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Jason Garrett Must Find His Inner Jimmy Johnson

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ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Jason Garrett watches as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Arlington, Texas
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Jason Garrett watches as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Cowboys Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Arlington, Texas

Jason Garrett enters the 2013 NFL season with an overall record of 21-19 in two and a half seasons as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. But after two straight years of finishing at 8-8—and losing the last two games of each year with the NFC East title and a playoff spot on the line—Garrett should feel that his position is the hottest coaching seat in the NFL.

That being said, there are some changes Garrett should make if he wants to keep his job, much less finish above .500 and lead the Cowboys back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

First off, Garrett needs to channel his first NFL head coach, Jimmy Johnson. Garrett’s rookie year as a quarterback in 1993 turned out to be Johnson’s last in Dallas, but it was also a season that ended with a second straight Super Bowl victory.

Part of Johnson’s formula for success was the unrelenting expectations to which he held his players. From day one of training camp until the final second of the final game, players were expected to play at 110-percent, play smart and play better than their opponent—Hall of Fame defensive lineman Randy White quickly found that out. White retired after the first day of Johnson’s first Cowboys’ training camp in 1989 when he realized, being at the end of his career, he was not going to be able to perform at the level Johnson was going to demand from his players.

Johnson was also not above sending his entire team a message by singling out one player. Just ask running back Curvin Richards, who was cut just before the team’s 1992 Super Bowl run after a pair of late fumbles in a mop-up role during a late season win. Johnson would not tolerate careless mistakes, stupid penalties or a lack of hustle—something Garrett’s Cowboys have been guilty of numerous times in the last two seasons.

While Garrett does not need to be a martinet, or even to go to the extremes Johnson did, he needs to find a point early in camp or during the preseason to deliver a Johnson-esque message to his players.

Garrett has improved in some areas: namely, some game-management issues that cost the Cowboys critical victories, but some bugaboos remain. Garrett needs to scratch the icing-the-kicker timeouts, especially when his own kicker is on the field, right off his play card—it has never worked for him.

Garrett also needs to get his offense to hurry up with much more urgency and efficiency when in the last two minutes of the game. Precious seconds needlessly burn away as the Cowboys appear to meander to the line rather than hustle to it, which has left less time to try to get their placekicker closer to the goalposts.

There has also been a tendency to settle for getting into field goal range instead of trying to get the ball into the endzone. Dallas’ offense needs to produce more touchdowns if they want to produce more wins.

The final change Garrett needs to make may already have been addressed: Dallas’ offensive play calls have been painfully easy to predict in many situations. If a sportswriter in the press box above the field or the fan watching on TV at home knows you are going to hand the ball off to Demarco Murray to run behind Doug Free on third-and-one, then it is a pretty good bet that the opposing defensive coordinator and the defense knows it too. Garrett needs to become much less predictable in his play calling if he does in fact maintain control over play calling this year instead of turning it over to assistant coach Bill Callahan.

In short, Garrett needs to make these changes or Jerry Jones will be changing his head coach again.