One could write an article per day from now to the end of the season and not cover all of the surprises from this team in the 2016 campaign. Unflappable rookies. Ageless veterans. Unlikely heroes. Indomitable spirit. They have beaten all comers but one. They wrapped their division and homefield advantage with two games left to play.
This play from Monday’s night’s mashup with the highly-motivated Detroit Lions got me thinking about a couple of guys who may be most responsible for this improbable football story:
THAT! That play right there reminded me just how many of the right calls the two Cowboys coordinators have made this season. Who knew Dez was left-handed…or cared? Who dreamed he would be called to toss a pass on an end-around? Nobody watching the game saw it coming and no one on the Detroit defense ot sideline saw it either.
In the second half of the Lions’ game, which was tied 21-21 at the break, former coach and commentator Jon Gruden pointed out the change Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli made, incorporating the 32 Dime defense. The Lions would not score another point and lose a game they needed to win 42-21.
OC Scott Linehan
The Dez pass was one, solitary, freeze-frame snapshot of what has been a magical year for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
Before the season even started, Linehan saw the man on whose shoulders the franchise had placed its hopes for a decade go down to injury…again! The backup quarterback was already sidelined with a broken leg. He was down to a fourth-round pick (the 8th quarterback taken in the 2016 Draft) to guide the offense for at least 6 – 8 weeks.
Under Linehan’s steady guidance, with a wonderfully simplistic, but consistent offensive scheme and gameplans that played to the strengths of the youngster at the helm, the team surged to a gravity-defying 7-1 first-half season record. By the time Romo was ready to return to the field, there was no room for him. The Cowboys were 9-1 and had the NFC by the throat and the football world by the tail.
Under Linehan, Dak Prescott has thrown just four interceptions against 23 touchdowns. Under Linehan, the team is ranked 4th in points scored (408) and yards gained (5,832) through 15 games. Rookie runner Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL in rushing. Rookie thrower Dak Prescott has a quarterback rating of 105. As a team, they have turned over the ball just 13 times, which is 5th best in the league. The team ranks second in time of possession per drive.
They are not just firing on all cylinders; they have more cylinders than anyone knew. Opposing defensive coordinators are scratching their heads, asking, “That thing got a Hemi?”
DC Rod Marinelli
Rod Marinelli, like Linehan, came to the Cowboys with an established reputation. He was one of the architects of the famed Tampa Two and a key contributor to that team’s only Super Bowl win. It is painful to watch him walk on those old, worn-out knees, but even more painful, I suspect, to be the recipient of that hyper-intensive glare. He coaches the way generals lead troops into battle. His players respond by swarming opponents, flying to the ball, playing intense, disruptive defense. And…over-achieving.
Seriously. David Irving? This undrafted 6’7″ defensive end was plucked off of the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad. He has proven a disrupted and, at times, unstoppable force. He single-handedly harassed Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston into surrendering any thought of
David Irving? This undrafted 6’7″ defensive end was plucked off of the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad. He has proven a disrupted and, at times, unstoppable force. He single-handedly harassed Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston into surrendering any thought of a comeback in the Cowboys week 15 win over the Bucs.
Benson Mayowa? This Seahawks and Raiders washout is another defensive lineman playing a key role in the Cowboys’ 2016 success. He has recorded six sacks, forced a fumble, and recovered a fumble.
Maliek Collins? This third-round rookie defensive tackle has logged five sacks and clogged up running lanes all season long.
Anthony Brown? Here is a rookie cornerback taken in the sixth round pressed into duty by injuries to starters. He has held his own against some of the league’s best, taking as much as he gives. He has recorded 37 tackles, 14 assists, and an interception.
From unheralded castoffs to unexpected rookie contributions to an absolute monster career year from linebacker sensation Sean Lee (93 tackles and 52 assists), Marinelli has a defense marinade opponents find much saucier than expected. They rank fourth in points against and 12th in yards surrendered. They are number 27 against the pass, but number one against the run.
HC Jason Garrett
Everybody has an opinion on Jason Garrett. Many see him as a Jerry puppet. Some call him unimaginative. Some are aggravated by his consistent insistence on offering frustrating non-answers to interview and press conference questions. He uses words like “process” and phrases like “fought really well” and “all three phases.” But just take a look at how he has managed his coaching staff. Linehan and Marinelli are both more seasoned than Garrett as coaches. Both of them have been head coaches in the league, though neither had any real success as a head coach. They are respected as innovators and game managers.
Yet, you never hear a peep about malcontent or power struggles. There is no undermining or backbiting. Give the assistants credit for that, but don’t forget that the buck stops with “Red Ball” Garrett. And don’t forget that, in the most recent team history, the 4-12 2015 campaign is the aberration. His team was 12-4 in 2014 and a controversial “Dez caught it” play from an appearance in the NFC championship game. This year, his Boys are 13-2 with one meaningless regular season game to play.
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