Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dallas Cowboys: Just Run the Ball, Stupid

by Chad Hensley

And when I say "Stupid", I mean Jason Garrett.

A week after calling one of the best games since he became the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator, the "Red Headed Jesus" called one of his worst.

Fans and media can blame the players and referees all they want. This one lays squarely on the back of the "head coach in waiting".

Yikes, that is scary to even think about.

A Little History

It's been about a year since I wrote the first of many articles on his incompetence as an offensive coordinator, and really nothing has changed.

I thought that last week's Eagles game was the big turn-around that the Cowboys and their fans have been hoping for in Garrett's gameplans and play calling.

For the first time in a really long time, the Cowboys had a protection scheme and incredible play calling against a team that had a great secondary and blitzed like crazy.

Garrett wasn't able to run the ball against the Eagles because of the defensive scheme, but he used the jailbreak screen, and other screens that took the place of the Cowboys running the ball.

Garrett was the architect behind that victory over the Eagles, and deserves much of the credit. This past Sunday—a week after that Eagles game—the Cowboys laid an egg to the Green Bay Packers. Garrett deserves almost all of the blame.

Just run the ball

Fans and media like to point to quarterback Tony Romo for the Cowboys not having success in December and in the playoffs, but what everyone seems to forget is that unless you have Payton Manning or Tom Brady, you better establish the run.

Many believe that the Cowboys have established the running game this year because of the 130 yards per game average on the ground. Unfortunately, that just isn't true.

Despite averaging 5.1 yards per carry, the Cowboys remain a pass-first offense.

The Cowboys rush the ball 25.6 times per game, good for 24th in the NFL.

Against the Packers, the Cowboys rushed the ball 14 times. Tony Romo had the same amount of rushes as Felix Jones and Tashard Choice—three .

That means Garrett called 11 rushing plays—give or take a couple, because of audibles by Romo.

The first three rushing attempts went for 13, seven, and five yards. There were only three more attempts the rest of the half, and eight more the rest of the game.

Even if the Cowboys would have gotten 10 yards-per-rush on all 11 attempts, that isn't "establishing the run".

On Sunday, the Packers realized the Cowboys weren't going to run the ball, pinned their ears back, and basically set up camp in the Cowboys backfield.

What happened to the great protection scheme?

Against the Eagles, Garrett called a great game against their blitz-happy defense.

When the Packers decided they were going to blitz on almost every play, Garrett completely forgot what he did in the week prior.

After the first drive or so, there were no short drops for Romo, no quick slants to the wide receivers, and there were very few screens.

And when they did decide to call the jailbreak screen to receiver Kevin Ogletree, that worked so well against the Eagles, it was in the exact same sitiuation—3rd-and-long.

Does Garrett not realize that the Packers probably had film from the Eagles game?

How much more predictable can an NFL offensive coordinator be?

What can Garrett do?

The Cowboys are built as well as any team in the NFL to run the ball effectively.

They have one of the largest offensive lines, the best trio of running backs in the NFL, and great blocking tight ends and wide receivers. That's why they have a 5.1 yards-per-rush average.

What they really need to do is "establish the run".

Establishing the run means that the defense believes and respects that you may run the ball at any time.

Contrary to popular belief, getting one and two yard gains early in the game isn't terrible. Those small gains turn into much larger gains in the 4th-quarter as the defense wears down, and it also opens up play action.

Opening up play action is good both from the protection standpoint and getting the linebackers and secondary to bite on the fake, creating separation for the receivers.

Like establishing the run, an effective protection scheme should be a staple of the Cowboys offense.

The offensive line is starting to get banged up, and unless Garrett wants to see Romo get hurt, he should limit the amount of plays that Romo must wait to develop. When the defense blitzes, there should always be an outlet, whether it be a running back in the flat, or the receivers breaking off their routes.

I also believe it is time to let Felix Jones and Tashard Choice begin games and let Marion Barber III end them. Let Barber return to the role in which he was a Pro Bowler, and let the young guys establish the running game early.

With a home game against Washington Redskins and another over Thanksgiving with the Oakland Raiders, there is no time like the present to do these things.

If Garrett and the Cowboys can't establish the run and protect Tony Romo against these two teams, fans might as well start looking to 2010.