Since Wade the Benevolent has historically spent a great deal of time playing the tireless apologist for his players, this piece in today's San Antonio Express-News caught my eye without hesitation: Phillips pans late game defense, it read.
Perhaps the get-tough Wade Phillips, an idea so bandied about this off-season, has finally arrived, I thought. Perhaps this is a new day, and the study in shoddy, underachieving football that was Dallas' 26-20 win in Kansas City served as a reality check of sorts.
“It's bothering me, because I've been around teams that that was our strength, that we made plays at those times,” Phillips said in the Express-News. “And that helped win games. And we've done that here. It's something we're going to emphasize more and more.”
Okay, that's a start; we're not really approaching Mike Singletary territory yet, but going in the right direction.
As pointed out in the article, Dallas ranks fourth in the league with respect to third down stops, allowing opponents to convert just 30.2% of the time; but the numbers belie the unit's inability at times--namely, last Sunday in Kansas City, the Sunday before that, in Denver, and against New York in week two--to close out games in the closing minutes. In "crunch time," as old Gatorade commercials put it.
“You've got to play every play like it's third-and-seven, third-and-five-to-seven,” Phillips continued. “We're making mistakes on the same defenses that we're not making mistakes on in third down.”
Fiery, it is not; but considering that most experts predict he'll be gone at season's end, if not before, it's becoming clear that fire will never be a facet of Phillips' coaching style; if it were, he may have delivered a podium-banging screed on excitement and football similar to the one seen in training camp.
But it is "bothering" him; which, I suppose, is a start, and at this point, just about all anyone could reasonably ask for out of the coach formerly known as "Cupcake."