These are heady times if you are fan of both the Dallas Cowboys and conspiracy theories.
The play of the Cowboys over the four weeks since they fired Wade Phillips has given rise to plenty of people wondering just why they seemed to flip a switch after weeks of looking like the worst team in the NFL. All that wondering has led some to conclude that some members of the Cowboys went out of their way to play poorly so that Phillips would get fired.
No one is a bigger player in this theory than Jason Garrett. If you follow the thread, Garrett was tired of being the head coach in waiting and, knowing that there wasn't another viable in-season option to serve as interim coach, did whatever he could to shackle the offense to the point that Phillips got fired. It seems far-fetched, but only if you didn't watch a talented offense shoot itself in the foot over and over again for the first eight weeks.
Watching the Cowboys over the last four weeks hasn't done much to change the mind of anyone who thought Garrett might have been engaging in a little sabotage. Sunday's victory provided ample evidence that Garrett is doing things now that he never did when Phillips was still in the picture.
The first big example was the fourth quarter drive that put the Cowboys back on top after the Colts had grabbed the lead and the momentum. It was an 18-play epic and 14 of the plays were running plays. That kind of ratio was never seen during Phillips's tenure. Garrett the offensive coordinator never rode Marion Barber, the supposed workhorse, with that kind of consistency, but now that Garrett is the head coach it is more important to win than to impress anyone with your whiz-kid play calls.
Garrett also broke out a formation that the team has used sparingly in the past. It's a three wide receiver, two tight end shotgun set that they used 11 times on Sunday after using it 17 times in the last 59 games. As Bob Sturm of the Dallas Morning News points out, the big benefit of throwing out of this formation is that there's added protection to help against outside pass rushers. It worked. Jon Kitna threw for 103 of his 167 yards out of that set and scrambled twice for 28 more yards.
Think Tony Romo could have used that kind of attention to protection before the Giants broke his collarbone? Or Alex Barron could have used it when he was flailing around against the Redskins in the opener?
One final number to look at when assessing whether or not Garrett was actively trying to stab Phillips in the back. In the first eight games of the year, the Cowboys averaged 33.375 shotgun snaps a game. In the last four, they are averaging just 19.75 as Garrett, after years of begging, has finally discovered the benefits of balance in an offense.
All circumstantial evidence, to be sure, but it's easy to see that Garrett is approaching his job as offensive mastermind a lot different now that he's the guy at the front of the firing line.
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