I’ve criticized Jason Garrett for being too cute. Too conservative. Too robotic, emotionless and “process”-oriented.
But now we know. The more the Cowboys’ head coach trusts his team, the more risky he gets.
Over the past three years I don’t remember a “whoa!” play-call by Garrett that both surprised and excited me. But now, in the last two weeks, he’s pulling out shockers from the playbook faster than David Copperfield yanks assistants from beneath silk scarves.
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Turns out the onside kick-off at Washington was just an appetizer. Because last Sunday against the Lions the head coach made two gutsy decisions to go for it on fourth down that the old, passive Garrett would’ve surely balked at.
Late in the third quarter Dallas trailed 20-7, but was driving inside Detroit’s 10. With time ticking and the offense sputtering, the Cowboys desperately needed a touchdown to stay in the game and apply a tad of pressure onto Detroit. On 1st-and-goal at the 7, DeMarco Murray ran left and scored a touchdown, only to have it wiped out by a holding penalty on Jason Witten. After Murray was stuffed up the middle three plays later, Garrett faced 4th-and-Goal at the 1.
The easy choice was to put points on the board and cut the lead to 10. The right choice was to go for it. And, surprisingly, Garrett did.
Not only did the Cowboys make the right choice, they called the right play. Give the ball to the NFL’s leading rusher and send him into a hole opened up by your blocking fullback and your Pro Bowl left tackle, Tyron Smith. If the Lions stop that play, you just weren’t good enough. Of course, they didn’t stop it, Murray plunged into the end zone and Dallas trailed by six.
The aggressive tone was set, and it carried over into Dallas’ biggest offensive drive of the season.
Now trailing 20-17 with 6:30 remaining, the Cowboys faced another fourth down, but this one a seemingly daunting 4th-and-6 at Detroit’s 42. A lot of coaches would punt, pin Detroit deep, play defense and hope to get the ball around midfield with time on the clock. But now we know Garrett trusts his offense, and trusts it more than his defense. Which is exactly as it should be, as the offense will send six players to the Pro Bowl compared to none on the defense.
Tony Romo stood calmly in a collapsing pocket, waited for Witten to shake his linebacker and threw a strike for a 21-yard completion. Nine plays later the Cowboys scored the winning touchdown.
Not sure if Dallas wins that game without both of those fourth-down gambles. But I am sure that, for the first time in a long time, the head coach finally trusts his players.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.