This past Sunday Tony Romo was 19 for 36 with 194 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers. When the pressure was on, Romo and the Dallas Cowboys didn't execute and the Steelers did.
Following the game, you could read something similar to the following on every message board all over the nation:
Romo chokes under pressure.
Romo can't win the "big" games.
Romo can't win in December and January.
That says it all, right?
With apologies to Lee Corso, "Not so fast my friend."
I'm not going to get into how good Romo is or isn't. I believe that has been covered plenty of times with all points of view.
That said, many quarterbacks lost their first two playoff games, including last year's Super Bowl MVP, Eli Manning. Let Romo's career breathe a little before putting him in Canton or releasing him and picking up Matt Cassel.
I do, however, want to talk about what makes a team chock full of talent look pedestrian at times during every game they've played.
The real problem in Big D is not a player. It isn't Jerry Jones. It isn't Wade Phillips (although I don't believe he is the right coach for this team.)
The real problem is the man who some sheep call "Red Headed Jesus," but most know him as Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett.
The observant Cowboys fan knows that the offense hasn't put together four solid quarters in any game all year. There have been extended lulls throughout each game, even against the weaker defenses.
The main reason for this is the predictable, pass-first game plan that Garrett puts together every week. Here are the main points of Garrett's master plan:
- Pass early to get up big and then grind it out with Marion Barber III in the fourth quarter.
- If Garrett actually decides to run the ball on first down, yet gets no yards, there will be a pass on second and 10.
- Hardly ever run the ball more than twice in a row early in the game.
- Hardly ever throw quick slants.
- Completely abandon the run if Dallas is down by any amount of points.
- Get conservative when you should be stepping on the opponent's throat.
If a regular fan can pick up on these tendencies (and call every play), imagine what a defensive coordinator and his staff can do with tape to review!
Garrett fails to realize that running the ball early—even with minimal gains—actually opens up the passing game, controls the clock, and wears on defenses.
Dallas is loaded with talent, especially in the passing game, but they aren't going to always get up by a significant margin on good teams, especially those with excellent defenses like the New York Giants and Steelers.
Running the ball early keeps the defenses honest, which pays dividends later on with play action.
Right now, defenses take their chances with Dallas in the beginning of games, knowing that there probably won't be two runs in a row, and certainly not a run when it is second or third down with six or more yards to go.
The exception to the latter is when it is the fourth quarter with nine minutes left to play, a 10-point lead on the road with momentum, and the Cowboys are basically one good drive from ending the game.
That is when Garrett made his most gutless call all season—a draw to Tashard Choice.
There is no doubt that Choice had a terrific game. But the rookie had slipped numerous times on the frozen tundra of Heinz field, and this was at a crucial time with a 10-point lead.
A first down runs another two minutes off the clock. The ball is handed off to Choice and he is stopped for a two-yard gain. Dallas punts and all momentum was lost. The rest is history.
Hindsight is 20/20. That play was called and it is over and done. But this is not the first time this season that Garrett has cost the Cowboys.
In the first game against the Washington Redskins, Garrett ran the ball just eight times!
Here is a quote about that game:
"It wasn't hard to run the ball against them," guard Leonard Davis said. "We had a game plan based on the looks they were giving us, and that dictated we stick with the passing game."
Dallas ended up losing that game.
Garrett's game plans made many of the others a lot more interesting than they needed to be with the three passes-and-out offense that he consistently gets the team to execute.
When the Cowboys' defense only gets 14 seconds of rest, the results is a bunch of worn out guys in the fourth quarter.
Dallas' offensive line is built to be physically dominant. Barber is a physically dominant running back. For the Cowboys to succeed, they need to get back to running the ball effectively.
Look at the top teams—Giants, Panthers, Titans, Baltimore. What do they have in common? Outstanding running games.
After seeing what Choice can do (and with Felix Jones out for the season), he and Barber could be a dynamic duo. The question is, can the "Red Headed Jesus" properly use them?
The other question is, why in the H.E. Double Hockey Sticks doesn't Garrett ever throw quick slants to his big, physical receivers?
Every route Terrell Owens, Roy E. Williams, and Jason Witten run is medium to long.
The cornerbacks play eight to 10 yards off Williams and he never runs a slant! Even if they are in press, Owens and the other receivers are big enough to establish position and get those five to six-yard chunks. One missed tackle and it's 70 yards to pay-dirt.
This also keeps the receivers happy because they are getting the ball, it takes pressure off the offensive line (as Romo only has to do a one step drop), and is something that can counter the blitz packages that the better defenses throw at them. Maybe Garrett thinks he is coaching in the Big XII?
If Wade loses his job after this season, I hope Jerry thinks long and hard before promoting Garrett. If not, it could be a long two to three years for all Dallas fans.