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Night of the Living Dread: The Cowboys Zombies Wore Jerseys, Not a Headset

I see some pitchforks have flown out of some sheds after Dallas' 17-7 loss to Green Bay, and the holders want Jason Garrett's head.  One game removed from a four game win streak where the offense averaged 30 points per contest, Garrett has apparently experienced Rapid Onset Coordinator Dementia (CORD).

"He's predictable!"  "He never runs the ball!"  "He calls passes on every play!"

Set the torches down for a second.  Garrett's game plan didn't deviate any from his others this year.   What went missing Sunday afternoon was the usual precision we've come to associate with those plans.  You saw zombies at Lambeau Field Sunday, but they were wearing white jerseys, not roaming the sideline with a play sheet.

The Cowboys went to the locker room at the half trailing 3-0.  After Felix Jones' phantom fumble, they fell behind 17-0 with 10:44 to go and didn't run again. I'm going to break down the Cowboys play calls for those three quarters, when the game was in contest.

Exhibit I

First down play calls, quarters 1-3:

  • Runs -- 6
  • Passes -- 6

Perfectly balanced.  What you expect from a team that has been potent on offense.  Let's add that 4th quarter drive that ended with the Romo fumble and Felix' phantom recovery.  The ratio got to 7:8 run to pass.  Nothing extreme there.

2nd down calls moved slightly more to the pass, at 4:7 run to pass.  On the whole, Garrett is calling a 11:15 run to pass attack on 1st and 2nd down. I don't see anything out of character from his game calls during the four game winning streak.  That's been Jason Garrett's general ratio all year.

Exhibit II

Yards per call

  • 1st down passes:  8 att. 70 yards; 2 sacks  8.8 YPA
  • 1st down runs: 7 att., 22 yards.  3.1 YPA
  • 2nd down passes: 6 att., 2 sacks, 1 drop, 35 yards, 5.9 YPA
  • 2nd down runs: 4 att., 20 yards, 5.0 YPA

Garrett had big pass play calls sprinkled through his 1st and 2nd down calls.  Here's the sequence on each:

1st down passes:  3 yds., INC,  6 yds., 41 yds., Sack, Inc., 20, Sack

2nd down passes: 19 yds., 13 yds., Sack, 3 yds., Sack,  Drop.

I want to look more at two points on this list.  Note that on fourteen early-down pass attempts, where you have play action to hold rushes, the Cowboys line gave up four sacks.  That's one sack every 3.5 attempts.  That's expansion team performance.  To quote Tom Coughlin, "that's not the football we teach around here."  I'm sure Hudson Houck, Garrett and the other offensive assistants feel the same way about their group. I doubt the Cowboys coaches factor in sacks on a third of their pass plays when they devise game plans.

In other words, I don't blame the play caller for that number of sacks.

Now, some attention to the three plays in bold.  The incompletion came on Dallas' first drive, on a 1st and 10 at the Green Bay 26.  Garrett called a long-developing, deep crossing route for Miles Austin, and Austin broke free just inside the Packers ten.  Tony Romo's pass was high, however, and Austin could not claim it.  Two plays later, Nick Folk missed a 38 yard field goal.

The 41 yard play was a first-down play action that beat a Packers blitz.  Roy Williams was going to put Dallas in field goal range in one play, with seven an option, but Roy forgot to hold on to the ball after the grab.

The bolded drop is the second big pass to Williams where he was open inside the Packers 30. Here, he dropped a perfectly thrown Romo ball. 

So, what exactly is wrong with any of these calls?  The first would have produced a touchdown, had Romo made a better throw.  The other two would have put Dallas at first and ten in field goal range.  And let's not let Nick Folk off the hook.  Garrett's calls put Dallas in range or a reasonable 38 yard attempt. 

Garrett can't make the passes, the catches or the kicks.  He got his people in place to make the plays.  It's not his fault that nearly every one of his offensive players bungled at least one big play in that game.

Exhibit III

Average plays per game - 60

  • 1st half plays, Sunday - 21
  • 3rd quarter plays - 8

Dallas had three first half first downs Sunday.  One play drives will do that to you.  Walking away from a well-called six-play drive without a touchdown or field goal will leave you grasping.

Dallas had only eight snaps in the 3rd, and the OC is the last guy I would blame.  He made the call to get Roy Willie wide open.  He can't catch the ball.  He got Tashard Choice open on the next play for another big gain.  He can't run Jason Witten's route for him.  The Senator is a multi-year vet.  He knows how to run a crossing combination without committing an illegal pick. But Witten didn't. 

Dallas was destroyed on time of possession in the middle of the game. That was due to poor execution.  The linemen and backs couldn't pass block.  They didn't blow the Packers of the ball on run downs either. The first three runs produced 25 yards, but the next seven runs moved the ball six yards. There was no evidence in the 2nd and early 3rd quarters that Dallas should hammer the ball on several consecutive downs.  The yards were coming through the air, when they came at all.

The receivers, or in this case one receiver, couldn't catch the football.  The quarterback couldn't connect with his biggest target.  (And since we're here, can we shift the debate to why Romo suddenly is in sync with Roy Williams and out of sync with Miles Austin, two weeks after the opposite was true?  All of Romo's passes to Williams the last two games were between the numbers or on the face.  Almost all his passes to Austin in Green Bay and Philly were high.)

The offense simply didn't execute.  You could have exhumed Bill Walsh and Tom Landry and let them alternate calling plays for this bunch and Dallas still would have stared at a big, fat zero after three quarters. 

Zombieland is just a movie, folks.  Bringing back the legendary play-calling dead would not have mattered.  Jason Garrett didn't suddenly get stupid after a month of excellence.  Nobody ate his brains Sunday.  His players?  Some of them looked awfully pale, I have to say.  If you must take your torches and your pitchforks to the streets, look for the undead wearing the jerseys.

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