You are the Cowboys in Green Bay. You are wearing stocking caps on the sideline. It feels like winter.
There are reasons to play what we might call "power football'' ... and in what turns out to be a 17-7 loss to the Packers, you fail to do that.
Are there reasons why the Cowboys seemed to shift away from a power offense that almost certainly was part of the pregame plan? Are the reasons justified? Do those reasons serve as an explanation for why this otherwise-accomplished offense just ended up in a 3-0 game after three quarters for the first time in the Cowboys franchise's 50-year history? Let's raise some questions ... as we remove our stocking caps and put on our thinking caps:
Question: What do the Steelers, Broncos and Packers have in common? In addition to all of them in recent memory taking on a visiting Cowboys team and winning, all of them play a 3-4 defense. Is there something about the Cowboys' offensive approach against a 3-4 that doesn't fly? Is that reasonable, considering the fact that the Dallas offense has ample opportunity to practice against its own Wade Phillips 3-4?
Question: How to explain the disappearance of Marion Barber? MB3 was allowed just one carry after the first quarter. Now, some of that is due to what happened in the final quarter, when the Cowboys were in hurry-up/catch-up mode. (Down 17-0, leaving Tony Romo and the starters in? Questions for another column.) So Tashard Choice was on the field and remained on the field. But there was a time before Marion Barber became "the primary back'' when he was "the grind-it-out back.'' Here, he was neither. Why?
Question: Can we attribute Dallas leaning away from the power game to the offensive-line injuries? Marc Colombo broke his fibula. Flozell Adams exited for a moment. Guys were flip-flopping positions, this fine and durable O-line suddenly in scramble mode and praying that the depth beyond Doug Free wouldn't require testing. Is there a coordination along the line in the power running game that is made more difficult when a group of blockers is just trying to make sure five of them are upright?
Question: Isn't one way to keep a QB upright in a close game to focus on the run and sometimes even concede that you will have to punt? I am quite certain that the Cowboys didn't come in fearing the Green Bay pass rush; the Packers have injury issues there, and maybe put good people in odd positions. In total, they entered yesterday with 13 sacks all season. (The Vikings have that many sacks against the Packers in just two games!) But here, they sometimes brought extra people, sacking Romo five times and roughing him up a lot. Did this offense forget that in a 3-0 game, there is nothing wrong with trying to run, trying to grind, and conceding with a punt? Did GB surprise Dallas with its success in this department?
Question: If these Cowboys lean away from the power running game, shouldn't they do it because something else seems easier to accomplish? Getting the ball to Miles Austin wasn't easy; he'd probably like a do-over. Getting the ball to Jason Witten wasn't easy; his numbers all came in garbage time. And getting the ball to Roy Williams was a clown show of fumbles and losing sight of the ball in the clouds or the lights or the sky or something. I think Dallas found a way to match up Williams with a safety by moving him inside, and that was smart. But otherwise, where was the edge, the advantage, in morphing into a throw-first offense?
Question: Isn't there a give-and-take/risk-reward formula on using the Shotgun formation that in high-risk situations simply isn't worth the reward? We've certainly seen this in Denver and now in Green Bay: Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett plays The Riverboat Gambler and backpedals into the Shotgun ... and the defense plays The Dealer by answering with an overwhelming blitz. And really, is this Jason being "gutsy'' or Jason being "impatient''?
Question: Can three turnovers, 10 penalties, drops, a missed field goal and a minivan full of injured players be blamed on the absence of power football? Maybe not, but I do have an answer here: Those woes can be overcome by a team that now in a five-day span faces have-nots in the Redskins and the Raiders with the chance to enter December with an 8-3 record.
I say Dallas would increase its chances of accomplishing this by playing power football. But no matter what, if they rebound from what ailed ‘em in the frost of Wisconsin, being 8-3 would be a powerfully good record.