Garrett's plan coming to fruition

IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett has been around football his entire life. His dad was a college head coach and an NFL scout for decades. Garrett spent 12 seasons in the NFL as a player and has been a coach pretty much since the day his playing career ended.

When the opportunity presented itself for him to be a head coach, Garrett knew exactly what process he was going to use to build a winner with staying power. Finally, after three consecutive 8-8 seasons, Garrett is getting some tangible results from his process.

A win Sunday against the Houston Texans would give the Dallas Cowboys four straight victories, matching the longest win streak since Garrett became coach. Whether the Cowboys win or lose, the process won't change. Garrett and his staff will take an unemotional look at the tape of the game. They'll build on the good stuff their players did and correct the stuff that's not as good. Then they'll get to work on Seattle.

The most important thing Garrett has done as head coach is persuade Jerry Jones, who had never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman since buying the team in 1989, to spend first-round picks on linemen in three of the past four years. The Cowboys hit on each of them, and Garrett's plan to build a dominant offensive line has come to fruition. The Cowboys lead the NFL with 165 yards rushing per game and rank fourth with 5.08 yards per carry.

Garrett, a pass-happy playcaller since his arrival in 2007, is now talking about the Cowboys running the ball whenever they want against whoever they line up against.

"We're going to run the football. We're going to run it early. We're going to run it in the middle. And we're going to run run it late," Garrett said. "We preach that to our players. We're going to run against favorable looks and we're going to runs against some looks that aren't so good. That's our mindset and that's our mentality."

It's all about creating a mentality and an attitude that ultimately leads to victory. It's why the Cowboys pass out T-shirts to players and staff that read "Fight" and "Be physical" and "Do your job." No, you can't buy one. You can't even ask a member of the organization for one. They made only enough for the players, coaches and support staff. The T-shirts are not a marketing tool, they're just another way to remind players about the process.

It's the same reason Garrett is forever talking about the same things. When he talks about adding the right kind of guys to the roster, it means he wants smart, hard-working players who yearn to get better and won't wilt during tough games or tough times.

You often hear him talk about guys who go about their business the right way or players who want to get better. He's looking for self-starters and leaders. And he's looking for guys who play with passion and love the game so much that it's hard for them to express just how much they do.

When Garrett took over the Cowboys, they were one of the league's oldest teams. Now, they're among the youngest. Of the 45 players on the roster, 27 have three years experience or less. Thirty-year-old Doug Free is the Cowboys' oldest starting lineman. Left guard Ronald Leary is 25. The other three starters are each 23.

"It has been an evolution of getting our team younger over the last three or four years," Garrett said. "It hasn't just happened overnight, but that's what we've tried to do.

"We believe that's an important way to build a football team. There's an advantage to having veteran players, guys who have experience, but also advantage to having younger and teaching them exactly how you want to do things."

And that's why the Cowboys started rebuilding their defensive line last offseason in the same way they've rebuilt their offensive line. They cut DeMarcus Ware and released Jay Ratliff. Jason Hatcher signed a free-agent deal with the Washington Redskins. Then Dallas moved up to draft pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round and nose tackle Ken Bishop in the seventh round.

Of the 11 defensive linemen on the roster, eight arrived this season. Three are inactive each week. The competition for playing time is rugged.

"We don't have the marquee players we've had in the past, but we have guys who want to come in here and compete and battle for jobs and jerseys for Sundays and playing time on Sundays," Garrett said. "We think that's a good dynamic to have."

Garrett has a 32-28 career record as a head coach and the Cowboys didn't make the playoffs in any of his first three full seasons. He's in the final year of his contract, but you'll never hear him talk about it. During the season, Garrett is obsessed with today. The meetings today. The practice today. The walk-through today. All that matters are players and coaches getting better today. It's monotonous, yet effective.

So Garrett refuses to deviate from the process. He knows it works -- even if you don't. He has seen it work elsewhere. And he knows it will eventually work in Dallas. You're just starting to believe in the process; Garrett never stopped.