Look Back: Third-and-9 call was there

IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett’s third-and-9 call before that ultimately led to Dan Bailey’s go-ahead field goal with 3:25 to play will be debated for some time.

In this week’s A Look Back, Garrett’s call actually should have worked. Carolina had six players in the box and was playing shell coverage, as it predicted. Garrett went with a quick trap to free Phillip Tanner for a nice gain and if Tanner made a simple read the Cowboys might have had a touchdown but definitely would have had a first down.

With guard Mackenzy Bernadeau pulling and Tyron Smith and Miles Austin winning on their blocks, Tanner ran away from an opening to his left and cut back into linebacker Thomas Davis. As Garrett said Monday you don’t want to quibble with a runner’s in-game decision making, but if Tanner simply looked to his left there was nothing but green grass ahead of him.

That’s what makes a call great and a call questioned. For the record, I didn’t really like the call.

** That Garrett ran it 28 times (not including three Tony Romo scrambles) was a good thing. He was persistent. Looking back at the tape, there were plenty of opportunities for Felix Jones and Tanner to make more than they got. Now, it wasn’t great, but Jones left a lot of yards on the field. Twice he was tripped up as he was about to bust through the line and on one stretch play he was slow to the edge.

The best run of the day came on a delay to the right in which Doug Free sealed the edge and Bernadeau reached the second level. Jones got 9 yards on the run. It was an effective run but the Cowboys did not come back to it again in the game. Strange.

** When the Panthers brought five or more rushers, Romo completed 8 of 10 passes. Two of them came to Miles Austin down the seam. On the first catch, Austin fumbled. On the second Austin picked up 36 yards, setting up his touchdown. The Panthers rushed four defenders 20 times and Romo was 13 of 20. Against three-man pressures, he was 3-of-4 for a touchdown.

** On to the defense: Rob Ryan brought five-man or more pressure 12 times. One time it led to the half sack by DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. One time it led to Morris Claiborne’s pick after pressure from Josh Brent.

** Against Baltimore, the Cowboys played full press eight times. They played it even less against Carolina (just five times). They played half press 26 times and most of the time Claiborne played off coverage and Brandon Carr played press. Carr played press coverage on 26 snaps for the game.

** In the first half, Cam Newton ran for 59 yards on three carries. Two were scrambles, one was a called play. Newton’s 24-yard scramble came as a result of an end tackle game between Ware and Hatcher. Ware looped inside and forced the pressure inside but that left a hole outside and Hatcher could not get the edge in time to slow down Newton. On his 20-yard option run, Ware took Jonathan Stewart on the dive, giving Newton the ability to get the edge. Jordan Gross hemmed Sean Lee and the run was really easy. Newton’s 15-yard run came after Anthony Spencer missed a would-be sack. I can’t say the Cowboys made great adjustments on Newton’s ability to escape in the second half because the Panthers never really gave Newton the option to move around much. But a key play was a third-and-1 stop made by Dan Connor and Gerald Sensabaugh, however, in reality Spencer made the play by forcing Newton back inside to his help.

** While some will remember this game as the first in which Claiborne recorded a pick, it was actually a struggle for the rookie. He allowed Brandon LaFell’s touchdown and it came on the same route in which LaFell picked up 32 yards. He failed to stay with LaFell twice on shallow crossing routes. In the second half, he was soft in coverage on a big gain by Louis Murphy.

** Against Baltimore, the special teams’ units were in the crosshairs. Against Carolina, the coverage was great. Three times Eric Frampton was able to make stops as a gunner on punt coverage. One time Lance Dunbar came through with a great tackle as a gunner. The Panthers had 4 total yards in the punt game.