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Jason Garrett’s decision to punt on fourth down says a lot about the state of the Cowboys offense

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You may not agree with his decision, but the reasons behind it is what’s really alarming.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

It felt like the moment the ball was kicked off in the Sunday night game against the Houston Texans, the Dallas Cowboys were behind. That’s the feeling you get when you can just sense something is not right. We want to believe that this is a good football team, but reality sets in with each new failed third-down conversion attempt. When did this offense become so inept?

The Cowboy certainly had chances to pull out the win, but they kept shooting themselves in the foot. Things were feeling pretty good when Tavon Austin returned a punt 22 yards near midfield to get his team within striking distance with just three and a half minutes left in the game. But then an Ezekiel Elliott run that went nowhere followed by a Dak Prescott sack and just like that - the Cowboys were backed up with a 3rd and 17. Just like that, the drive died.

And when Xavier Woods caught the floating duck (deflected by DeMarcus Lawrence), it looked like he had some room to run to help move the ball in field goal range. But for some reason, he opted to just go out of bounds. With 10 seconds left and one timeout, the Cowboys needed about 12 yards to give Brett Maher a shot to be the hero again and knock down his fourth field goal of the night for the second straight game. But it wasn’t meant to be as Prescott narrowly escaped a pick-six when he threw to a covered Cole Beasley.

Things started off well in overtime as dump-off passes to Zeke and Blake Jarwin moved the ball into Texans territory. But then the games biggest moment arrived. Fourth down and a long one from the Texans 42-yard line. Contrary to popular opinion, Jason Garrett has shown the ability to keep his foot on the gas in these situations before. Just a couple years ago, his Cowboys were facing a 4th-and-1 on the Eagles 28-yard line. He could have sent a reliable Dan Bailey on the field for a gimme three points and then trust his defense to make one stop. Instead, he kept the offense on the field. Dak would sneak through for the first down and then five plays later, the game would end on this walk-off.

Fans everywhere wanted the Cowboys to go for it on Sunday night. But who wouldn’t? The adrenaline is going and why would you want to give the ball back to the Texans in overtime? But that’s exactly what Garrett did as he had them punt the ball away. Garrett explained his reasoning for his decision, but nobody wanted to hear it.

For me, I honestly was scared to go for it there. People will talk about how much this team has invested in the offensive line and having such a talented star running back makes this an easy decision. You give the ball to 21 there and live with the results. The problem is, the Texans weren’t going to let Zeke beat them. It’s as if news leaked that he had run off 240 scrimmage yards the week prior. The Texans defense was sending everything they could at the line of scrimmage and it was working.

The Cowboys could have run some other non-Zeke play, right? Sure they could have, but that would rely on Dak Prescott making a play and as much as it pains me to say it - that’s a tall order these days.

So, the punt happened. Whether it was the right decision or not will be debated all year, and whether you agree with it or not - there were some valid reasons for Garrett making that decision.

  • More than half of Zekes runs amounted to zero or negative yards and they just fell flat on the 3rd-and-short running play.
  • Dallas attempted a fourth down (QB sneak) earlier in the game on a 4th-and-inches, only to make it by less than the length of the football.
  • Zeke just came up limping a few plays before the fourth down play. Was he breaking down physically?
  • Chris Jones is one of the best punters in the game when it comes to pinning teams deep in their own territory.
  • The defense was making plays as the Texans had seven possessions in the second half. Only two of them ended in scores, both field goals.

Garrett made his decision, but it came back to bite him. The defense would make a great stop on first down, but then fail to stop them afterwards. And it felt like every single Cowboys defender had a shot to tackle DeAndre Hopkins on a broken play that took him 49 yards down the field to set up the game-wining field goal in overtime, but they just couldn’t wrap him up.

Garrett’s decision to punt there doesn’t bother me, but I’m an openly admitted Garrett supporter so take that with a grain of salt. I love the guy and think this organization is much better with him than the thought of how destructive Jerry Jones can be without him. Calling this decision “inexcusable” has about as much merit as blaming him for “icing his own kicker.” It’s fallacy.

What does bother me however, is the state of this offense for him to feel compelled to punt the ball away. This is the third game this season the Cowboys offense has failed to score at least 17 points. They’ve lost all three. They are third to last in points scored. And whether the blame deserves to be squarely placed on Garrett’s shoulders or not, it’s his job to fix it. Whether it’s fixing Dak Prescott, finding something productive from their wide receivers, or coming up with more gadget plays to spruce up the offense, something has to be done. Because things are bad for this offense, really bad.