Jason Garrett says he doesn’t like to compare seasons, and that’s understandable.
How many different ways can you look at 8-8?
Three of Garrett’s five full seasons as Dallas Cowboys coach have hit that magical mark of mediocrity, 8-8.
But, ah, we’ll always have 2014. The year that the Cowboys appeared to have finally turned things around — 12 wins, 4 losses.
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A season highlighted by six- and four-game winning streaks. A year where the Cowboys finished second in the NFL in rushing yards and fifth in scoring points. A season where they beat the Seahawks in Seattle.
Despite not having DeMarcus Ware or Sean Lee that season, the Cowboys’ defense produced 31 takeaways and 27 sacks.
What coach, coming off a miserable 4-12 year, wouldn’t take a 12-4 season like 2014?
My question Wednesday, though, appeared to short-circuit Garrett’s motherboard of programmed answers.
“Are you asking, like, right now, would I take that with the 2016 season?” he responded. “I think it’s a great question. I think it’s a lemonade question. This afternoon, on your last day out here, you guys should chat about that.
“But what we’re focused on is getting this team ready to play our best football. We’ve had a good camp. This morning’s practice was a good one. We’ll have a walk-through this afternoon and go try to play our best football on Friday night.”
I get it. Garrett doesn’t like to compare seasons or, it seems, admit that he should maybe emulate past ones.
So let me pour some lemonade and answer the question for him:
He had better be happy with 12-4, as most NFL coaches would. His 2014 Cowboys accomplished a lot that season that would merit repeating in 2016.
Consider the defense. The worry in camp before that 2014 season was how coordinator Rod Marinelli’s defense would perform without Ware (left via free agency) and Lee (injured yet again).
Owner Jerry Jones’ attempted solution was to sign Henry Melton, accept Nick Saban’s recommendation and sign Rolando McClain, and hope that Josh Brent would contribute something after his intoxication manslaughter conviction.
Yet, though all that failed, the 2014 defense did OK, even with George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey providing the pass rush.
The formula worked, too, because DeMarco Murray and the running game kept the defense off the field. The Cowboys ran the ball 508 times and passed 476, which also benefited quarterback Tony Romo, whose practice time in camp had been limited. Romo was able to start 15 of 16 games.
Why wouldn’t Garrett want a season like that? It followed exactly the plan that this Cowboys team should hope to follow — a more balanced, non-Romo-dependent offense, until a young, no-name defense can find its identity.
After the last full practice of camp Wednesday, Garrett struck a positive note.
“I thought training camp was a continuation of the approach that our players took in the off-season,” Garrett said. “We had players in our building early working out on their own. We had players committed to our off-season program and worked hard during our OTAs and mini-camp.
“They went away for five weeks. They came back. They were in shape. They were ready to go. I thought we did an excellent job laying the foundation for our football team here over the last couple of weeks.”
Compared to what, though? The head coach’s parting remarks from training camp have had a familiar spin over the past five seasons.
Has any NFL head coach ever said, “Boy, we wasted our time here. This was a terrible camp!”?
Didn’t think so.
So here’s my suggestion for coach Garrett:
Run the football. Keep Romo healthy. Buy some time until the kids on defense grow up.
Party like it’s 2014, in other words. The lemonade is optional.