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Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett keeps making the same mistakes and it could cost him his job

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Decisions by Jason Garrett are costing the Cowboys victories.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Jason Garret is rightly getting eviscerated today by pretty much everyone for his tepid handling of the final seconds of Sunday’s debilitating 20-17 defeat to the Washington Redskins.

Our own R.J. Ochoa made the case for why Garrett should have been more aggressive. On the live broadcast former Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo went through the options available as the action unfolded.

Fans were not impressed.

I made my feelings known in my grades for the game:

And of course we had yet another instance where Garrett’s conservative nature cost the Cowboys. Garret effectively “gave up” when team had a first down from the Redskins’ 31-yard line with 12 seconds and a time-out remaining. Garrett could have chose to run a play to get ten yards or so closer for a field goal attempt. Or, as he probably should have, he could have taken a shot at the end zone to win the game. Instead, he predictably chose the least aggressive approach and had Elliott run up the middle for yet another 2-yard run. This set up a 47-yard field goal when it could have been shorter.

Jason Garrett going conservative and mismanaging end-of-game situations is nothing new. In fact, Garrett once mismanaged a game in the exact same manner back in 2011.

1. Dallas @ Arizona, Week 13, 2011

Dallas went into Arizona in week 13, leading the NFC East with a 7-4 record.

The game was tied at 13 late in the fourth quarter when Tony Romo led the team from the Cowboys 32 to the Cardinals 46. Thirty-one seconds remained when Romo then hit Dez Bryant for 15 yards to take the ball to the 31-yard line, but with the clock running.

Dallas had two timeouts remaining. The obvious choice to make was to immediately call timeout to run at least a couple plays to get closer for a more manageable field goal. Garret instead chose to let the clock run down to eight seconds before having Romo spike the ball to set up a 49-yard field goal. He didn’t trust his quarterback, or his team, to make a play.

Predictably, Dan Bailey missed the kick and the Cowboys lost in overtime. This video shows the clock ticking away those precious seconds.

This started a four losses in five games end-of-season skid that saw them team finish 8-8 and miss an NFC East division title by one game.

Garrett literally made the exact same mistake yesterday that he made back in 2011.

2. Dallas @ Baltimore, Week 6, 2012

Then we have a week six game at the Baltimore Ravens in 2012. The Cowboys trailed by eight when Romo led a late, 17-play drive for a four-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant with 36 seconds remaining. A two-point try failed leaving the Cowboys in a desperate onside kick situation. Miraculously, the Cowboys recovered the onside kick and took over at their 46 with 32 seconds remaining.

Romo’s pass drew a pass interference call to move the ball to the Baltimore 34. A short completion to Dez Bryant moved the ball to the Ravens 34. There were 22 seconds on the clock and Dallas had one timeout remaining. Rather than trying to move closer for a more manageable field goal, Garrett chose to let the clock run down to eight seconds before having Romo spike the ball. The team was totally confused on what to do as the game clock ticked away.

Predictably, Dan Bailey missed the 51-yard attempt. Dallas finished 8-8 and missed an NFC East division title by one game.

It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to find a trend here. Jason Garrett has made the exact same decisions to eschew attempting any kind of play to avoid lengthy field goals, then watched his kicker miss the field goal on three different occasions. It’s mind-numbing.

3. Dallas @ New England, Week 6, 2011

And of course these aren’t the only ways Garrett has gone conservative and had it blow up in his face. Again in 2011 the Cowboys had a chance at victory in New England. The Cowboys led 16-13 after Garrett called for a safe (and unsuccessful) shovel pass on third-and-goal from the Patriots five-yard line, resulting in a field goal. After a defensive stop Dallas then took over with 3:36 remaining. A couple first downs would have sealed the victory; even a single first down would have put New England in a desperate situation.

Here’s the play-by-play in that situation:

  • DeMarco Murray up the middle for -2 yards.
  • DeMarco Murray right tackle for -1 yards.
  • Tyron Smith false start
  • Tashard Choice right tackle 8 yards
  • Mat McBriar punt

The Patriots were lining up ten men at the line of scrimmage but Garrett stubbornly ran the ball straight into the stacked box on first and second down, leaving them facing a 3rd-and-13. He didn’t trust his quarterback or his team to make a play.

