-21 and falling to 1-4.
So what has Jones received for his investment of patience and money? He’s gotten a team in the basement of the NFC East, with the same number of wins as the Lions and more losses than the Rams. And the longer he keeps Phillips and his overpriced coaching staff in place, the more middling this franchise will become.
Maybe nothing displayed the problem more poignantly than Phillips’ own news conference on Sunday, when he summed up the defeat to the Vikings with this gem:
“Losing is all the same. If you lose a game, it’s all the same.”
Combined with its disturbing record, that quote makes the Cowboys, Phillips and the entire franchise this week’s biggest loser, because it doesn’t even summon up some desperate emotion. Instead, it has been a four-year shrug, while everyone inside the organization looks around and talks about the talent but can’t seem to figure out why it’s not getting the job done.
Look no further than Sunday’s 11 penalties and two crucial turnovers, which ultimately doomed Dallas yet again. In fact, through six weeks, you’d be hard pressed to find another team that has made more foolish mistakes than the Cowboys. Forget how high the offense is ranked, or where the defense stacks up with the league’s best. Rankings and talent don’t matter when you can’t win the self-inflicted battles. The Cowboys can’t, and there is no more clear indictment of a coaching staff.
What Dallas needs is some discipline, emotion and accountability. And I don’t see any of that coming from the top of the existing coaching tree. I can’t remember the last time a player of any consequence was criticized, let alone demoted. I can’t remember a staff shakeup that took place. Think those things don’t work? Look at the past 22 months for the Chiefs. Look at the number of stars stripped away from the team entirely, or demoted. Look how long it took for major changes to be made in the coaching staff. There is a reason that the Chiefs – with far less talent than the Cowboys – have gotten their act together so quickly. Pay close attention to Chiefs coach Todd Haley. He’s essentially the offensive version of Cowher.
If Dallas wants real change, real progress, it will start with a coach who’s willing to change the things around him in pursuit of that progress – a coach who realizes that not all losing is the same, because some losses cost far more than others, and Wade Phillips should know that.
Here are this week’s other losers and winners …
• Pittsburgh Steelers
Many things went right for the Steelers in their win over the Browns, but the underrated statistic has to be zero sacks of Ben Roethlisberger(notes). While Roethlisberger was rusty, you could immediately see how his mobility makes a drastic difference for Pittsburgh. Also, it’s no coincidence that tight end Heath Miller(notes) came back to life. Flip a coin between the Jets and Steelers for the best team in the NFL right now.
• New England Patriots wideout Deion Branch(notes)
He looked remarkably productive for a guy who was supposed to be washed up. In fact, he looked like he never left, catching nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Ravens. It just goes to show you the value of having a rapport with a great quarterback. Clearly, Tom Brady(notes) and Branch still have the goods. But let’s be honest: If the Patriots had lost this one, everyone would have been talking about how Randy Moss(notes) would have made the difference. New England needs Branch to be lights out the rest of the way.
• Houston Texans
They gutted out a win over a legitimate Chiefs team, and Andre Johnson(notes) showed once again why he’s the best wideout in football. Houston’s three fourth-quarter touchdowns were spectacular. Derrick Ward(notes) looks like a very good second option to Arian Foster(notes), too. The season-ending injury to linebacker DeMeco Ryans(notes) is a major blow, but this is still a quality win for a playoff caliber team.
• New York Giants running game
After some early struggles, Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) (19 carries, 133 yards vs. the Lions) and Brandon Jacobs(notes) (two touchdowns) have settled into a nice groove in the backfield. Bradshaw is starting to consistently show the spark that earned him the starting job, and Jacobs is pounding again as a goal-line specialist. Their production is helping the line protect quarterback Eli Manning(notes), too. The balance in the win over the Lions is exactly what this team has been seeking.
• New Orleans Saints passing game
Watching New Orleans against the Buccaneers, we were reminded of when the Saints got scary last season. When guys like Lance Moore(notes) (57 receiving yards, one TD) and Robert Meachem(notes) (71 yards, one TD) start clicking, this offense becomes unstoppable. The defense looked a bit more like last season’s imposing unit, too. Christopher Ivory(notes) (158 rushing yards) looked fantastic, and Reggie Bush(notes) will be back soon. I smell a run coming on.
