Tuesday, July 9, 2013
High 5: How much difference do coordinators make?
By Tim MacMahon
The second in ESPNDallas.com's five-part series looking at factors that must go Dallas’ way in a big way for the Cowboys to be contenders this season.
The way the offseason coaching changes played out was a PR nightmare for Jason Garrett, but the Cowboys made significant upgrades at both coordinator spots.
All due respect to Rob Ryan, but the Cowboys hired two defensive coordinators with much more impressive credentials than him. Monte Kiffin’s run in Tampa Bay ranks among the best by any defensive coordinator in NFL history. Rod Marinelli, the most overqualified position coach in the league, might as well be the co-defensive coordinator after choosing to leave Chicago following a season in which the Bears were No. 5 in total defense and led the league in turnovers forced.
Bill Callahan’s offensive coordinator title is no longer ceremonial. It took five months and some Jerry Jones meddling to get Garrett to admit it, but Callahan will be calling plays for the Cowboys.
It’s fair to wonder whether Callahan earned what amounts to be a promotion after the his offensive line’s struggles last season, but he’s a more accomplished NFL playcaller than Garrett, whose units regularly racked up a lot of yards and sputtered in the red zone. Callahan’s 2002 Oakland Raiders ranked first in yards and second in scoring en route to the Super Bowl.
The hope is that Garrett will also benefit from being relieved of the play-calling duties, allowing him to focus on the big-picture responsibilities of being a head coach. To put it bluntly, it eliminates any excuses for the Cowboys to continue to have critical, late-game clock-management malfunctions.
The primary reason for Garrett losing power is that the Cowboys haven’t scored enough point under his watch. They’ve ranked in the teens in scoring offense in four of the last five years – not coincidentally making the playoffs only once in that span.
The most obvious way to fix that is for Callahan to improve the Cowboys’ red-zone efficiency. But Kiffin and Marinelli could make an even bigger impact if their defense can give the Cowboys the ball in scoring territory a lot more often.
Marinelli’s Chicago defense led the league with 44 turnovers forced last season, a stunning 28 more than the Cowboys. Kiffin’s Tampa Bay defenses ranked top 10 in turnovers forced in six of his last nine seasons with the Bucs.
If the coordinators have the kind of impact the Cowboys hope, Garrett should be in the playoffs for the first time as a head coach, regardless of how much credit he’d get.