When it comes to the current state of the Dallas Cowboys, vice-president Stephen Jones remains as uncomfortable and frustrated as his father, owner Jerry Jones.
"It’s always uncomfortable when we don’t win," Jones said. "I have been uncomfortable for a while now. Since we quit making the playoffs I have been uncomfortable."
That feeling only intensified when you consider after the Cowboys signed a team-record eight free agents to put a winner on field in 2012 only to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
"It’s just disappointing when, from a resource standpoint, we are doing everything we can to make that happen," Jones said. That’s it. It’s very frustrating to be right there and not get there."
Jones and the Cowboys are resolved to do better in 2013. They won’t be able to impact the team in free agency as they did last year because of salary cap issues.
But when you list the things the Cowboys felt they needed to do to improve in the off-season, revamping the staff and defensive philosophy trumped all, Jones said.
The Cowboys hired six new coaches, highlighted by the new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and his 4-3 defense in place of 3-4 scheme favored by the fired Rob Ryan
"Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all on the staff," Jones said. "But we were wanting to make a transition from our system, predominantly the defense. We had some guys to replace on offense. Changing system was a big to-do. Jason has done a helluva job getting the staff put together and that was a big focal point."
The Cowboys believe the players will fit well in the 4-3 defense. Jones is hoping the team gets the most benefit out of the change is philosophy. The Cowboys felt Ryan’s defense was too complicated and they wanted a simpler and more fundamentally-sound approach that Kiffin will bring.
According to Jones, this was a not a decision that happened over night following the season ending loss at Washington. It was a decision the Cowboys had been mulling dating back to Ryan’s first year with the team.
"Where we fundamentally came down with Rob is that his philosophy is about multiple scheme," Jones said. "I think you have to skinny it down. Philosophically, I don’t think Rob believes in that. And it’s not something that happened and all of a sudden at the end of the year we had a problem. I think Rob will tell you we had long visits about this in the off-season last year that there was too much scheme. He tried to cut it back and he did skinny it back, but it’s still a lot.
"This is no revelation we had after we went 8-8. This was after the year before’s 8-8. We just didn’t feel like at the end of the day Rob could skinny it back enough to our satisfaction that we could make plays."
When Jones talks about making plays, he means game-changing plays and turnovers.
Since the beginning of the 2007 season, Dallas ranks only 24th in turnovers. It has averaged 23.8 per season in that span, including a franchise-low 16 in 2012 under Ryan.
Kiffin was hired to help solve that.
In 13 years in Tampa, Kiffin’s Buccaneers averaged 31 takeaways a season. The Cowboys new defensive line coach, Rob Marinelli, was the defensive coordinator in Chicago last season when the Bears had an NFL-best 44 takeaways.
"Guys can’t play fast and guys can’t make plays when they are trying to think about what they are doing," Jones said. "When they looking to the safeties to see what coverage we are in and the ball is getting snapped, I think that makes it hard to play fast and hard to get turnovers. We were losing that turnover battle. If you look at most games when you lose the turnover battle, you lose the game. Unfortunately, in our scheme we weren’t creating turnovers."
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760