It doesn’t take much vision to imagine how the rest of the game turned out when Tom Brady took over with over two minutes remaining. The Cowboys lost 20-16.

4. Dallas vs Green Bay, Divisional Round, 2016

Then we have the final seconds of the team’s heartbreaking 34-31 defeat to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the 2016 season. I wrote about it extensively. Remember, Dallas had trailed 21-3 in the first half, leaving them with an 8% likelihood of winning.

And yet, with 0:44 seconds remaining in the game those same win probability calculations gave the Cowboys a 76% likelihood of winning. The Cowboys, despite facing unchartered territory had fought back to put themselves into position to win the game.

(Dallas) managed to find themselves with the ball at the Packers 40 yard line with one timeout, 49 seconds remaining and down 3 points.

And it was at this point the Cowboys made their last of a half dozen mental mistakes that, in aggregate, cost the team a very achievable victory.

This particular mistake has been discussed quite a bit already. At that point these are the three Cowboy’s objectives in decreasing order of importance:

Gain position to kick game-tying FG

Insure Packers are not allowed enough time to kick game-winning FG

Score touchdown to win game

Now, you could argue that list should look like:

Gain position to kick game-tying FG

Score touchdown to win game

Insure Packers are not allowed enough time to kick game-winning FG

But with 49 seconds AND a timeout AND the recognition you can’t leave significant time on the clock, the play-calling that followed was inconsistent and, in my opinion, misguided. The first down spike to stop the clock left Dallas with 2 plays to gain 10 yards, 49 seconds and a timeout. They then ran two pass plays, both stopping the clock, to take only 5 seconds off the clock and leave the team’s timeout unused.

This is simply inefficient use of clock and timeout resources. Had Prescott not spiked the ball but instead called a play...10-12 seconds likely runs off the clock, leaving the team with 35 or so seconds and wherever the ball ended up. This would have been the safest route as far as insuring the Packers wouldn’t have time left over as it would have removed approximately 15 of the remaining 49 seconds.

Had the team instead taken their timeout they would have had 3 plays to move the ball the needed 10 yards. This would have been the most aggressive approach as far as thinking touchdown as they would have had a full 49 seconds and a 1st down situation.

Instead, by taking the spike, Dallas found themselves needing a few yards to insure a field goal and only two plays to gain those yards. They then used two pass plays, which gained the yards for a FG attempt, but not a first down and taking only five seconds off the clock. The 3rd down call, in particular, was a poor decision. The team needed only 3 yards for a 1st down and still had a timeout in pocket. A rushing attempt was just as likely to gain the first down as a pass AND had the added benefit if it came up short of forcing Green Bay to use one of their two remaining timeouts. The combined decisions to spike the ball on first down and throw a pass on 3rd down were simply not smart.

The Green Bay game was different in that Garrett’s issue wasn’t a lack of aggression, it was simply a failure to optimize the situation.

5. Dallas @ Houston, Week 5, 2018

And I doubt anyone has forgotten that two weeks ago Garrett again played it conservatively choosing to punt, rather than go for a fourth-and-one play in overtime against the Houston Texans. He didn’t trust his team to make a play. The end result - again - was a Cowboys’ defeat.


A few things to note:

  • Almost all the games were road games. Garrett seems to have no willingness, whatsoever, to be aggressive on the road. It has bitten him repeatedly and yet he continues to make the same predictable, conservative calls.
  • Garrett repeatedly takes the ball out of his player’s hands. Every one of these instances are examples of Garrett not having faith in his players to execute properly and essentially “giving up” and settling for lengthy field goal attempts or punts.

I wrote about the message this sends to your players following the Houston fiasco:

Considering Jerry Jones’ love of risk, I can’t imagine he’s happy to have a team coached by a man with no stomach for risk-taking. Garrett is rightly getting roasted today. His tepid ways are likely going to see him somewhere else soon.