Much virtual ink has already been dedicated to the 97-yard, 33-second touchdown drive that the Dallas Cowboys offense delivered, sending the Green Bay Packers off to the locker room at halftime with one question in their minds. “Where did that come from?”
The obvious answer might be the outstanding play of several members of the offensive unit, starting with Dak Prescott, but the true answer goes much deeper. The genesis of that back-breaking drive lies in the maturation of Jason Garrett as a head coach and the development of his coaching staff.
There have been many times when the Cowboys fanbase has questioned the highly conservative, sometimes unimaginative play-calling that originated on the Dallas sidelines. Given Garrett’s background as a quarterback; his time as a QB coach and offensive coordinator, we expected more from Garrett and his staff. Now we are really starting to see that.
With a minute to go until halftime the Cowboys offense took possession in the shadows of its own goalpost. The safe play in that situation is to trust in the offensive line and and running back to pound the rock ahead. You either pick up a first down or run out the clock. In a worst case you trust Chris Jones to punt it deep on fourth down and shortly thereafter go to the locker room with a halftime lead.
That is exactly what the Cowboys did on first and second downs, but timeouts by the Packers precluded killing the clock. At that point it seemed reasonable to give Ezekiel Elliott the ball one more time and then bring out Jones if he did not pick up the first down. Everyone in the stadium, most importantly the Green Bay defense, anticipated the call. It was the safe choice for Garrett and Co. to make. It was the choice they always made in past seasons.
Not this time. The conservative Dallas head coach and his offensive coordinator called for a jet sweep to wide reciever Lucky Whitehead. The play was good for 26 yards before the receiver stepped out of bounds. Following that success it was time for Dallas to think of denting the Lambeau Field scoreboard once more before the intermission.
Go get some points they did. The Cowboys targeted LaDarius Gunter on successive plays. First Terrence Williams lit him up for a 42-yard reception and then Brice Butler scored on a 20-yard strike from Prescott. What little wind was left in the Packers sails was taken away by the Dallas offense before the teams left the field for halftime.
Though we will never know for certain, it seems likely that the Jason Garrett of seasons past would have gone to his work horse back once again on third down. That choice would have a reasonable chance for success, and if not, it was the safe call to make. Calling for the jet sweep was more risky. It also has the potential for high reward. On Sunday the gamble paid off.
He may never be referred to as ‘Riverboat Jason’, but Garrett rolled the dice and the Dallas Cowboys came up a big winner. It may have been a long time coming, but it is nice to see the coaches gamble every one in a while. They have matured into a unit that knows there is a right time to take an unexpected risk. Coach Garrett calls it situational football, but I call it developing a sixth sense about when to do the unexpected. For Cowboys fans, well, we call it excitement.