Last Sunday night, the Cowboys won an important divisional game against the New York Giants. When all the dust settled, it was a dominant effort from the Boys. Of course it didn’t always feel that way. Throughout the first half, it just felt like the worm could turn at any moment. Years of blown leads have conditioned us to feel that way. And that’s why it was very frustrating to see the offense have to settle for a field goal after running three straight pass plays after having a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
When the team has arguably the best offensive line in football and arguably the best running back in football, why wouldn’t they just run it down the Giants throats in that situation?
Well, that might have been the plan, but Dak Prescott changed the plan. After noticing the Giants had so many defenders loaded in the box and that Dez Bryant had one-on-one coverage, Prescott would check out of the run play and look for Bryant in the end zone.
The Giants defense had nine players waiting to attack if the ball was given to Ezekiel Elliott. And let’s be clear, New York’s defensive line doesn’t get pushed around by anyone. They’ll push back and the Giants linebackers will have a shot to make plays. A run there wouldn’t be an automatic touchdown by any means. It would require good blocking from all the soldiers in the trenches and possibly a jump-cut from Zeke to make a guy miss. Basically, it would require great execution.
But we’ll never know because Prescott chose to throw it. The first pass looked like a touchdown catch from Dez on a fade to the corner, but Bryant was unable to get a second foot down in bounds. On the next play, Bryant was wide open on a slant and Prescott just air mailed the pass. So were they really terrible calls? Scott Linehan had no problem with Prescott making the decisions he did.
“I sit there and it’s easy afterwards, you say, ‘Look, if we would have hit one of those two, we wouldn’t be talking about this.’ They were close. The second one, we missed that one. The first one he’s covered, but he’s always open 1-on-1.”
He’s right. It’s all hindsight coaching. As fans, we do it all the time. One of the most memorable examples of this in recent history occurred when the Cowboys blew a 23-point halftime lead against the Green Bay Packers in 2013. Tony Romo would throw two interceptions in the final 2:58 and the Cowboys would end up losing the game, 37-36. The coaching staff would come under fire for not running the ball to burn the clock late in the fourth quarter. In particular, Romo would throw an interception late in the game that would set up the Packers for a go-ahead score. Why wouldn’t the Cowboys just run the ball there?
Well, it’s the same reason that Prescott didn’t run the ball. The play was a run/pass option, but after the quarterback saw how the defense was aligned, he checked out of the play. Greg A. Bedard of Sports Illustrated breakdowns the play:
So Romo breaks the huddle and sees eight Packers defenders in the box, and nine in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage. There are no deep safeties. The entire left half of the field is open if Austin beats his man. Everything Romo has been coached to do tells him to throw the pass. Austin knows the pass is viable: He doesn’t run-block on the play; he clubs Shields to the outside and runs a slant.
But people profess it’s a terrible call because of the result. What if Romo doesn’t throw behind Miles Austin? Answer - he’s off to the races and the Cowboys win that game. I know this because I’ve seen it before.
In the 1992 NFC Championship against the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys were up 24-20 with 4:22 left to play in the game. So what do the Cowboys do? Here, I’ll let Troy Aikman explain.
“So I get underneath the center, The 49ers were showing blitz. And because of the blitz, I know that the post is really where the ball should go.”
And the next thing we know, we hear, "Harper's got the 20! Harper's got the 10-yard line!" I cannot even begin to describe the jubilation of such a play.
Nobody complained about the Cowboys not running the ball there. In fact, Norv Turner would be called brilliant for catching the 49ers off guard. And that is because it produced positive results. Aikman put the ball where it needed to be and the outcome was magnificent. So whether you’re a Hall of Fame quarterback, a seasoned veteran, or a second-year player that the coaching staff has placed their trust in, they all agree - you throw the ball there. The only issue to be made is the execution of the play. Make a good throw and your team is celebrating. It’s that simple.
So don’t expect the Cowboys coaching staff to learn a big lesson from this. They are very adamant about “looking past the results” and see things for what they are. As Linehan proclaims, don’t expect anything to change.
“All the social media-ites probably thought I agreed with them after it’s over, but I didn’t,” Linehan said. “We aren’t changing our approach. We’ve been one of the better red zone teams because of our weapons so we use them all.”
The Cowboys do have a lot of weapons and they aren’t afraid to use any of them to try to find the end zone.