Everyone who follows the Dallas Cowboys knows about that play from the opening game against the San Francisco 49ers. The one on the Niners' 2-yard line. It has been cussed and discussed, including in a post here by Dave Halprin. It was a turning point in the game, when Dallas could have tied the score, cancelled the effect of the DeMarco Murray fumble, and shown that it was able to impose its will on the SF defense. Instead, the Cowboys lost yards, had to settle for a field goal, and seemed to lose some of the wind out of their sails.
Why did Tony Romo decide to go with a pass there, with one yard needed for a first down, and two for a touchdown? Why did the coaching staff pull the heavy package they had on the field before the team let the clock run down and have to take a timeout, and go with three wideouts? Why was there even an option available to check out of the run, with Murray getting yardage in chunks on the drive?
There has been talk of playing chess versus checkers. Also of reading whether there are seven or eight defenders in the box. The idea always seems to be to try and find the weakness in the defense, to do the unexpected thing. That is something coaches in the NFL are always trying to do.
But sometimes, they need to just chuck all that. They shouldn't try to fool anyone. Just line up and run the ball. Instead of some kind of board game, play an old-fashioned style of football. It's called smashmouth. Or power football. You go up there, line up your guys against their guys, make clear your intention to run the ball right at them, and dare them to stop you.
It is something all football teams should have in their toolbox. The Cowboys not only should have it, but should be confident in their version. With Murray to carry the ball, and a couple of running game road graders like Travis Frederick and Zack Martin to open him a hole, this is not complicated. The line is built to allow Dallas to get that one yard 95% of the time, with a back that is quite adept at lowering his shoulder and running over someone.
The Cowboys have all the components for this except one. That would be the, shall we say, guts required by the coaching staff to take this approach.
I have made no secret of being a Jason Garrett fan, but I will freely admit that I think he has a problem with letting go of the intellectual, you know we are going to, and we know you know it so we won't approach to football. He frequently seems to want to find the perfect play rather than go ahead and run a good one. The confusing events down on the 2-yard line were quite typical of that approach. When the running play, with the jumbo set, did not go because the team took to long to line up, the coaching staff apparently did some more thinking. And as events unfolded, the thinking just led to the Cowboys outsmarting themselves.
Frankly, I think that opponents expect Dallas to go with some counter-intuitive, deceptive play in situations like this, because that is the nature of the team under Garrett. There seems to be an inability to see that there are times and down-and-distance scenarios where you don't do the complex or cunning. You just lace 'em up and go hard.
It is simple. It is, with good linemen and running backs, pretty hard to stop even if you know exactly where the play is designed to go. And it creates a certain image of toughness that football teams need. I don't think most other teams see Dallas as tough, because they keep pulling wimpy moves like this.
Smashing the ball in a few times doesn't take the more subtle moves out of the playbook. Once you get the reputation of doing just that, then you can start throwing some curves at the opponent. But first, you have to prove that ability to move the line of scrimmage a yard or two despite the best effort of the other guys to stop you. The Cowboys had the perfect opportunity to do just that. And they flinched.
We can hope that the coaching staff sat down after the game and came up with a plan to avoid this happening again. This is not just Romo's problem. It is a mindset issue for the team, and it needs to change. Everyone has to become convinced that the Cowboys can grind out that yard when they have to have it, and no one is going to stop them.
Personally, I'd put Frederick and Martin in charge of the project.