When initially approached about being replaced in the regular defense by rookie Anthony Brown in last Thursday’s 17-15 win against the Minnesota Vikings, a perturbed cornerback Orlando Scandrick responded with “ask Jason Garrett.” Of course, Garrett had a perfectly logical explanation for his decision, pointing out that Scandrick was dealing with a foot injury and the Cowboys made the decision in the best interest of the team. It was just the latest in a number of unemotional, team-first decisions Garrett has made during the season that has helped propel the Cowboys to an 11-1 mark. They were decisions that could be looked at as controversial and dramatic, but were stripped of the layers by Garrett into what was best for the team. The biggest one was the decision to keep rookie Dak Prescott at quarterback in front of a now-healthy Tony Romo. That well-chronicled issue was capped by Romo conceding the starting job to Prescott at his own emotional news conference. For Garrett, it was a non-emotional decision based on what was best for the football team. But even before that, Garrett made a similar call at tight end when 2015 seventh-round pick Geoff Swaim started the season ahead of 2013 second-round pick Gavin Escobar on the depth chart. Escobar had been under-performing since his rookie season, but this was the first time his role had been significantly reduced. A season-ending injury to Swaim has put Escobar back in the No. 2 spot behind Jason Witten. And then there have been the shuffles along the defensive line where the two biggest free agent additions in tackle Cedric Thornton and end Benson Mayowa have been in and out of the lineup and remain in back-up roles. Thornton was expected to be a starter at nose tackle when he signed a four-year, $17 million contract to come over from Philadelphia. But he was beaten out in camp by Terrell McClain. He is now a big part of the interior line rotation. Mayowa was at least hoping to hold down a starting spot to open the season when he signed a three-year, $8.25 million restricted free agent contract to come over from the Oakland Raiders because of the suspensions of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. He was beaten out by Jack Crawford initially. And then he was inactive for a few games before returning to action against the Vikings and recording a sack. All of that was before Garrett made the cold-blooded, but-team-oriented, move with the prickly Scandrick. For Garrett, it’s not about where you came from or what you have done before. It’s what you are doing now and can do going forward to help the Cowboys win.
The recent benching of 2015 MVP Cam Newton by the Carolina Panthers for violating the team’s dress code brought back memories of Garrett dropping the hammer on his own players for such violations. Again, just like with anything the discipline varies depending on your importance to the team. But Garrett takes his dress code very seriously. Consider that when Garrett took over as interim coach for Wade Phillips midway through the 2010 season, he installed a strict dress code that included jackets and ties for road trips. Running back Marion Barber violated the code on Garrett’s first game. He wore jeans and did not wear a tie. He was fined an undisclosed amount. Fast forward to November of 2015 when the Cowboys were en route to a 4-12 season. Cornerback Corey White and running back Christine Michael were cut by the team in part because they didn’t wear a suit on a road trip. Again, there is no doubt if the two backup players played prominent roles or were bigger contributors on the field, the discipline would have been different. But there is also no doubt the dress code violation led to their ultimate demise. White confirmed as much to TMZ after his release. He said he wore slacks and button down on the trip. A Cowboys coach told White he was cut because the cornerback wasn’t wearing a suit. “I’m not angry,” White reportedly said. “ ... It’s the rules.”
No rookie has ever quarterbacked a team to the Super Bowl. Let that sink in. When talk turns to the Cowboys and reasons why they won’t get to the Super Bowl even though they have the best record in the league, topping the list is the fact that no rookie has ever quarterbacked a team to the Super Bowl. And the Cowboys are being led by Prescott. The Cowboys aren’t concerned as much with past history as they are with what Prescott has shown them this season. No situation, no circumstance, no stage is seemingly too big for him. The stakes are getting higher for the Cowboys and the spotlight is getting brighter. The next three games are in prime time, starting Sunday against Giants. Yet the Cowboys have no doubt that Prescott will up to the task. “I think he’s going to be fine,” vice president Stephen Jones said. “All of our games are seeming to go to prime time. All the games are big games. I just don’t see how that it’s going to be that big of a difference, even though we all know playoff football is different. I just think he’s going to be able to handle it like everything else. He doesn’t really seem to flinch. His nervous system seems to be steady and he responds and especially when we need a big play. He seems to come up with it. I think he can handle what’s been thrown at him. Obviously, he’s seen some really tough, tough defenses the past three or four weeks, especially Baltimore and Minnesota. And he was able to handle that and obviously been on the road in some difficult situations. So, we’re very pleased with where he is.”
Scandrick’s return from a serious knee injury sidelined him all of last season continues to be complicated by nagging injuries. He missed the 2015 season after tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee in training camp. His return this season was mitigated in the season opener when he suffered hamstring strains on both legs. He played in Week 2, but then missed the next four games. Scandrick is being limited by plantar fasciitis in his left foot, which is why he was replaced in the regular defense against the Vikings by rookie Anthony Brown and only played in nickel situations. Scandrick said he has been dealing with the foot injury for a few weeks and it’s something he will have to play through for the rest of the season. “It’s very frustrating,” Scandrick said. “But there is nothing I can do. I doubt it gets better until the off-season. The only treatment is rest. And I can’t get that at this time. It’s not a long-term health issue. But it’s unfortunate. I knew the first year back would be difficult and things like this would pop up. I’ve just got to get through this season.”
Stephen Jones’ son
Stephen Jones is living the life right now. The Cowboys (11-1) are riding an 11-game winning streak with the league’s best record, making them the Super Bowl favorite out of the NFC. But maybe even more dear to his heart is the state of the Highland Park High School team, quarterbacked by his son, John Stephen Jones. Highland Park faces undefeated Denton Ryan on Saturday in the Class 5A Division I state semifinals at AT&T Stadium. “I’m probably even more nervous watching him play,” Stephen Jones said. “Obviously, these are big, big football games for him. And obviously big, big football games for the Cowboys. And they’re very similar in terms of your emotions and how you feel out there. And, so, it’s obviously very fortunate that these things are dove-tailing together in terms of the success we’re having with the Cowboys as well as the success that John Stephen is getting to have with the Scots. It’s rare.”