IRVING, Texas -- Once upon a time, the Dallas Cowboys had a football identity.
They played a 4-3 defense composed of small, fast players who terrorized offenses with their speed. On offense, they used a timing-based passing attack with a power running game and an offensive line that mauled defenses.
These days, the Cowboys have no identity. Or direction.
After playing the 3-4 defense for nearly a decade, they decided to switch to the 4-3 defense less than two weeks after the 2012 season ended. Jason Garrett has said that if the Cowboys had beaten the Washington Redskins in the final game of the season, then the change might not have been made.
So if Tony Romo had led the Cowboys to a sixth fourth-quarter victory, in December, Rob Ryan would still be the defensive coordinator and the Cowboys would still be running the 3-4? Since he didn't, Monte Kiffin is the defensive coordinator?
That's dumb. Sorry, there's no other way to say it.
Not after the Cowboys spent $50 million on cornerback Brandon Carr and traded up for the best defensive player in the draft, cornerback Morris Claiborne. Teams always want good cornerbacks, but Kiffin's scheme doesn't require the high-dollar cornerbacks the Cowboys spent last season acquiring.
As mama might say, the Cowboys are lost with no idea where found resides.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Mike Tomlin in 2007, they told him they ran the 3-4 defense -- and if he wanted the job he'd have to run the 3-4 because that's Pittsburgh's identity. Tomlin took the job, and he has been to a pair of Super Bowls.
Your Cowboys have systemic issues throughout their organization that keep them from winning consistently.
They're the type of issues that didn't occur when Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells coached the Cowboys. Then we knew exactly what the Cowboys wanted to do on offense and defense.
So did the players. And the scouts.
These days, Jerry Jones is so desperate to win that he changes philosophies every few years when he swaps out coaches. It's impossible to win with that approach.
Think about it. Wade Phillips' version of the 3-4 was too simple. Ryan's 3-4 defense was too complicated. Now, the Cowboys are switching to the 4-3 because it's easy to learn.
On offense, Garrett talks about having a physical approach, but only the Detroit Lions threw the ball more than Dallas last season. Yes, Garrett has made sure the Cowboys drafted offensive linemen in the first round in two of the last three seasons, something Jones had never done.
But after the Cowboys took center Travis Frederick in the first round, they added a tight end and a receiver with their next two picks. Each of the players the Cowboys drafted make sense, but talk to enough folks who know about winning football and they'll tell you that teams wins games with big, agile people on both lines who can dominate.
Landry, Johnson and Parcells understood that.
It's hard to understand how the Cowboys could be so dysfunctional, but we all know it starts at the top. Jones wants to win more than anyone. He just has no idea how to make it happen.
Look no further than the draft. The Cowboys bragged about getting the highest-rated players on their board in second, third, fourth and fifth rounds. Yet they passed on Florida defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd and Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert when it was their turn to draft at No. 18.
They passed on Floyd -- top 10 on their draft board -- because they didn't like his sack numbers and they thought he was more of a nose guard in their scheme. That's fine, but the question is why that conversation took place while the Cowboys were on the clock instead of weeks or months before.
Sometimes all you can do is shake your head.
And if the Cowboys didn't want Floyd, then drafting the best tight end made sense, but the Cowboys traded down to pick up an extra third-round pick.
By the time the Cowboys selected, they were afraid they might not get Frederick in the second round -- they viewed him as the last lineman worth talking in the first round -- so they took him.
There's nothing wrong with him, but the process to get him was incredibly flawed.
That's what happens to a rudderless franchise. The most damning statistic isn't the Cowboys' one playoff win since 1997. It's their inability to string together consecutive 10-win seasons since 1995 and 1996.
That's the biggest indicator this franchise hasn't been a consistent winner.
And it won't be a winner until Jones settles on a football ideology and keeps it through good times and bad.