Chat with Ed Werder
Welcome to SportsNation! On Friday, ESPN NFL reporter Ed Werder stops by to chat about the NFL season.
Werder joined ESPN in 1998, before that he had stints at The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Send your questions now and join Werder Friday at 11 a.m. ET/10 a.m. CT!
Ed Fan (Austin)
In watching a lot of NFL games along with the Cowboys games, it's obvious that the referees are picking on the Cowboys in both calling penalties and not calling similar penalties on the Cowboys' opponent. Is there a conspiracy to ensure that the Cowboys don't play a homefield Superbowl?
Ed Werder (11:10 AM)
Good morning to everyone. So the Cowboys lost the Panic Bowl. Now what? Let's get started. Good question. The Cowboys have committed a lot penalties and many of them occurring at the worst possible times. I think the Cowboys have created scrutiny from the officiating crews because they now have a reputation for committing penalties. I think the Cowboys have taken a necessary step in admitting they have to improve technique and create awareness among their players about avoiding penalties. Hiring former NFL official Phil Luckett and having some other referees in uniform at practices the rest of the season should help the players be more careful in practice and they can hopefully take that mindset to the games. The coaches also have to really emphasis it consistently when reviewing practice and game tape with players. You can't create a huge advantage in yardage with a superior offense and then essentially negate it with penalty yardage and have important plays nullified.
There are numerous reasons why the Cowboys are beating themselves. I noticed last week that they sub ALOT. While I understand the theory behind it (creating match-ups, rest, etc), do you think it creates more confusion and a higher propensity for a lack of execution? Whatever happened to putting your best 11 players on the field and only taking them off for a quick breather?
Ed Werder (11:12 AM)
Everybody in football plays it mostly the same way. They have different players with different skill sets and manage the game trying to use their strengths to create favorable matchups based on down and distance. If the Vikings go to four wide receivers, I don't think you want to be covering two of them with safeties or linebackers so you have to send out different players. On offense, the Cowboys like to rotate personnel to create different formation looks to disguise plays as they cycle through their game plan. I don't think this is a solution.
In my opinion, mental mistakes are coaching errors and lack of discipline. Is Wade too soft on his players which causes the mistakes?
Ed Werder (11:16 AM)
I believe Wade Phillips is not generally demanding enough with the players and he has created an environment where harsh criticism occurs very infrequently. Instead of arguing with the officials following a call, maybe Phillips should have a sideline confrontation with a player about changing his performance. Perhaps that make the player uneasy and change his behavior while at the same time subtly sending the message to the officiating crew that you're seeing what they're seeing and you're trying to deal with it. The players don't fear Wade Phillips because he makes excuses for them, and they know that he's not the real authority figure in the organization. That doesn't work in the NFL. The players must perceive the coach to be in charge and feel they have to answer to him at all times. Jerry Jones has had two coaches in 20-plus years with control _ Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells. Chan Gailey tried to exert some authority at about the same time Jerry fired him.
Have the players lost respect for the coaching staff? I just don't see the intensity that they need to be playing with.
Ed Werder (11:21 AM)
Among the qualities that made Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells successful with the Cowboys was that they had real power and they were willing to remind the players of that when necessary. Part of the job of the head coach is to be a psychologist and to deliver the right message that creates the proper mindset for whichever game they're playing that week. I think Jerry has twice this season admitted that Wade is not effectively communicating to the players. He did that when he said after the Houston win that he hoped the players would prepare as though they were 0-3 to recreate the intensity, and he did it again this week when he addressed the entire team. Those are jobs for the head coach, but they're not being done well enough in Jerry's mind so he takes that role. I'm sure Jerry knows that undermines his coach, but he obviously thinks that message is less important than the one he needs to deliver. As I've written, players have admitted that they are more comfortable losing under Phillips than they were sometimes winning under Parcells. The fear factor is gone and some players have lost their edge.
Ryan Berding (Iowa)
Ed, I grew up in the Houston area (Beaumont) and the first football game I watched was the Oilers v. Bills playoff disaster where the Bills orchestrated the greatest comeback in NFL history. This is how I became a Dallas fan, because Houston blew it and Dallas won superbowl. So as a spoiled Cowboys fan I am curious - when they lose against the Giants how do you think the team will react. It will be clear that season is done, does the team crumble apart or do they just half donkey it through the rest of the season? What does the organization do at that point to prepare for 2011?
Ed Werder (11:24 AM)
The Cowboys will not, in my opinion, admit defeat until they are mathematically eliminated _ nor should they. This is an exasperated team, aware of its talent but unable to get out of its own way. I know the Cowboys have twice really taken a hard look at the players on the roster, scrutinized them in games, in an attempt to see if they overestimated their talent. The conclusion each time is that the Cowboys have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL but cannot overcome their self-destructive tendencies. Jerry has never fired a coach during the season and says Wade won't be the first. But at some point, Jerry might have to reconsider if he wants to get the attention of the locker room.
