I don’t want to get too caught up in defending Callahan simply because I do feel like he can do a better job. However, it also seems like much of the discussion is overly simplistic and reactionary. Let’s explore some of the issues.
Play Calling vs Game planning and Responsibility
It’s hard to tell exactly how much influence Callahan, Romo and Garrett have in the game planning that goes on each week. From what we’ve been told, they all participate and have at least some input. I imagine that this could include adjusting or designing a few new plays, deciding which parts of their playbook are best suited to attack the opposing defense, as well as scripting out the first 15 plays or so.
This is the area that I think needs the most improvement and the area where Callahan’s influence is the fuzziest. We’ve seen some notable improvement in the Red Zone, penalties, and scoring on opening drives this year, but most of our offensive stats are down. Some people blame Romo because his influence has been touted, and some people blame Callahan because he is the new OC. How are we supposed to know? I think most people are just confirming their internal biases here when they assign blame to one or the other.
We know that Callahan is indeed the playcaller on gameday so that should be less fuzzy right? Well, yes and no. We know that Romo has the capability to audible out of plays at the line of scrimmage and it seems like he yells "kill, kill, kill" at least half of the time he steps to the line. Another wrinkle in the "kill" is that we can’t always be sure if Romo is audibling out of a pass to a run, out of one pass play to a different type of pass play, or even from a run in one direction to a run in another direction.
Also Garrett has said that at key points in the game, he will step in and give guidance about the types of plays that are being called. So for example, late in the Detroit game, Garrett may have said to Callahan something along the lines of "just run the ball, don’t take chances". He doesn’t specify the type of plays called, but it’s probably
clear to Callahan and Romo that passing is not an option.
Dissecting the Minnesota game
Obviously, most people took issue with the lack of running plays called. I, along with Garrett, agree that they got too far away from it. But if you’re talking about firing a guy, we need to take a serious look at how effective the playcalling was.
Total Yards: 350
Yards per Play: 5.6
Believe it or not, both of these stats are above the NFL average. They would place 13th and 12th respectively as a season average. No it’s nothing to write home about, but I don’t see any evidence for firing somebody midseason there.
Ok, now how about that run/pass balance? When I look over the down and distance in the Minnesota game, I see 3 or 4 drives that could have used some running plays. I think we should have had maybe 5 or 6 more running plays that game. It’s a difference, but hardly a difference maker, in my opinion.
When you take out the uncharacteristic 8 yard Romo scramble, we were averaging 3.5 ypc (28yds/8 plays). This is actually bottom of the barrel running performance: it would be good for 28th place in the league and is below the Cowboy’s average of 3.7 ypc. We all got excited by that 27 yard Murray run, but we also had 3 negative runs and one for no gain. That means we were getting negative yardage on almost 38% of our handoffs. That is an insane ratio. If Callahan doesn’t notice that, then he should be fired. He overreacted just a little bit, but not in a way that affected our overall offensive performance, IMO. I think our ToP would have risen a little bit, but our ToP was not too bad considering that we had a defensive score that gave the ball directly back to the Vikings offense.
The Offensive slump and going forward
Let’s take a look at our poor offensive performance since the Denver game. We should note that none of these teams have outstanding defenses that would throw our stats out of whack.
Washington: 4.3 yds/play – 19 rushes – 25:28 ToP – 1 turnover
Philadelphia: 4.9 yds/play – 26 rushes – 36:13 ToP – 2 turnovers
Detroit: 4.8 yds/play – 26 rushes – 24:49 ToP – 0 turnovers
Vikings: 5.6 yds/play – 9 rushes – 28:33 ToP – 1 turnover
Hmmm… was passing the ball really that bad? Looks like we actually improved our performance in term of yards per play and gave us average ToP and turnover performance. Oh yeah, we won too.
The Cowboys only scored 20 offensive points in the Minnesota game, but it should be pointed out that they never started in Minnesota territory and averaged 69 yards per scoring drive. An average team can expect at least one drive that starts in opponent territory per game, so the overall offensive efficiency looked about average to me. If anything, it looked as though the Dallas offense has shown some signs of recovery compared to previous weeks where we scored very little or were aided by short fields.
Our offense has been in a funk, so I think it’s natural to look for a game changer. Firing the OC seems like an easy move in a way. However, I don’t see a better OC out there mid-season, and I like Garrett better as a "walkaround" head coach. If anything our offense improved last game, and I hope we can pull positives from it going forward.