Quick Take: Evaluating Jason Garrett's Performance Against The Giants

Late last week, I authored a post in which I listed five Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcell-like coaching behaviors I would be looking for from Jason Garrett on Sunday. My thinking was that, in his first two days, he had quickly altered the culture at Valley Ranch (practicing in pads in November? the previous regime barely did that in August) and then followed that up by demonstrating an intelligence and cool in front of the media. This had me excited to see whether or not he could extend this to the sideline on gameday. I developed five broader categories of behaviors that winning Cowboys coaches had exhibited in the past, figuring that, if Garrett was going to be successful in any long-term fashion, these criteria would give us some tangible evidence--however scanty--that he could be a leader of men.

In the comments section, several of you asked for a post-game evaluation using the criteria I had developed. I thought this was an excellent suggestion; as a result, I give you my Garrett Report (for a Garrett report card, complete with grades, check out G_SWAG's excellent H.C.U. FanPost). For ease of comparison, I'll review Garrett's performance in the same order with which I offered up the categories in the initial post. Check these out after the jump:

Who's the boss: In his post-game presser, Garrett said that one of the lessons he was preaching is that "adversity is a part of life; its certainly a part of football....it's how you respond." In such adverse situations, a team is going to look to its leader to see how he responds. I recall moments when things didn't go the 90s Cowboys way (admittedly, there weren't many of them); Jimmy Johnson would stand on the sidelines, clapping his hands and encouraging his men--as if to say, "don't worry, boys, that's only a little blip; we'll get right back at 'em." After David Beuhler missed an extra point late in the first quarter, we didn't see Garrett wincing in pain on the sideline; rather, he focused on the positive, clapping and distributing butt-pats to his offense for their good work on the TD drive. More importantly, in the late third and early fourth quarter, when the Cowboys' offense had stalled and New York started to run the ball with success, it appeared that the Giants had momentum on their side (a potential "here we go again" moment; this team had collapsed in precisely these moments earlier in the season), yet Garrett remained unperturbed. Nobody panicked; the Dallas D righted itself, held on and pitched a fourth-quarter shutout. Garrett never lost his cool--plus he punished Marion Barber for a dress code violation (however slightly), demonstrating that no individual is more important than the team. 

Organization: Every time I could see it in action, Garrett's sideline appeared to be calm and organized. They seemed to shuttle plays in and out efficiently, and Garrett batted 1.000 in replay situations. Unlike Tom Coughlin and Perry Fewell, there weren't any televised frustration-induced dustups between Cowboys coaches. That said, the key moment in this category was the on-field "conference" between Gerald Sensabaugh and Terrence Newman--one which necessitated a time out to be resolved. This will bear watching: Newman and Sensebaugh replicated some of the finger-pointing that had characterized the secondary's play this season. Nevertheless, Garrett's response to reporters who asked about the incident in the post-game presser reminded me of Parcells' quip when Drew Bledsoe and Keyshawn Johnson, along with then-wide receivers coach Todd Hayley, had a sideline yellfest in 2005: Parcells shrewdly replied that he liked the passion exhibited in the fight, and that football was a passionate game--thus essentially defusing the situation.

Psychological Zen Mastery: My favorite moment of the game was the 71-yard screen pass to Felix Jones that extended the Cowboys lead early in the second half. In no small part this was because of the execution on the play, which was nearly perfect--particularly on the part of the much-maligned offensive line. More importantly to me, however, was WHEN the play was called. To me, it showed that Garrett had his finger on the game's emotional pulse. The situation: the Cowboys had dominated the first half; if I were a betting, man, I'd make a large wager that, in the Giants locker room at halftime, it was stressed to the defense that they needed to make a play. In the first third-and-long of the second half, therefore, it was likely that they would be trying to create a game-changer--ideally a sack or a sack-fumble--that would locate momentum firmly on the New York sideline. Garrett not only called a terrific play for third-and-ten, but the perfect play for that psychological moment in the game. This showed me that he has a sense of the emotional topography of the game--and its precisely this ability and nuanced awareness that made Jimmy Johnson not merely a great coach but a brilliant in-game manager.

Global thinking: For the better part of the game, the coaching staff developed a plan designed to give their players confidence: they eschewed wide-open, high-risk strategies that might result in negative plays and therefore lead to the precipitous decline in confidence that had characterized recent contests. On offense, they stuck to conservative personnel packages: the gameplan relied heavily on "12" and "22" packages featuring multiple tight ends in run looks. The Cowboys not only ran the ball a goodly number of times, they ran play-action effectively out of these run sets. On defense, they rushed four men most of the game (a desperate Wade had been consistently rushing six), deciding instead to play coverage. Along these lines, they helped out their secondary by cutting back considerably on the amount of man-to-man coverage they were expected to play and deployed a two-deep safety shell most of the time. As a result, the Dallas corners knew they had safety help and the secondary as a whole kept everything in front of them, thus delimiting the big play. It appeared that the coaching staff had a global plan that took not only the opponent but the psychological makeup of their own team into account.

Take Risks: Not everything was played close to the vest, however. On the Cowboys' second drive, they lined up in "12" personnel--one running back and two tight ends--wherein Felix Jones and Martellus Bennett, who was lined up outside of Marc Columbo, stayed in to block. This basically amounted to a two-man pattern (Jason Witten, lined up as the fullback, released late as an underneath option); on the left, Dez Bryant ran a deep fly; Jon Kitna hit him for a 45-yard gain. The play reminded me of the Cowboys' first TD against New Orleans last year--a deep pass out of a max-protect run formation. The upshot here is that the Cowboys staff took their shots, but they weren't the kinds of high-risk gambles that, if they were to go awry, might result in an return of the defeatist attitude that had plagued the team of late.

Overall: In my post, I noted that I didn't expect the Cowboys to win, nor did I expect to see the RHG manifest all of the Jimmy and Bill-isms that I had listed. In both of these I was surprised; both Jason and team exceeded my wildest expectations. What pleased me most was the fact that the gameplan appeared to take into account multiple factors: the opponent, matchups, injuries to his guys, and the psychological makeup of his team. I don't know what history will say about the Jason Garret era; the first chapter, however, was good enough for me to keep the book on my nightstand.

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