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Did Jason Garrett let the Cowboys down or are fans overreacting?

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The Cowboys got smoked on Sunday, but how much of this falls on the coaches?

Dallas Cowboys v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys got manhandled on Sunday and the aftermath of such an atrocious defeat has sent Cowboys Nation spiraling. Losing games happen. But losing in such a terrible manner doesn’t sit well with fans and as a result - they want answers. How come Jason Garrett left Chaz Green in at left tackle so long? How come they didn’t make adjustments? Why did they leave Dak Prescott out there when the game got out of hand? These questions have fans scratching their head and like what happens after any surprising loss by the Cowboys - the coaches come under fire.

Now, I am a Jason Garrett sympathizer. I have a level of belief in him that would make you think we are somehow related. You’re going to hear some pro-Garrett remarks in this piece so brace yourself. I might even use some tricky phrases like “code red” to help dazzle you with a little misdirection to help you forget the Cowboys just got creamed.

I want to start off by saying that the coaches failed us on Sunday. They did. There’s no way around that. The Atlanta Falcons would exploit the team’s weaknesses and no matter what the Cowboys countered with - they could not be successful. But when you look at everything that happened in the game, there were a lot of attributing factors. The players had a role in this as well. In particular, the void left by Tyron Smith was far more substantial than one could have imagined. Before we let the cement dry on where the blame lies, let’s take a close look at some things in the game so we can make a fair assessment. Bob Sturm has a great breakdown of the game and does a great job crucifying the coaches, so allow me to bring him into this piece to give it some balance. Check out his descriptions from each of the Cowboys offensive drives:

Drive 1: Holding by Cooper, sack allowed by Green.

Drive 2: A clean drive, most likely because the drive started at the Atlanta 21. Touchdown.

Drive 3: A sack killed the drive, surrendered by Green.

Drive 4: Cooper with another holding, Zack Martin gives up a sack.

Drive 5: Green with a holding penalty, then Green with a sack allowed.

HALFTIME

Drive 6: Green gives up another sack.

Drive 7: Green gives up yet another sack.

Drive 8: Byron Bell replaced Green and then gave up a sack and took a hold on the same play!

Drive 9: Bell gives up another sack.

Drive 10: Game mercifully ends.

I think we can all agree that the negative plays doomed the offense. Every single drive (except for the short one that resulted in a touchdown) was stalled by a costly mistake by the offensive line, more specifically - the left tackle position, and even more specifically - Chaz Green.

So the question now begs - what did the Cowboys coaching staff do about it? Green was getting beat early and often and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that help was needed. After the sacks started racking up exponentially, some people felt as if Garrett just left Green out there to fend for himself all game.

Despite what you may be hearing around the water cooler, some help was given. Help was given in the form of chipping.

Help was given in the form of assistance by Jonathan Cooper. Help was given in the form of shorter passing routes. Help was given in the form of more designed runs by Dak Prescott. The Cowboys would even try to steal a possession with a fake punt attempt.

But how do you help a guy that doesn’t even know who he’s supposed to block?

The Cowboys tried a handful of different things to give Green help, but it was still far short of what needed to be done to fend off Adrian Clayborn.

Unfortunately, as bad as Green was playing, it needed to be an every-play kind of thing.

The coaching staff finally had enough and benched Green in favor of backup swing tackle, Byron Bell. Some have said - why didn’t they go to Bell sooner? Well, that seemed like a good question until Bell got in there and offered up his own version of sloppy blocking. Bell would allow two sacks in a span of three plays. There’s a reason he’s behind Green on the depth chart.

The easiest way to help terrible pass protection is to just run the ball. The Cowboys overloaded with extra blockers and pushed their way down the field on their opening drive of the second half. They would even get extra help from their linemen who tried to carry Alfred Morris as far as the referees would allow them before blowing the whistle. It looked like a good plan and they were able to run the ball successfully with runs of 14, 20, and 11 yards and got all the way down to the 12-yard line. Of course, things didn’t end well on this drive. Here is Sturm with a very legitimate question:

They have actually salvaged the situation and now have a first down in the red zone. Why then, Mr. Linehan, would you decide to hop back into shotgun on first down and ask Chaz Green to pass protect - on an island - against a guy who already has 4 sacks against him? It is first down and your offensive line and power personnel groupings had just mowed all the way down the field in a few short plays. And now, you want to take those tight ends off the field and get back into shotgun on first down?

That’s a fair question. In hindsight, I bet Scott Linehan would like to have that one back. But at the same time, the Cowboys were going to have to pass the ball at some point if they were going to win the game. Becoming one-dimensional wouldn’t have worked very long. In fact, the Cowboys didn’t completely rely on Morris that entire drive. They needed a completion to Cole Beasley and a quarterback run by Prescott to convert a third down. That particular run by Dak was a pretty clever designed run which they used Beasley in the backfield like they were going to run the option. No complaints on those plays.

The point being, Linehan has done a great job calling plays for this offense. We all applaud loudly when it works, yet are so quick to cry foul when it doesn’t. The Cowboys have been one of the top scoring offenses in the league for most of Linehan’s tenure so he sorta knows what he’s doing.

Sturm wasn’t done attacking the coaching decision making process.

Unfortunately, the coaches had not done enough damage yet. Even though the game was over in the fourth quarter (after a few more sacks), the staff that evidently had their brains suspended for the game are calling timeouts down 27-7 to try to get the ball back so they can call more plays in shotgun and get their star QB blindsided a few more times by Clayborn and friends who have savaged the left tackle spot long after Chaz Green was gone and Byron Bell (their other idea) was being served up on a platter.

So now, the team is just supposed to waive the white flag and give up? Could you imagine the criticism that would have surfaced for Garrett if he would have had his team call it quits right there? You keep fighting, that’s what you do. You don’t know what can happen with that much time still remaining. If you get beat, that’s one thing, but never stop fighting. Garrett would explain:

“With that much time to go in the game, you have to keep playing,” Garrett said. “We had three timeouts, they got it with just over four minutes to go, we needed to get a stop there. We needed to stop them, call a timeout, stop them, call a timeout, stop them, call a timeout, and get the ball back. And see what the heck happens from there.

The Cowboys couldn’t do anything when they got the ball back and would get another chance later but the situation was different this time around.

“The later drive, when there’s a minute to go in the ballgame, we’re out there, we hand the ball off a couple times, and we get out of dodge. We’re going to keep competing. We’re going to keep playing for 60 minutes.”

With Philadelphia next on the docket, things don’t look good for the Cowboys. Sean Lee isn’t coming back anytime soon so the defense will have their own challenges. This puts even more pressure on the offense to produce. While things may look bleak, this is a big moment for Garrett and his coaching staff. Are they going to be able to regroup and be competitive on Sunday night? What type of Cowboys team we see should say a lot about the job Garrett and company are doing. We can talk about the All-Pros that won’t be on the field, but excuses won’t cut it. The Cowboys have to find ways to play good football and it’s on this coaching staff to help them get it done. It’s time for Garrett to order up the code red and bring some more fight to this Cowboys squad.