I somehow forced myself to re-watch the Cowboys’ heartbreaker in Baltimore.
Let’s dive right into my thoughts from the game. . .
- Early in the game, I loved what I saw from Dallas. Their rushing attack was obviously dominating Baltimore’s front seven, and Jason Garrett took advantage by dialing up a lot of early runs. The problem was that Garrett never utilized that rushing success to acquire big plays through the air. There were very few playaction looks throughout the course of this game, particularly late after the run had already been established.
- I’m all for pounding the rock if it’s working, but the problem is that you need to consistently beat teams with it again and again. In general, it’s suitable to use the running game to garner big chunks of yardage through the air, even if it means an incomplete pass or two. In the third quarter, the Cowboys ran the ball on 16 of 25 plays, yet didn’t do much to attack the Ravens downfield when Tony Romo dropped back to pass. If you’re really that confident in your running game, you’d think you could still convert a first down following an incomplete pass on 1st and 10. So why not take a shot?
- Just before the start of the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were down four points and faced a 4th and 5 at the Ravens’ 35-yard line. Statistically, the call to go for it should be a no-brainer. Not only did Garrett not keep the offense on the field, but he even took a delay-of-game penalty, forgoing a field goal try. Dan Bailey’s miss on the game-winning field goal try aside, how do you not even try to come away with points in a relatively high-scoring game when you’re at the opponent’s 35-yard line? I can’t imagine why Garrett thought that decision was beneficial to his team.
- I took a look at the expected points of NFL teams in various situations over the past decade, and the Cowboys basically handed the Ravens 1.15 points (the average points scored on a 1st and 10 at your own eight-yard line—the spot where Baltimore had the ball following the punt) without trying to get points themselves.
- Let’s talk about the late-game clock management. With the ball at Baltimore’s 34-yard line, Romo completed a pass to Dez Bryant for one yard. With the clock at 22 seconds and ticking and the offense in position to give Bailey a 51-yard field goal try, the ‘Boys didn’t call a timeout for 16 seconds. Romo is certainly at fault here too, but where was the head coach? There’s simply no reason that the offense shouldn’t be running another play or two to get more yards for Bailey.
- We saw Garrett make a very similar mistake against the Arizona Cardinals last year (the infamous “iced his own kicker” game). Garrett seems to think that there’s this magical land called “field goal range” in which kickers can’t miss field goals. Once his offense reaches the end of this range in late-game situations, he becomes ultra-conservative to ensure his kicker isn’t left on the sideline. Unfortunately, Garrett ignores the percentages in these situations, putting his kicker in a sub-optimal position because he doesn’t want to look bad as a coach if the offense suffers a negative play. In my opinion, he knowingly decreased his team’s chances of winning on Sunday so that he wouldn’t be chastised if the offense was somehow knocked out of field goal range.
- At this point, it’s obvious that the Cowboys need a new offensive coordinator. Garrett doesn’t seem equipped to handle the duties of calling plays; at one point I thought he would be a successful coordinator, but the lack of improvement and total dearth of innovation in the last 20-plus games has convinced me otherwise.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.