HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Pro Football Writer
Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys head into Sunday’s game against the Colts leading the NFC East and on the verge of a playoff berth. A ton of the credit for that should go to head coach Jason Garrett’s assistants.
Garrett’s the one thought to be on the hot seat entering the season. He’s the one who has owner Jerry Jones whisper in his ear on the sideline. And he’s the one who’s likely to receive plenty of praise from fans if the Cowboys do return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Truth is, Garrett has become little more than a caretaker for Dallas (10-4). It’s the folks working under him who
are steering a team that was supposed to be an also-ran to respectability — and their contributions are about as underappreciated as it gets in today’s NFL.
“I feel really good about where our coordinators are in running their different units and how our position coaches are coaching,” Garrett said. “It’s my job to oversee it and create an environment for them where they can be successful.”
Last offseason’s shuffle is working.
Coming off three consecutive 8-8 finishes, Dallas demoted defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and removed Bill Callahan as play caller. Now Scott Linehan calls plays (something Garrett used to do), helping turn running back DeMarco Murray into a star. Callahan, meanwhile, has thrived while focusing on what is probably the league’s top offensive line.
New defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has overseen significant improvement, while linebackers coach Matt Eberflus has produced a pretty good group despite the loss of Sean Lee and others to injury.
In general, assistant coaches do not get a lot of publicity or kudos — this season, for the first time, the AP NFL awards will include one for top assistant — but Dallas’ group deserves both.
Here’s a look at some other underappreciated — and overblown — aspects of the NFL:
BUFFALO’S DEFENSE: Presumably, Mario Williams & Co. will finally start to get the wide acclaim they deserve after holding Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers to a combined zero touchdown passes and four interceptions over the past two weeks.
BOBBY WAGNER: With the linebacker back from a right foot injury, the Seahawks are 4-0 and allowing 6.75 points per game. Asked about his five-game absence hurting his cause for awards or recognition, Wagner replied: “That’s fine. Who has been the best ‘backer on the field when he’s been on the field?”
ARIZONA’S HOME EDGE: That New England, Denver and Green Bay are unbeaten at home should surprise no one. That Arizona takes a 7-0 home mark into its showdown with Seattle on Sunday night? Now that’s remarkable.
DENVER’S DEFENSIVE DUO: A lot of attention was paid when the Broncos added Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward. Less-known Chris Harris Jr. and Brandon Marshall (aka the “other” Brandon Marshall) have been a big part of Denver’s success, even if fans aren’t racing to vote them into the Pro Bowl.
REDSKINS’ CAPACITY FOR DYSFUNCTION: Seemingly boundless.
PATRIOTS’ DEMISE: That 41-14 loss at Kansas City in Week 4, the one that had folks wondering when Tom Brady would retire and whether Bill Belichick’s magic was gone, sure seems long ago now, doesn’t it?
JOHNNY FOOTBALL: OK, it’s only one game, but Johnny Manziel’s NFL debut as a starting quarterback for the Browns was a doozy: 80 yards passing, two interceptions, three sacks, and zero points. Certainly not the stuff that justifies his hype. But he deserves time, of course.
NEW COACHES: When Lovie Smith was introduced as Tampa Bay’s head coach, he averred, “It’s time for us to become a relevant team again.” So much for the idea that a new coach can help things improve right away. The Bucs are 2-12; even worse, Ken Whisenhunt’s Titans are 2-13. Jay Gruden’s Redskins are 3-11 (see above). On the other hand, Jim Caldwell (Detroit) and Bill O’Brien (Houston) have done a fine job in Year 1.
CAM NEWTON, COLIN KAEPERNICK, ROBERT GRIFFIN III: The toast of the NFL not too long ago, none of that trio of QBs looks ready for prime time lately.
SAINTS’ HOME EDGE: New Orleans was unbeaten at home for more than a season before the current 0-4 rut in its dome heading into Sunday against Atlanta.
AP Sports Writers Schuyler Dixon in Irving, Texas, and Tim Booth in Renton, Washington, contributed to this report.