Beyond the Boxscore
Joke's on the Cowboys: Collapse of Rob Ryan's D proves Jerry Jones made anarrogant mistake on Wade Phillips
If Wade Phillips' guys expected fiery congratulations, slaps on the back or a even a mildly enthusiastic job well done, they were in for a surprise. For as everyone else who's been haunted by this Houston Texans defense (owner Bob McNair, head coach Gary Kubiak, the fans in the stands) went bonkers over the unit's performance in the season opener, Phillips kept it nonchalant.
"Got the win. See you tomorrow. Let's not let the team score," defensive tackle Shaun Cody says in relaying Phillips' words for his defense after a 34-7 wipeout of the Indianapolis Colts. "That was it. 'Got the win. See you tomorrow. Let's not let the team score.' That's all he really said."
Cody grins. He's more than into whatever the Texans' slightly round, white-haired defensive Yoda wants to utter. Phillips' message to his guys — and make no mistake, the Texans' defensive players are already Wade's Guys — could not have been more clear. The rest of the NFL world may be shocked by the Texans' week one defensive power flex, but he expects it. And they should to, if they think about it.
"This isn't about Wade," linebacker DeMeco Ryans insists. "It's about a bunch of guys coming together who believed they could do this. We knew we had this in us. We believe in ourselves."
Funny, that sounds like exactly what Wade Phillips would want Ryans to believe. While McNair lauds the defense as the missing link and Kubiak gushes about the Texans playing their best half of football ever, Phillips quietly makes his way through the locker room, wearing a short sleeve, button-up shirt and holding a leather satchel like he's a businessman on casual Friday.
"Just call me Antonio Nostradamus," Antonio Smith laughs, "because I predicted that Mario was going to be awesome. I told you all."
This is Wade Phillips' gift. The gift of nonchalance. It may never come in more handy than it does with this Texans' defense, a unit that became so freaked out last season that it would jump at its own shadow.
"Wade's so cool," rookie defensive end J.J. Watt says of a 64-year-old coaching lifer who's probably only been called that once or twice in his life. Tops.
Phillips certainly wasn't considered cool in Dallas where he never really rose above being regarded as a rube temporarily coaching America's Team — even if he lasted there three and a half seasons and took Jerry Jones' team to two playoff berths before getting fired halfway through last season.
The Cowboys new coach, Jason Garrett, is considered more commanding than Phillips, more dashing than Phillips (and if you think looks don't matter in Big D, you've never spent any time there), more cool than Phillips.
Garrett's more Cowboys friendly. Whether he'll ever win as much, well that's another matter. It's sure not looking good for Jones and an arrogant fan base that tried to paint Phillips as a befuddled buffoon right now. For hours after the Texans defense played "angry" (Phillips' word) all around their leader's calm, the Cowboys' new hyper defensive leader (Rob Ryan, brother of Rex, friend to no Dream Team) watched his defense implode when it had a game in its grasp.
The Cowboys of Garrett, Ryan and Jones blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead on Sunday Night Football, threw away a game to a Jets team waiting to be beat. With the game on the line, Dallas' D played as out of control and freaked out as its new defensive coordinator. Don't put all the blame for that 27-24 loss on a blocked punt, another Tony Romo choke or a 50-yard field goal. Ryan's defense found itself plenty turned around in the second half too. His cornerbacks looked lost, shaken . . . and there was no one there to calm them down.
With every Sunday like this, it will become more and more apparent that Jerry's made another mistake.
Meet the new Super Mario
Remember how almost everyone freaked out over Mario Williams' "impossible" transition to playing outside linebacker in Phillips' preferred 3-4 defensive scheme? How Phillips nonchalanted it all preseason and said that Mario would be fine?
Well, there's Mario flying around the corner, blowing up plays in the Colts backfield, finishing with two sacks and a forced fumble. Mario would have looked like the most dominant defensive player on the field. If Watt wasn't bursting through the line. If Antonio Smith wasn't conducting regular breath tests of Kerry Collins. If Cody wasn't clogging everything up in Indianapolis' running game.
"They're as good as a front seven as we'll play all year," Collins said. And yes, he's talking about the Texans.
It's sure not looking good for Jerry Jones and an arrogant fan base that tried to paint Wade Phillips as a befuddled buffoon right now.
It starts with Mario and Phillips recognized that from the beginning. By treating Williams with respect, by all but laughing at the notion of judging a veteran by the preseason, by staying cool, the Texans defensive coordinator empowered his most important player.
"Just call me Antonio Nostradamus," Smith laughs, "because I predicted that Mario was going to be awesome. I told you all."
Phillips isn't quite as gregarious as the Texans' defensive captain. But he advances much the same message. "Mario looked pretty good as an outside linebacker to me," Phillips says with a smile.
Of course, as Smith notes, it helped that the Colts tried to block Williams on the edge with tight end Dallas Clark. "I don't know what they were thinking," Smith says.
Maybe Phillips did. Creating mismatches is at the heart of his 3-4. It's about putting his playmakers in position to be stars, getting Williams 1-on-1 against a tight end, allowing free safety Danieal Manning to fly all over the field and try and take receivers heads off (even if the penalty Manning received for doing just that Sunday afternoon was dubious at best).
"Wade is confident and that makes everyone confident," Cody says. "He'll map it all out and tell us this is what they're going to do and this is what we're going to do. And this is what's going to happen.
"And it happens."
Of course, Phillips is just ticked the shutout didn't happen. "That would have been nice," he says of securing a goose egg. "I thought our guys played well enough to earn it. But it just shows you how hard it really is to get a shutout in this league."
Phillips message to his guys was a little more succinct. Got the win. See you tomorrow. Let's not let the team score.
"We wanted that shutout so bad," Watt says. "Now, we'll have to go get us one next week."
It's more than 40 minutes after the game, the Texans locker room is clearing out, and J.J. Watt still looks like he wants to hit somebody. All powered by the most nonchalant leader in the room.
Got the win. See you tomorrow. Let's not let the team score.
You can be sure that Rob Ryan said a lot more — in a much louder fashion — after his Cowboys defense fell apart. So crazy. The man could probably could use a little confident nonchalance.