All About "Yards"

IRVING, TX - Football success is measured, ultimately, in wins. But there are other increments of measurement, too. Some are tangible, like scoring points. Some are intangible, and have to do with lessons learned and experiences gained and emotions properly funneled.

If you want a singular measurement, though, that results from throwing all the above into a big pot, mixing it vigorously, and baking it at just the right temperature, to produce a result that reveals volumes. ...


Years ago, I was sitting with Troy Aikman, the then-peach-fuzz-faced Cowboys quarterback. And I think we were scanning some preseason NFL preview magazine, the sort that predicts how each team will do, how many games it will win. And Aikman says to me, "Do these people know how difficult it is to win a game? Just one game?! Do they know how difficult it is to win a half? A possession? Sometimes, to just gain a yard?''

Now, of course, with time, Aikman and his Cowboys would make it appear to be astoundingly easy. But his point was established with me: 300-pound men grapple with each other. World-class sprinters jostle each other. Great thinkers and great athletes and great emotions all collide. ...

With the hopes of achiving a yard. Thirty-six inches of turf.

Which takes us to where the 2005 Dallas Cowboys were. And where they are now.

It seems like a lifetime ago when this team was 7-3. It had almost single-handedly eliminated from the NFC East race the neighborhood bullies from Philly. It had a Pro Bowl candidate running the offense and a defense that looked like the future ruler of the sport. And sitting atop all this wealth, fat and sassy, was the King, Bill Parcells. There was no ceiling!

How has it all gone so wrong? How can it get fixed in time for Carolina and St. Louis?

It can ultimately be fixed, of course, with wins. And maybe with some of those other increments of measurement, too. Points, of course. Lessons learned. Experiences gained. Emotions properly funneled.

But it needs to be fixed yard-by-yard. Which takes us to the emphasis of this column.

My colleague Norm Hitzges passes on some great numbers on Cowboys yardage in the first eight games and Cowboys yardage since. Dallas was averaging 357 yards gained and 283 yards allowed after eight games, a net +74. And that since then, Dallas is averaging 279 yards gained and 330 yards allowed. Meaning the Cowboys are 78 yards worse on offense, 47 yards worse on defense and in total, a net of 125 yards per game fewer than in those first eight games.

We have listened to enough Bill Parcells press conferences to know that he doesn't have all the answers. What looked like "genius'' at 7-3 looks like "doofus'' at 1-3 since. That's not an indictment of Parcells; it's the nature of the beast.

Earlier this week, the coach looked back on the loss and said, "I view it as a reflection of me.''

That "buck-stops-here'' admission is a start. But the concession is not much of a solution. And we don't have all the answers, all the solutions, either.

But we've now reminded ourselves of what the question is, what the issue is. And it's not necessarily "points,'' which can often take care of itself. And it's not necessarily "youth'' or "age'' or "attitude'' or "the coach sucks.''

It is, instead, who pushes the other guy, jostles the other guy, out-thinks the other guy, in a way that allows a team to travel 74 yards per game in the winning direction, or 125 yards per game in the losing direction.

Yards. A yard. Thirty-six inches of turf.

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