As most of you know by now, my all-time favorite television show is "The Sopranos". It appeals to my acute interest in the mob, and it was set in my home state of New Jersey with a plot wrapped around an Italian family -- things I can relate to.
Uncle Junior is my favorite character for many reasons, but in Season 1, when he was named the new boss of North Jersey, his first act was to change the ways things were done. He no longer honored old rules, the old way of business was out the door, and he used his newfound power to enforce his rules. The lesson to be learned from Uncle Junior's management style is that when taking over make sure everyone knows there are new rules, new ways of doing things, and a new agenda.
On Wednesday, Jason Garrett officially held his first team meeting as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys after replacing the fired Wade Phillips. He must not waste any time to let the players know, like Uncle Junior did, that there is a new sheriff in town. Garrett must increase the tempo along with the work ethic in practice. He must demand more from every coach, and he must get rid of anyone who does not want to be a part of ridding the stench that currently surrounds the Cowboys.
He must come to work wanting to embrace confrontation and make tough player personnel decisions. (In reality, there are really no hard decisions on a team that is 1-7.) He must also show the players there is going to be a new standard, and tell them to either get with the program or leave town. Making friends is not on the agenda, but rather making the Cowboys better must be. Garrett must be strong-minded, determined and understand he is a leader now, not a manager. His first week of practice will go a long way of establishing what kind of leader he can become.
Also, adding the title of head coach to his duties as offensive coordinator will place stress on his play-calling as he works to blend each call into the framework of the game. What can Garrett do to ensure he does not make the same mistakes that Wade Phillips made this past weekend on challenges, use of timeouts that resulted in the Packers gaining an easy touchdown?
Garrett has never been a head coach before, but he is smart and seems to understand the game. Nothing, however, is going to prepare him for the first time he is faced with a difficult decision -- on or off the field. His ability to handle these situations will allow him to draw confidence from the players. If he fails to make the right call or the right challenge or does not know the applications of the rules, he will look ill-prepared for the job, thus placing doubt in his players.
Garrett must demonstrate to the players, the Jones family and the fans, he has the aptitude to handle the job, making sure he covers every possible game situation. He is not going to improve the team's play immediately, but he can improve their work ethic, their attention to detail, and their ability to manage the game. He must focus on what is urgent and important, setting up the game in a style that allows the Cowboys the best chance -- perhaps only chance -- to win.
On Wednesdays, when the team reconvenes after the players' day off, Garrett must tell his team in detail the "points of emphasis" for the upcoming game. Not just on offense, but also on defense and the kicking game. Explain in detail to the players he knows what it takes to win, then drill them in those areas, and when the game is played, go back over those points. If the team wins, point to those areas; if they lose because they failed to execute in these areas, let the players know this is not acceptable. But putting this list in front of them allows the players to know that Garrett understands what it takes to win. Remember, intelligence is a powerful tool, one the Princeton grad must use to his full advantage.
Once the game starts, he must coach the whole team, not just the offense. He must find someone who can help him during the game with calls, with adjustments, and with the understanding of how the game is actually being played. This is a tall order. Garrett must combine his Princeton education with a lesson of management from Uncle Junior to be successful -- the Mob meets the Ivy league in the NFL.
Do Bengals know tuck rule?
There was a tuck-rule play late in the Bengals-Steelers game on Monday night, but neither ESPN analyst Jon Gruden (who lost the original tuck-rule game when he was head coach of the Raiders) nor Bengals coach Marvin Lewis noticed. With 3:59 to go in the game, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked and fumbled as his arm was moving forward and coming back. Cincinnati recovered the ball but lost 10 yards and a down. Lewis did not challenge the play, Gruden never mentioned the possibility, and everyone went on to the next play.
I checked with the league office, and officials there confirmed this, in fact, was a tuck play, and had the challenge been made it would have been ruled an incomplete pass.
The Bengals overcame the loss of yardage with a clutch third-down catch-and-run by Cedric Benson, but the point here is that knowing the rules and being able to apply them is critical. Had the Bengals not made the first down, they would have given the game to the Steelers right there.
When less is more ...
I know Lions coach Jim Schwartz regrets not calling a run at the end of regulation of his team's heart-breaking loss to the Jets on Sunday that would have run another 40 seconds off the clock and not given New York time to tie the game and send it into OT.
But there was a larger issue in the game. It happened at the end of the first half when Schwartz took a timeout to give his team a chance to get the ball back before the end of the half. On second-and-19, the Jets ran the ball and Schwartz used his first timeout. Then on the next play, wide receiver Braylon Edwards ran past Lions cornerback Alphonso Smith for a 74-yard touchdown, giving New York a 10-7 lead.
The timeout motivated the Jets to throw the ball. Had the clock been running the Jets would have likely been satisfied to go into halftime with the Lions leading. In theory, what Schwartz did was the right call, but the Lions do not really have a shut-down defense. They are better, but they are not good enough to always stop any offense. The more time the Lions defense is on the field, there is a potential for a mistake. So, extending the game for the Lions is not the best move.
At times, game management must be determined largely by the talent of the team. This is the second time this season Schwartz has gotten burned trying to get the ball back by using his timeouts and then allowing the opponent to score. He must stray from normal game management and just try to reduce the game, not hope he can keep scoring.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.