Jason Garrett's future hinges on his ability to take advantage of an extremely soft schedule.
By MATT MOSLEYFS Southwest
Dallas Cowboys are back in the playoff race even though they've had little to do with it. They were able to scratch out two wins during a five-game stretch that saw them play four of five games on the road.
It's not like they deserve to be in the thick of things with a 4-5 record, but that's exactly where they are thanks to the New York Giants losing two consecutive games. Some would look at Sunday's 38-23 win over the Eagles and think that head coach Jason Garrett received some type of reprieve. But if you look closer, he's under more heat than ever.
Based on their opponents' winning percentage (.387), the Cowboys have an incredibly favorable schedule the rest of the way. There's an opportunity they could be favored to win at least six of their final seven games. And the only opponent with a winning record, the Pittsburgh Steelers, lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to injury in an overtime win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday. In case you haven't watched Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich play in a couple years, he still has the most elongated windup in the NFL.
You could look at this upcoming schedule and think that Garrett has a great opportunity to silence all the doubters. Or you could be like me and wonder if playing a bunch of teams you are supposed to beat offers the best chance for Garrett to get canned. If the Cowboys lost a few games to good teams, owner Jerry Jones would be able to defend Garrett. But if he drops a game to Cleveland or Washington at Cowboys Stadium, Jones won't have any ammunition for supporting him.
Jones felt compelled Tuesday to give his head coach another public endorsement. It came in the wake of a CBS report claiming that former Packers and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren had strong interest in coaching the Cowboys. And as usual, Jerry's answer was heavy on confusion.
"I won't and can't get into that kind of conversation because of how fired up I am about the future of Jason," Jones said on his 105.3 The Fan radio show. "The future is now, but also I am fired up about him and what he can be coaching the Dallas Cowboys. Mike Holmgren ... I can't tell you on an individual basis how much I respect him. He's everything you would want as far as a coach is concerned and I appreciate, it was a compliment, when he was talking about how he was impressed with our talent and the fact that we could work together. And that's just the case. But make no mistake about it. And Mike doesn't need me to say what a great guy he is. Our fans probably need to hear he's a great guy. Bottom line, it's all about Jason with me."
Jones wants to voice his support to Garrett while making it clear how much he admires Holmgren. Why exactly do Cowboys fans need to hear how great a guy Holmgren is?
All Jerry's doing is keeping his options available, including the attractive Sean Payton alternative. So it's clear that Garrett's far from being out of the woods. His job is much more secure than, say, Andy Reid's, but that's not saying much at this point.
The Cowboys simply preserved an opportunity to extend their season with a win in Philadelphia. If they come home and lose to the Browns, that opportunity will be wasted. And really, a lot of the things that undermined the Cowboys in their 3-5 start were on display against the Eagles. Despite the odd statistic that has the Cowboys 3-1 when they have at least 13 penalties, it's still a losing proposition. And I found it comical that Garrett was quick to point out that most of the penalties were against the defense. He may not have meant it this way Monday, but it sounded like he was saying, "Don't put those on me."
But I guess someone in the Valley Ranch press corps forgot about the Cowboys' six offside penalties because there was a question regarding defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's prospects as a future head coach in the league. Only in Dallas could the head coach of a 4-5 team be asked to comment on one of his assistants becoming a head coach.
For now, Garrett's own future hinges on his ability to take advantage of an extremely soft schedule. The Cowboys will face three consecutive rookie quarterbacks, and only one of them – Robert Griffin III – would be described as dangerous. Then it's on to Cincinnati, where former TCU quarterback Andy Dalton has been one of the most mistake-prone quarterbacks in the league. Never mind that five of the last seven games will be played at Cowboys Stadium.
In that loss to the Giants last month, it actually seemed loud at Cowboys Stadium. If the Cowboys could start stacking wins at home, perhaps the facility would finally give them something close to a home-field advantage.
The New York Giants and the NFL schedule makers have given the Cowboys an early Christmas gift. Now, we'll see if they can take advantage.