They say one of the hallmarks of insanity is repeating the same behaviors again and again and expecting different results. At this point, it’s obvious that head coach and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s play-calling isn’t going to change; this is simply what he has to offer. In game situations in which the Cowboys are either winning or down by less than one score, we’re going to see the team run the ball way too frequently. We’re not going to see many downfield throws, nor will we see much playaction. Screen passes aren’t a major component of Garrett’s offense, and in short-yardage situations, you better believe a Cowboys’ running back will get stopped on a strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong.”
Yup, despite a lack of success that has now stretched for a season and a half, we’re just going to have to accept the fact that this is Cowboys’ offense.
Coming into Week 9, I tracked the Cowboys as attempting a playaction pass on 8.0 percent of Tony Romo’s dropbacks—by far the lowest mark in the NFL—despite a huge amount of success on such looks. On Sunday night, Garrett dialed up two playaction passes on the team’s 36 dropbacks (5.6 percent). They were both completed for 19 total yards.
We saw two screens from the Cowboys—one to Lance Dunbar and one to Miles Austin. The ‘Boys have now tried only 12 screen passes in all of 2012, and only seven of those have been to running backs. If the rationale for Garrett’s lack of downfield routes is poor pass protection, how can the team average less than one true screen pass per game?
Romo, one of the league’s premiere deep ball passers over the past few years, attempted only three deep passes (traveling at least 20 yards past the line-of-scrimmage) against the Falcons—through no fault of his own. He completed two of them for 94 yards and a touchdown. Until Garrett opens up the offense, there will be no running game and defenders can continue to sit on routes.
Speaking of sitting on routes, that’s also a possibility for defenders because the Cowboys have thrown only five double-moves all season. Romo has completed three of those five passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. With a sack rate of just 4.1 percent—including zero sacks on playaction passes—it’s mind-boggling that we don’t see more deep double-moves from Dallas.
Until DeMarco Murray is back, I think Lance Dunbar should be the Cowboys’ primary back. Although he totaled only 3.3 YPC against the Falcons, he really made the most of his rushes. He dropped a pass early in the game and needs to shore up his pass protection, but he offers more explosiveness and big-play ability than Felix Jones. At this point, that’s what the Cowboys need in the running game.