• Philadelphia Eagles
Quarterback Kevin Kolb(notes) continues to give Philadelphia’s front office plenty reasons to think. He butchered the Falcons, completing an absurd 79 percent of his passes and notching a passer rating of 133.6. With Michael Vick(notes) on his way back, this quarterback derby is far from done. The pressure remains on Vick to play at an elite level.
• Seattle Seahawks’ reclamation projects
You had to like what you saw from Marshawn Lynch(notes) and Mike Williams, two players the Seahawks basically got off the scrap heap this season. Lynch’s numbers in the win over the Bears weren’t spectacular, but he ran hard and should be a perfect physical pairing with Justin Forsett(notes). Williams, on the other hand, caught 10 passes for 123 yards and looked like a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Coach Pete Carroll deserves a tip of the cap for reeling in the duo, which should factor in big as the team is rebuilt.
• St. Louis Rams
They’re 3-1 at home this season after the win over the Chargers, and quarterback Sam Bradford(notes) continues to take steps forward. There is still a long way to go to improve the talent level, but the Rams are playing tougher and more physical now than they have in years. Quietly, Steve Spagnuolo is doing a heck of a coaching job.
• Cleveland Browns
Yes, they lost to the Steelers. But I’m going to put them in the win column because I really liked the way Colt McCoy(notes) (23-of-33 passing, 281 yards, one TD, two INTs) played. He was in a no-win situation starting his first game against one of the NFL’s best defenses. But McCoy seemed far more composed and efficient than I expected. It’s too early to tell but if McCoy’s first game was a sign of where he’s headed, the Browns may have solved their quarterback issues.
• Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne(notes)
Just about the time you think the Dolphins quarterback is on the verge of losing his job, Henne (23-of-39, 231 yards, two TDs, 1 INT) bounces back with a game that gives you pause. He did just that in the win over the Packers. To be fair, he has hardly fallen apart this season considering his last four games have been against solid defenses and playoff-caliber teams. And why is everyone forgetting Henne is in only his second year as a starter? What happened to the three-year rule? The guy has plenty of talent around him. Miami fans need to have some patience.
• Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress
With all the issues surrounding quarterback Brett Favre(notes) – from the texting scandal to his ailing elbow – the last thing Childress needed was a 1-4 start on top of it, particularly heading into road games at Green Bay and New England. Now Childress gets a little reprieve and fans have something positive to talk about for a week.
• San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore(notes)
The Niners’ star back went for 149 rushing yards, including a 64-yard run in the fourth quarter that led to a game-sealing touchdown. Gore needed the big game. While everyone has been piling on quarterback Alex Smith, Gore was off to his slowest start since 2007. This one should help get Gore into a groove, and take some heat off an offensive line that is still finding its chemistry.
• New York Jets coach Rex Ryan
I thought he was digging his own grave in the preseason, when he repeatedly hyped his “we can beat anyone” philosophy, especially when this team was looking so horrible on offense. But Ryan was right. I think the Jets are capable of beating anyone, including the Steelers. The offense is as balanced as any in the league, and barring injuries, the December matchup against Pittsburgh could very well be an AFC championship preview.
• Chicago Bears
Yes, the offensive line stinks. But running the ball only 12 times (excluding Jay Cutler’s(notes) two rushes) in a close game is what you get with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. At some point, you have to protect Cutler by handing the ball off – whether it’s gaining something or not. Cutler has been sacked 23 times in 18 quarters. If he survives to play the final 10 games, he is on pace to be taken down 74 times this season. That’s two short of the NFL record of 76 that David Carr(notes) suffered in 2002. Way to protect your most valuable asset.
• Detroit Lions
Yes, Matthew Stafford(notes) appears to be on the verge of returning for the Lions. But the arm injury to Shaun Hill(notes) is unfortunate, and leaves the Lions no margin for error with Stafford’s health. It’s too bad things have gone this way for Detroit … injuries … 24 straight road losses … 1-5 start. It’s now officially downtime before April’s draft.
