In baseball, it is not how many hits a team gets, but rather the timeliness of the hits. A base hit with the bases loaded could result in winning a pitcher's duel. Conversely, getting one hit every inning (9 hits total) could leave a team losing without scoring a run.
The timeliness of the hitting in baseball is measured by the number of runs scored. The inverse of situational hitting is measured by how many base runners were left on base at the conclusion of the game.
On Sunday afternoon, Dallas left too many men on base. Ironically, these Cardinals also won against a team from Texas by making the clutch play.
Before the final drive that led to the missed field goal, the Cowboys were 0 for 7 on third down attempts on Arizona's side of the field. On the final drive, Romo sneaked for a first down on 3rd and 1, and then completed a 15-yard pass to Dez Bryant to put Dallas in field goal range.
Those were the only third down conversions on the Arizona side of the field all game. Obviously those conversions failed to lead to points.
On the other hand, the Cardinals converted two third downs in Dallas territory in the second half of the game, and those conversions led to 10 points. Arizona accumulated 118 yards after half time on plays run from Dallas' side of the field. Arizona averaged 9.8 yards on 12 plays run from Dallas territory.
Contrast that to the ineptitude of the Dallas Cowboys offense on Sunday. The Cowboys ran 31 plays from Arizona's side of the field for 96 yards (an average of 3.1 yards per play). Unlike the Cardinals, this was the total from the entire game, not just one half.
Dallas amassed 240 yards on their end of the field. In baseball parlance, the Cowboys got a lot of base hits, but left many runners on base.
But why did the Cowboys hitters come up short when getting in scoring position? There were reasons for the slump.
Dallas' first two drives ended with incomplete passes. Then Dallas faced a 3rd and 11 (1-yard pass to Bryant), and a 3rd and 13 (Romo was sacked). The Cowboys again ended their fifth drive with an incomplete pass.
Romo led a touchdown drive without facing a third down. Afterwards, the half ended the next drive after Tony was sacked on second down. The Cowboys first drive of the second half ended when Dallas was unable to convert a 3rd and 16 (4-yard pass to Witten).
The Cowboys had their next drive fail after gaining 8 yards on 2nd down and 13 when Romo was sacked again on 3rd and 5. The penultimate drive faded when Phillips gained 4 yards on a pass on 3rd and 5.
The pattern is obvious. Dallas converted 2 out of 10 third down opportunities when passing the ball. Romo faced six situations where the offense had suffered a loss of yardage during the drive. The other third down situations ended with 3 incomplete passes and a pass that came up a yard short.
It reminded me of a post that O.C.C. published on this site about a year ago, where he noted that Jason Garrett was forced to go for large chunks of yardage on a regular basis because of the regularity with which the offense would lose yardage through penalties or permitting tackles for loss. This game morphed into a 2008 Dallas Cowboys game after the first quarter.
The Cowboys ran the ball 8 times in the first quarter for 41 yards. The Cardinals adapted by providing more pressure at the Cowboys weak spot: center Phil Costa. Afterwards, the Cowboys only gained 7 yards on 5 carries in the second quarter. Murray had back to back rushes for -3 yards. Given the sudden decrease in rushing average from 5.1 yards per carry to 1.4 yards per carry, one could understand why Jason only ran the ball five more times the rest of the game.
Garrett seemed to change his original game strategy from one heavily incorporating the run, to one featuring solely the pass. Three of Dallas' first four drives started with a run (going for gains of 7, 7, and -3 yards). After those first four drives, every drive for the rest of the game started with a called pass play (eight drives in a row started with Romo dropping back to pass).
Furthermore, on first downs, a down that should be close to a 50/50 split between run and pass, the Cowboys ran the ball 9 times and passed 21 times. This mirrored the trend in the game, as Garrett ran the ball 5 times (for 23 yards) on the Cowboys' initial 7 first down plays. Then Jason called 19 first down passes and 4 first down runs (which only netted 8 yards).
The Cardinals maintained a well-balanced attack, starting six drives with a passing play, and five drives with a run. Arizona ran the ball 14 times on first down, while calling pass plays 10 times.
The Dallas defense continued its disturbing trend following halftime. Arizona had drives of 74 yards, 79 yards, and 80 yards leading to 16 points (two touchdowns and a point-blank field goal) in the second half and overtime.
The defenses' failure to stop opponents in the second half of games has become commonplace over the last few weeks. In addition, an old nemesis to this Cowboys team once again reared its ugly head: untimely penalties. The Cowboys finished with 7 penalties for 49 yards, but several were too much to overcome:
The block in the back on Orlando Scandrick to wipe out a punt return by Dez Bryant amounting to a 43-yard difference in field position (which was even more egregious when noted that Orlando had a similar penalty earlier in the game).
The pass interference on Terrence Newman that extended the final drive on a play where the condition was 2nd and 19.
There will be much talk about time-outs, but this game should have been closed out well before the final 23 seconds of the fourth quarter. As in baseball, it is difficult to criticize the manager for making moves when there are a multitude of fielding errors and pitchers giving up runs.
It is remarkable that Dallas had an opportunity to win this game given the number of errors committed on defense, offense, and special teams. It is easy to understand why Garrett chose to play it safe and not take a chance that the offense loses more yardage before the 49-yard field goal attempt.
At that point, Bailey had connected on 26 of 28 field goal attempts this season. Dan was connecting on about 93% of his attempts. By comparison, the Cowboys had 9 plays that lost yardage against the Cardinals (out of 67 total offensive plays), meaning that Dallas lost yardage on 13.4% of their plays.
The right move was to kick the field goal. Bailey is still making 90% of his attempts: so it remains the right move.