The Dallas Cowboys were shut out Sunday for the first time since 2003. The 23-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts took the wind out of the sails of a team that entered Week 15 on a five-game winning streak and comfortably ahead in the NFC East.
It’s not panic time, though. The Cowboys are still ahead of Washington and Philadelphia, and finish the year with winnable games against the 5-9 Buccaneers and 5-9 Giants. Winning just one of those games would be enough to lock up the division crown.
But some urgency to fix a clear problem is warranted — especially if the Cowboys hope to win in January.
It’s time for the Cowboys to fire Scott Linehan. Or rather, it’s long overdue.
Linehan has been the offensive coordinator in Dallas since 2015, and he’s been on the hot seat for a while now. He’s not popular among Cowboys fans, Dez Bryant openly criticized him, and the team has already considered firing him twice — once before the season and again during their Week 8 bye — according to Ian Rapoport.
From @gmfb Weekend: The #Cowboys seriously weighed moving on from OC Scott Linehan during the bye week and have an affinity for #OU coach Lincoln Riley if they move on from Jason Garrett... who @MikeGarafolo says may take back play-calling. pic.twitter.com/8HRHaSKAHw— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 11, 2018
Even if Dallas is only a win away from clinching the NFC East and just a few weeks away from playing in the postseason, it’s not too late to do what’s best for the team. We just saw it happen with another NFC contender.
Mike Zimmer gave a great reason for firing Joe DeFilippo as offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings following a 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14.
“[I] don’t want the season wasted,” Zimmer said, via Pro Football Talk. “Maybe it will [be], maybe it won’t. But these three games are very, very critical and we need to play good.”
His bold decision was rewarded when the Vikings had their best offensive output of the year in a 41-17 blowout of the Dolphins.
Dallas should take a page out of the Vikings’ book and fire Linehan while there’s still time to save the offense and the season.
Dallas can’t adjust on offense when things go wrong
The Cowboys has been winning games in 2018 by playing excellent defense and controlling time of possession. It’s a good formula for success, but the Cowboys are ill-equipped to deviate from that plan if they fall in an early hole. In no game was that more obvious than the loss to the Colts.
The Cowboys started the Week 15 matchup with a balanced offense. They put together a couple lengthy drives early in the game that mixed the run and pass to success. The second drive of the game for Dallas almost ended with points, but Dak Prescott and Jamize Olawale couldn’t connect on what should’ve been an easy touchdown.
That drive ended with Ezekiel Elliott being stuffed on fourth down. It wouldn’t be fair to blame Linehan for the Cowboys not scoring in the first half — which also saw a 48-yard field goal attempt from Brett Maher get blocked.
The problem is that once the Cowboys are behind, things snowball in a hurry.
Elliott ran the ball just five times in the second half after getting 13 carries in the first two quarters. Prescott finished with 39 passing attempts and the pass-heavy Cowboys attack didn’t do much of anything against the Colts.
Linehan’s decision-making in the second half only exacerbated the problems.
Facing a fourth-and-1 situation in Colts territory, Linehan opted against giving the ball to Elliott and instead called a pass play that was knocked down across the middle of the field. There are 16 times Elliott has been given the ball on fourth-and-1 in his Cowboys career, and the Colts’ first-half stuff is one of just three times it didn’t end with a first down.
Even worse than that, Linehan dialed up a screen pass to Allen Hurns in the fourth quarter that went for 9 yards when the Cowboys were facing a fourth-and-14.
It’s one thing to keep an offense on track when everything is going according to plan. But Linehan has shown that when the Cowboys aren’t able to follow the script, his inability to adjust has been a liability.
The Cowboys offense has been mediocre all year
Firing Linehan may seem drastic with the playoffs right around the corner, but what could it hurt, really?
The Cowboys are No. 26 in the NFL in points scored and No. 21 in total offense. The arrival of Amari Cooper gave Dallas a significant boost, and his explosive plays sank the Eagles in Week 14, but the Cowboys are still have one of the most ineffective offenses.
It’s not exactly surprising that the Cowboys’ early drive into the red zone against the Colts ended without points, considering Dallas has been one of the NFL’s worst inside the 20-yard line.
The Cowboys don’t need their offense to magically turn into one that mirrors the high-flying Chiefs, Rams, or Saints. The defense can pick up enough of the slack to let the offense worry about winning the time of possession.
But Dallas can’t afford its offense to be one that asks the defense to replicate its dominant performance in a 13-10 win against New Orleans. That leaves a tiny margin for error and gives the Cowboys no chance if the offense turns the ball over.
Dallas needs more than 19.7 points per game out of its offense, and it doesn’t look like it’ll get there with Linehan.
Jerry Jones hasn’t shied away from taking big swings this year
When the Cowboys started the season 3-4, owner Jerry Jones wasn’t satisfied. Despite blowing out the Jaguars, 40-7, in Week 6, the team fired offensive line coach Paul Alexander at the end of October and traded away a first-round pick for Cooper.
Those bold moves paid off and Dallas won five of its next six games.
If the Cowboys already considered firing Linehan twice in 2018 and didn’t, they’re probably not going to do it now with the playoffs just a few weeks away. But they should.
The 23-0 loss to the Colts wasn’t Linehan’s worst performance. But the last straw for the coach could’ve been any of the team’s lackluster offensive showings over the last two years.
If they do get rid of Linehan, it’d probably be Jason Garrett who takes over playcalling — something he hasn’t done for Dallas since 2012.
Maybe that wouldn’t make much of a difference, but Dallas needs to roll the dice. It has a chance to lean on its stellar defense and powerful ground attack to be a real contender in the playoffs. It looks like Linehan is destined to cost the Cowboys that opportunity.