Did the Cowboys have practice with referees? If so, do you think that will help with the mistakes?
Ed Werder (11:26 AM)
The Cowboys will practice twice a week throughout the remainder of the season with officials, although only Phil Luckett has worked at the NFL level. I don't know if it will be an effective deterrent, but at least the Cowboys have created the appearance that they're doing something about the problem. I would say they're being proactive, but I think you could argue they should have done something a while ago.
Jonathan Dy (South Lake Tahoe, CA)
Do you think Gerald Sensabaugh is a legitimate safety or does Dallas have to draft a player like DeAndre McDaniel from Clemson? Do think Jerry also regrets not signing O.J. Atogwe?
Ed Werder (11:28 AM)
I haven't checked with our expert staff in research and probably should but somebody told me the Cowboys have gone something like 29 games without a turnover from the safety position. Alan Ball has been a disappointment. Gerald Sensabaugh is a good veteran player, but the Cowboys need a playmaker back there they've been lacking since Darren Woodson retired.
kevin johnson (kannapolis, North Carolina)
whats up with the head to head tackling, has the NFL banned that or what?
Ed Werder (11:30 AM)
The NFL long ago banned helmet-to-helmet contact. I think they did the right thing this week with the fines for James Harrison, Brandon Meriweather and a few others. I'm not sure the hit on DeSean Jackson was illegal. But Harrison twice launched himself to hit an opponent in the head, and once the player was already going to the ground. Meriweather is fortunate he didn't seriously injure Todd Heap, who was defenseless. Football is a violent enough game when played within the rules. The NFL hasn't changed the rules. It's just enforcing the rulebook.
Chad (Knoxville, TN)
Players usually say nice things about their current head coach. What will the Cowboys players say after Wade is fired? I say they won't have great things to say about him and will instead say how nice it is to have [Some New Coach] coaching us now. For this reason I don't put much stock in the players support of their coach.
Ed Werder (11:35 AM)
Chad, here you go. I appreciate your diligence. Of course the players will support Wade Phillips. They don't probably realize they're losing because he's not demanding enough to be their leader. If you accept less than 100 percent from players, that's what you'll get from most of them. Jimmy Johnson told me that every player thinks he can motivate and prepare himself to perform his best every week, when the reality is that very few are capable of that. That's why teams have head coaches. The players widely supported Barry Switzer too because he treated them well and made excuses when they failed. Troy Aikman knew that would lead to a slow erosion of the team and took exception to it, which sometimes made him unpopular in his own locker room. Troy didn't have to challenge players in practice when he had Jimmy Johnson to do it for him. When Jimmy left, Aikman had to take that role himself and it caused friction within the team.
Does no one realize the Cowboys have only lost close games this season? They've yet to lose a game by more than a touchdown. I'm not saying I'm happy with 1-4, but it's not like they are playing particularly poorly.
Ed Werder (11:37 AM)
This is the last question that I will answer today. James, you make a fair point. But the Cowboys are supposed to be one of the most talented, highest-paid football teams in the league. They're a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, at least they were when the season began. Dallas should never accept losing, not matter how close the score. The majority of NFL games are decided by a touchdown or less. And I can tell you from covering the 1-15 Cowboys and the 2-14 Tampa Bay Bucs that those teams could often make the same claim _ we were just one or two plays away from winning. That's unacceptable even when true. Have a good week everybody.
Ed, first I just really want to say that I loved your article last week on the Cowboys' lowered standard for success. No hyperbole - I think it was one of the best sports articles of the year because it cut to the heart of the matter. Still, I think there's one more fundamental problem: Jerry Jones. I love what he's done for the organization overall, but I think his ego has gotten in the way of both having a competent front office while making coaches like Bill Cowher unwilling to coach in Big D. Will Jerry every realize this? Thanks.
Ed Werder (11:43 AM)
Bill, I appreciate the compliments on the piece last week, which seemed to be favorably reviewed by at least half the people who posted comments even though it might have had a negative tone. I was trying to be honest and insightful about one of the things I believe is wrong with this team. I think Jerry might be forced to decide whether he wants win or prefers to have the current setup where he can be involved in coaching and have a comfortable relationship with a weak head coach. Jerry will not want to hire a Gruden or a Cowher because it will weaken his role. I think he would prefer to avoid that scenario, but if the Cowboys have such a bad season that he has to restore public confidence to sell season-tickets and luxury box seats, then I think he would have to seriously consider hiring a coach with credibility. One name to keep in mind if Jerry does the later _ Sean Payton, although that would be difficult since he has two years left on his Saints contract and I'm not sure Jerry could compensate that NFC team with enough to make them consider it. Good day all