Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Embarrassment of Riches

We’re big on plans here. Or at least, we’re big on coherent ideas, concepts toward which individuals move en route to becoming a great team. That’s the reason why we’re so hard on teams like the Raiders and Chiefs, ones that have no vision for what should be happening. They seemingly just build with no concept of what a finished product should look like. Meanwhile, success stories like the Giants (the D-Line that won a Super Bowl) or the 2007 Browns (whose aerial assault was within one win of changing their franchise history) continue to prove that it’s not so much what the plan is as having a plan, period, that matters.

Which brings us to the Cowboys. When the team announced its last minute deal to acquire receiver Roy Williams, everyone seemed thrilled at the prospect of an offense that couldn’t be stopped. After all, all of those pieces couldn’t possibly fail simultaneously, right? If the theme is an aerial assault that opens the road for Marion Barber to trample a weakened box, then throwing another cog in the machine had to succeed, even if Brad Johnson had to run the show for a while. And all of that may very well be true. After all, this past Sunday’s embarrassment could just be an aberration and Tony Romo’s return could right the ship.

Then again, did the ship really need righting? The team was 4-2, with losses coming only to a potentially great Redskins squad and an equally scary Cardinals team, and neither loss seemed to be the result of a lack of offensive fireworks. Maybe, then, this Sunday’s debacle wasn’t the result of the absence of one key piece, but the addition of a key flaw. It’s the idea of adding another brushstroke to the Mona Lisa; she doesn’t need it, and you’re not helping by adding it. Looking at the Cowboys, the addition of Roy Williams feels slightly off, and that’s because it takes what was a functioning system and turns it into an arms race. It’s like they looked at the letter of what the 2007 Pats were trying to teach us all about offense and completely missed the spirit. Yeah, the weapons are there, but there’s no joy. You think Roy Williams is going to be happy running the underneath routes and playing the decoy like Crayton did? And where do those new targets, the ones that a talent like Roy Williams demands, come from? Witten, who has been your most consistent deep threat in the middle? Owens, who will tear the locker room apart the way he did in Philly if you threaten his ability to perform?

The comparison isn’t to the Raiders in terms of not having a plan, but rather not sticking to it, and not realizing that the execution is as important as the idea itself. The 2007 Pats were awful because of the intangible, non football qualities they represented, but in terms of what they showed offensive football could be they were beautiful to watch. They were just that because of their ability to take their system and their personnel and tailor both to fit one another. Wes Welker underneath, making linebackers pay, Randy Moss over the top, constantly pressuring deep defenders, and Stallworth (whose loss is still being felt) keeping teams honest with his speed. The Cowboys had a similar system going prior to last week, and their decision to reinvent their identity, a process that takes much more time than the tweaking that would have otherwise been required, has left them without any persona to cling to at a time when teams finding their character is more important than ever.

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