Commentary

Jason Garrett slowly progresses

Accountability finds residence with Cowboys, and coach must demand more of it

Updated: November 15, 2012, 2:16 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- First things first: The 13 penalties the Dallas Cowboys committed against the Philadelphia Eagles are an absolute joke.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Sharon Ellman/AP PhotoDez Bryant's role as a punt returner was effectively curbed when he fumbled in the first quarter in the loss to the Giants.
And for it to happen for the fourth time this season is an utter embarrassment because it suggests the Cowboys are a poorly coached team with no concept of discipline.

If the Cowboys give a similar performance this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, one of the league's worst teams, they're certainly capable of finding a way to lose a game they should win.

Normally, this is the time the criticism of Jason Garrett starts because he's not holding players accountable, which is why a dude such as Morris Claiborne can accumulate five penalties -- he was flagged more than six teams Sunday -- without any apparent repercussions.

The cry, for much of this season, has been for Garrett to get tough, to make his players publicly accountable when they screw up. By now, we know that's not his style.

That said, Garrett is finally starting to make his players accountable, an indication he's making progress as a head coach.

Take last Sunday, for instance.

When defensive end Jason Hatcher was penalized for being offsides twice in a four-play span during the game's first drive, the Cowboys benched him.

The benching lasted only three plays, but progress is progress no matter how small. The time on the sideline let Hatcher know his performance was unacceptable and gave him a few minutes to correct it.

Now, some of you will moan and groan about the irrelevance of three plays. You'll complain that it should've been longer. Well, a couple of weeks ago it wouldn't have happened at all.

Then there's the case of Dez Bryant, who was benched as a punt returner after a first-quarter fumble in the loss to the New York Giants that occurred when he was careless with the ball.

Again.

Bryant had committed the same type of careless play a game earlier against the Carolina Panthers but somehow managed not to fumble despite loosely holding the ball.

At the time, Garrett joked about the play and called it a teachable moment. When it happened again, Bryant lost his job.

Dwayne Harris, his replacement, has punt returns of 37 and 78 yards the past two weeks, so Bryant isn't getting his job back anytime soon.

While it took longer than it should have, Garrett also replaced Felix Jones on kickoff returns with Lance Dunbar. Dunbar is averaging 23.2 per return, with two of more than 30.

Phillip Tanner has lost his job as Jones' primary backup after gaining 61 yards on 25 carries, a 2.4 average. Dunbar has clearly moved past him.

Tanner has one snap in the past two games, while Dunbar has 14 carries.

Claiborne played hard Sunday, but he didn't always play well. If Mike Jenkins had been healthy -- back spasms kept him out of the game -- he would've replaced Claiborne at least for a little while.

With so many players making more than a million dollars a year, the best way for a coach to get a player's attention is by taking away what he loves most: the game. Do it consistently, and players will respond.

Other coaches are doing it.

Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin benched two starters, running back Reggie Bush and guard Richie Incognito, in their embarrassing 37-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Bush was benched for a first-quarter fumble, while Incognito was benched for a few plays after getting a personal foul.

Kansas City Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel proclaimed last week that any player -- even quarterback Matt Cassel -- who committed a turnover would get benched. The Chiefs lead the NFL in turnovers.

For what it's worth, Kansas City didn't commit a turnover in its loss Monday night to the Pittsburgh Steelers until overtime.

As the games take on more importance in the final two months of the season, Garrett must be more decisive when it comes to making players accountable for their performance.

And it doesn't matter if it's Doug Free, DeMarcus Ware or Tony Romo. No one can be bigger than the team.

The mistakes must stop.

The Cowboys lead the league in penalties and penalty yardage. They rank 31st in turnovers.

In their four wins, the Cowboys have committed five turnovers. In their five losses, they've committed 14.

Sometimes, the game ain't complicated.

Garrett must continue to demand more from every player on this team. And if someone needs to sit for a few plays, or a quarter, or the rest of a game, then so be it.

It's the only way the Cowboys can win enough games to make the playoffs this season.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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