Cowboys better in 1st year of Garrett, more to go

BY foxsports • November 10, 2011

In his first season's worth of games running the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett has succeeded in changing the culture around the club.

He shook up the daily routine, tightened rules and made life in general more rigid. With an emphasis on ''passion, emotion and enthusiasm,'' and ''being great today,'' his approach immediately stabilized the wayward team he inherited.

The Cowboys have gone from routinely getting crushed to being competitive nearly every week, with just one lopsided loss in 16 games. They've also won more than they've lost, going 9-7.

''He's been brilliant,'' tight end Jason Witten said. ''It's unfortunate the record doesn't show how fabulous of a job he's done. ... When you turn on that film or the opponents that have played us, win or lose, I think they would say they feel the way we play them and the style we play with. I think that starts with him. The way he coaches and the way he demands that.''

Two major challenges remain: Winning close games (six of those losses are by four points or less) and winning consistently (they've yet to win more than two straight games).

Garrett hits his 1-year anniversary this week at the start of a stretch that could define Dallas' season and his tenure thus far.

The Cowboys happen to be one game, and one win, into a run of five games they will be expected to win. A sweep would send the Cowboys into mid-December with a great chance to win the NFC East, especially since they come out of that roll with two of the remaining four games against the division-leading Giants.

The only winning team Dallas plays in the next month is Buffalo (5-3), at home on Sunday, and that was about all Garrett has wanted to discuss this week. Not that he's ever interested in discussing much beyond an upcoming foe.

Asked big-picture subjects such as evaluating his performance so far, and the lessons he's learned, Garrett was his usual polite-but-trite self, saying, ''I think you're always trying to put your program in place. I think it's an ongoing process for every team in the league. ... I do like the direction we're going. I like the group of guys we have.''

As for looking ahead, his best answer was typical, too: ''We've got to get better in all areas of our football team. We've got to throw it better, we've got to run it better, we've got to play better on (special) teams, we've got to stop the run better, we've got to play better on the back end defending the pass. We've done a lot of good things to build on as far as the first eight games of the season, a lot of things we can be positive about. We've played a lot of young players and they've stepped into roles and done a nice job. ... Teams that win in this league, the teams that make the playoffs are the teams that improve over the course of the season. That has been my experience as a player and coach in this league and that's what we're trying to do every week.''

The 45-year-old Garrett has turned things around by injecting more accountability and consistency. There are all sorts of grand gestures (players waived, stricter practices and meetings), but also with little things, such as adding scoreboards on the practice fields to make situational drills more realistic.

Another detail guys like are the large displays outside the locker room, facing the team meeting rooms, that spotlight the top performers in each victory. These tout boards include recipients of game balls, as well as ''Attaboys,'' a ''Scout Team Player of the Week'' and, in the glory spot across the top, there's the ''Grab A Bat Award'' for the No. 1 star, a Louisville Slugger bat with the honoree's autograph atop the date of the game and the score.

''We just go out and do what we're supposed to do, try to implement whatever he is trying to build and put forward for us to go out and execute whatever he puts out for us,'' said linebacker Bradie James, a defensive captain. ''I don't know about expectations because I didn't have any. He showed up and was rockin'''

James is among a group of defensive players who came in under Bill Parcells, then played for Wade Phillips, a pair of defensive-oriented coaches. They knew Garrett as Phillips' offensive coordinator, but, as James said, they didn't really know him.

''Seeing him in a head coaching role has been fun to watch,'' defensive end Marcus Spears said. ''To know how much he understands the game, and how much he understands defense, it has been great watching him sit into that role.''

Bills coach Chan Gailey was coaching the Cowboys in 1998 and '99 when Garrett was a backup quarterback to Troy Aikman. Gailey joked that he thought Garrett, a Princeton graduate, was smart enough not to get into coaching.

''But there was no question,'' Gailey said, ''if he decided to do it, he would be great.''

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