Garrett can’t afford loss to dysfunctional Eagles

IRVING, Texas — Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett stood before his team Wednesday morning and delivered a strong message about how important it was to have a good practice. According to eyewitnesses, the Princeton man even changed his facial expression a time or two.

Who knows whether or not it will matter Sunday night against the Eagles, but a handful of Cowboys players confirmed to me that it was the most spirited practice of the season. The seldom-heard-from Vince Agnew, who could see significant time as a nickel cornerback this week for the Cowboys, was taken aback.

“It was double the intensity from anything I’ve seen in my seven weeks here,” he told me. “It just took things to another level.”

And if you’re naïve enough to think the Cowboys have any shot at the playoffs, maybe this is a positive sign. What it suggests to me is that Garrett has finally realized he’s about to lose his job if the Cowboys don’t at least show some fight down the stretch. Surely he feels the presence of local middle-school coach Sean Payton breathing down his neck. And in a shocking development, none other than Jerry Jones is on the verge of giving up hope for the 2012 season.

“We’re running out of time as to the playoffs. Do we have enough time?,” Jones asked rhetorically Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan. “It’s numerically possible, but you got to really step out here this week and do the right things to win a ballgame on the field. You have time to do that.

“Certainly you want to be going into the final weeks of the season … (and) playing at an uptick to play well in the playoffs. But there’s another reason why you want to be playing well, too. You want to be playing well so you can basically look at your core and see where you are with your core and evaluate your core as far as seasons to come.”

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was blasted for saying essentially the same thing after his team fell to 3-6 a couple weeks ago, but there’s been no furor over Jones’ comments. That’s probably because most fans have resigned themselves to another lost season. It makes sense that Jones would spend the next few weeks deciding which players will return for the 2013 season. The Cowboys have to take a long look at why right tackle Doug Free took a major step back this season. Is wide receiver Miles Austin going to be able to return to form after battling injuries and poor play for the better part of two seasons? And what do you do with outside linebacker Anthony Spencer now that he’s having the best season of his career?

One of the most stunning sights in the NFL is watching how defensive coordinator Rob Ryan asks Spencer and DeMarcus Ware to drop back in coverage 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage. Asked recently to describe the difference between the Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme and Ryan’s version, Ware basically said that Rob’s version relies mostly on coverage sacks. I’m sure that’s not how Ryan would describe his scheme, but that’s the perception that his top pass-rusher has.

And I thought starting defensive end Jason Hatcher had an interesting answer Wednesday when he was asked why Spencer is just now starting to earn the respect of the media.

“You guys don’t appreciate him because 60-70 percent of the time he’s back in coverage,” said Hatcher, who’s become one of the most honest quotes in the building.

The only saving grace for the Cowboys this week is the Eagles are the most dysfunctional organization in the league right now. Lame-duck coach Andy Reid took the desperate step to fire defensive coordinator Juan Castillo five weeks ago, and the results have been disastrous. Former Cowboys secondary coach Todd Bowles took over for Castillo and he’s seen opposing quarterbacks complete 75 percent of their passes and not post a passer rating below 120. But despite those horrible numbers, Reid has been resolute in not making any lineup changes. It’s almost like he wants the starters to suffer along with him as he winds up his career in Philly.

If the Cowboys lose to this dead-team-walking, Jones will almost certainly have to throw Garrett overboard following the season. And depending on what happens with Payton, it could happen anyway.

The one positive thing for the Cowboys organization is that Jones seems to being dealing in reality. Let’s hope a win over the deadbeat Eagles doesn’t change that.