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The early deficit to the Saints took the running game away, but Tampa Bay’s backfield is totally uninspiring. Regardless, Earnest Graham(notes) is the best running back on the roster. He’s being wasted.
• Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta is averaging less than 18 points per game in the last three outings, and the offense still looks a bit inconsistent. Michael Turner(notes) was taken out of the mix early against the Eagles, but he continues to be a feast-or-famine player. Maybe the biggest concern is that the pass defense continues to rank in the lower half of the league despite solid investment over the last two offseasons. You can see this is still a young team figuring it all out.
• Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson(notes)
He’s one of the most explosive receivers in the NFL, but his size – 5-foot-9, 170 pounds – makes him vulnerable, too. Now he has sustained his second concussion in less than a year, getting knocked out of the game against Atlanta. Jackson’s most valuable currencies are his speed and quickness, so getting bulkier to protect himself isn’t an option. How long can he last taking big hits?
• San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner
San Diego has lost three of its last four, and all four of its road games this season. It doesn’t look like a mentally tough team, and quarterback Philip Rivers(notes) looks frustrated with the offense. Losing Antonio Gates(notes) shouldn’t deflate the entire offense the way it did. All of this is a reflection of Turner, who is likely coaching for his job at this point. Losing to a depleted Rams team with far less talent is unacceptable.
• Green Bay Packers
The thinning depth chart was apparent in the loss to Miami, particularly on defense, where the Packers couldn’t get off the field. The Dolphins’ 25 first downs wore Green Bay down at the end of the game. The offense already misses tight end Jermichael Finley(notes), too. There were a lot of third-and-medium situations where Finley would have come through. Instead, the offense sputtered for three quarters while looking for a consistent playmaker next to Greg Jennings(notes).
• Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell(notes)
I was a Campbell optimist for too long. His 8-for-21 performance against the 49ers has pushed me into the camp of pessimists. I don’t think Campbell is ever going to be a reliable starting quarterback. He doesn’t utilize his arm strength, and rarely uses his mobility to make things happen, either. He has the tools, but either can’t or won’t use them. And that’s why he can’t keep his job in Oakland.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: DeSean Jackson’s 31-yard touchdown run on an end around against Atlanta. Watch Jackson’s cut at the 19-yard line, leaving two Falcons to whiff and run into each other. Brilliant.
Loved: The 42-yard catch and run by Atlanta’s Michael Jenkins(notes) in the first quarter against the Eagles. Jenkins’ speed in the seams is killer. And his absence this season has been vastly ignored.
Loathed: The scary second-quarter collision between the Eagles’ Jackson and Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson(notes). Robinson tried to lead with his shoulder on the hit, but the speed of the moment caused Robinson to spear Jackson in the chest. Both men appeared to be knocked unconscious. It could have been worse for both players.
Loved: Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel’s(notes) first-quarter touchdown catch against Houston. Seriously, how does he continue to get open on offense? If he checks into a game on offense, history has shown us he likely won’t be a decoy.
Loathed: The speculation on Sunday that Philadelphia would be showcasing Kevin Kolb for a trade this season. If Kolb is dealt, coach Andy Reid comes off as a liar yet again, following past reports regarding Donovan McNabb’s(notes) future with the team and Kolb’s job security. I’m not sure we can believe anything Reid says about the status of his quarterbacks when it comes to the future.
Loved: Shaun Hill’s first-quarter 14-yard touchdown throw to Nate Burleson(notes). It was a beautiful throw over Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas(notes). I look at Alex Smith’s struggles in San Francisco and I think Hill should be starting for the 49ers this season. Unfortunately, Hill didn’t finish Sunday’s game.
Loathed: The helmet-to-helmet hits that Steelers linebacker James Harrison(notes) put on Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi(notes). It looked like Harrison intentionally led with his head on both plays, knocking out Cribbs and Massaquoi. The plays were borderline dirty.
Loved: Joe Haden’s(notes) electric 62-yard interception return against Pittsburgh. He made his first career pick a memorable one, showcasing the vision and athleticism that made him the seventh pick in the draft. The return looked like something you’d see from Baltimore’s Ed Reed(notes).