Over the past three weeks the Dallas Cowboys ground attack has been living up to what fans expect out of an offense lead by a talented back like DeMarco Murray. In that time span, the Dallas running game has turned in three consecutive 100+ yard games; 107 against the New York Giants, 144 against the Oakland Raiders, and then 198 on Monday night in Chicago. Bill Callahan places some of the blame for he Windy City Massacre on the Dallas ground game. Why is he doing that?
"We just felt like we could really run it and chew some clock and keep our defense off the field" - Bill Callahan
While the Dallas offensive coordinator admits that the Cowboys turned in their best running performance of the season in the miserable cold of Chicago, he feels that during certain situations, the team went away from their strategy and allowed Josh McCown and the Chicago offense opportunities to slash a Dallas defense that could not get out of their own way. To support his claim that the 'Boys did not pound the rock enough, Callahan offered up two specific situations where he feels that Dallas made errors in play selection.
When we didn’t do it [run the ball] in that one possession later in the second quarter, I thought that’s when we let our defense down. We went three-and-out. We didn’t run it enough in that particular sequence and I thought that hurt us a little bit.
In this situation, I am forced to agree with the coach. While the situation was not truly a "three and out", ( Tony Romo hit Dez Bryant for a ten yard completion to start the series) Dallas took possession of the ball with 1:33 remaining before halftime, following a Robbie Gould field goal that gave the Bears a 17-14 lead. Even though DeMarco Murray had gashed the Bears defense for 99 yards in the half, the Dallas offensive brain-trust chose to go to the air on four consecutive plays beginning with the previously mentioned Bryant reception. With the ball near the Chicago 40 yard line and 1:13 on the game clock, the Cowboys lined up in the shotgun and ran consecutive short passing plays to Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, and Terrance Williams. Needing only a field goal to go into the locker room tied, Dallas failed to move the ball and was forced to punt with :47 seconds left in the half. Four Josh McCown completions later the Cowboys were down 24-14. Had Dallas chosen to pound the rock in this situation, the would have at worst entered the intermission down by only three points, and based on the success the ground game was having, they stood a decent chance of going in with a 21-17 lead. In this situation, I believe that Callahan is correct in his conclusion.
"Then, in the third quarter, I can’t remember if it was the first or second drive, we could’ve run a little bit more to try to control the clock. … I think we were three and out … I think we were incomplete on three consecutive plays, and then we went back into the running game."
Coach Callahan's logic on this second situation is not as clear cut. Coming out for the start of the second half, Chicago again kicked a field goal on their opening drive and now led 27-14. On the ensuing possession, Dallas tried to once again establish the ground game with consecutive carries by Joseph Randle and DeMarco Murray, but were forced to punt when their third down pass to Dez Bryant fell incomplete. In a drive dominated by the Chicago ground attack, McCown led the Bears to the end zone and a two point conversion to put Chicago up 35-14. Then Dallas began the second possession that Callahan cited as an example. Trailing by three touchdowns, Dallas abandoned the running game in favor of an aerial attack. After an 18-yard Romo to Williams strike, Jay (or Jeremiah, if you prefer) Ratliff sacked Tony for a loss of five yards. At that point, the Dallas passing game faltered and after three consecutive incompletions, the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs. With the short field, Chicago quickly struck for another touchdown and the rout was in full swing.
While I can fully concur that abandoning the run toward the end of the second quarter was a bad tactical decision, I cannot agree on the second claim. Thanks to a missed opportunity on the Cowboys opening drive of the third quarter and three consecutive Chicago scores, Dallas trailed by three touchdowns, and the time had arrived for them to be able to strike quickly through the air. By the time the Cowboys got the ball for the second possession that Callahan claims was poorly called, only 2:20 remained in the game's third stanza. The time for ground and pound had passed and it was up to Romo and the Dallas receiving corps to execute. Although they failed to do so, that does not mean that the play calling was at fault in this situation.
As the offensive coordinator stated when speaking with the media, they did have a good offensive gameplan and it was working. The real issue was that they went away from it right before halftime. Beyond halftime, the game situation dictated that they choose the course that was taken.
Of course, probably a bigger issue was a Dallas defense that was unable to stop the Bears at all.
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