Behind Enemy Lines: Inside the Cowboys

Keith Whitmire, who covers the team for Fox Sports Southwest, drops by with the scoop on what's gone wrong in Big D, the transition from injured Tony Romo to Jon Kitna at quarterback, the lack of a running game and more.

Bill Huber: I'll hit a few specific things here in a minute, but Dallas has gone from one of the Super Bowl favorites — with a home game on the schedule for Feb. 6, no less — to playing for pride or future contracts or future employment. What on earth has gone wrong on a team that sent nine guys to the Pro Bowl last season?

Keith Whitmire: In the big picture, all the shortcomings of the Wade Phillips era caught up with the Cowboys at once. In the past, the Cowboys have been able to get away with sloppiness, taking shortcuts and having a powerless head coach because of their talent, but not anymore.

More specific to this season, the Cowboys never had a training camp. To Jerry Jones, training camp is a marketing opportunity. The team went from San Antonio, to Canton, Ohio, to Dallas, to Oxnard, Calif., during training camp. At every stop, practices were attended by thousands of cheering fans. It was a constant circus and the team never had a chance to do the hard work necessary to forge a team. Plus, they were getting whipped in their preseason games. Opponents were game-planning for the Cowboys in preseason, something Phillips doesn't believe in. So, the team started the season with little confidence and having accomplished next to nothing in training camp.

BH: Not that the Cowboys were going great guns with Tony Romo, but how do things change with Jon Kitna? And, wow, what a receiving corps ...

KW: As NFL backups go, you could do a lot worse than Jon Kitna, who has started a lot of games and still has an NFL arm. The worry with Kitna is that he doesn't have Romo's mobility and therefore is going to be vulnerable behind a banged-up offensive line that's in decline. So far, Kitna hasn't been a sitting target, but his receivers have failed him. Three times last week, they tipped passes to the other team for interceptions.

The offense won't be quite as dynamic without Romo, who could make plays even when things break down, but Kitna's insertion doesn't mean the offense is dead in the water. If everything else were going well, the Cowboys could win games with Kitna, which is all you can ask of your backup quarterback.

BH: You could argue that the Cowboys have the best running back trio in the NFL. Tashard Choice might be better than anyone in the Packers' backfield and he can't even get on the field. So, it stands to reason that they never run the ball. What's up with that?

Tashard Choice
Larry French/Getty Images
KW: The reason is twofold: They aren't having much success when they do run the ball, just 3.6 yards per carry. And they've been falling behind, forcing them to throw the ball in an attempt to play catch-up. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has taken some heat for appearing to abandon the run too soon in games, but Garrett will argue that you don't keep running plays that don't work.

Funny you should mention Choice. The expectation is that he will get more carries this week after basically being banished for the last month. Choice had a horrific fumble in the opening loss to the Redskins, and then the feeling was Garrett was too concerned with making sure everyone got touches. So, Choice was the odd man out in favor of more carries divided between Felix Jones and Marion Barber. Now the pendulum of opinion has swung toward the idea that Barber just may not have it anymore – he averages just 3.0 yards per carry. They like Jones because he has home run potential, but he doesn't make people miss like Choice.

BH: Dallas' pass defense has been terrible, which is shocking with two Pro Bowl cornerbacks and DeMarcus Ware still a terror rushing the quarterback. That's pertinent for this week, because running the ball is an afterthought for the Packers. How have opponents been attacking?

KW: Actually, the Cowboys rank 10th in the league in passing yards allowed, and are a miserable 24th against the run. The problem with the defense, much like Wade Phillips who runs it, is that it's too passive.

The Cowboys don't generate a lot of big plays. They have 16 sacks, which is about average, and they don't create turnovers: just five interceptions and five fumbles recovered. But a lot of the defense's problems have been inflicted by their offense and special teams. In too many cases, the Cowboys' defense was given a short field to defend. The Cowboys have actually outgained their opponents this season despite being 1-6, but they are constantly having to go 80 yards to score while their opponents are starting much closer to the goal line.

BH: So, if we're talking on Jan. 3, what's the final chapter on this team?

KW: If Jones holds true to his form, Phillips will be fired Jan. 3 or soon after. It's a foregone conclusion that Phillips is gone, but a midseason firing is not Jones' style nor would it accomplish anything. The team simply stopped responding to Phillips this season.

Although they were burned out on Bill Parcells by the time he left, it's obvious the team needs a more assertive coach who has the players' attention. How do you find one who is willing to work for an owner/GM who has the final say on everything? That's Jones' dilemma. To get the kind of coach this team needs, he would probably have to relinquish control in football matters. That's not likely to happen.

But there is talent here, starting with a quarterback you can win with. Romo has his doubters, but the quarterback position is in a lot better shape that it was in the years between Romo and Aikman. There are holes in the lineup, including an aging offensive line and scarce depth because of draft failures. But there is potential for a quick turnaround if Jones makes the right hire at coach.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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