Third-down red-zone throws to rookie: why?

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
7:35
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – Why the heck do the Dallas Cowboys keep throwing short passes to rookie receiver Terrance Williams on third-and-long in the red zone?

Williams
Williams
They’ve done it in both games so far this season. It hasn’t come close to working either time.

Against the New York Giants, Williams didn’t understand the audible and ran the wrong route, resulting in a tipped pass that Giants safety Ryan Mundy intercepted and returned to the Dallas 1-yard line. The result of the third-and-goal screen to Williams against the Kansas City Chiefs wasn’t as disastrous -- he was just dropped for a three-yard loss to force the Cowboys to settle for a field goal.

“When plays don’t work, you can always go back and say, ‘Why the heck did you do that?’” said Dallas head coach Jason Garrett, who made a point to specify that they weren’t the same calls, but acknowledged that the Cowboys were relying on Williams to make the play with his legs in both instances. “Run-and-catch plays down in the tight red zone where everybody’s in the end zone sometimes can be good plays.”

The most glaring issue with the screen to Williams in Kansas City: Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers was in single coverage against Dez Bryant on the other side of the field. On third-and-goal from the 9, Flowers gave Bryant a six-yard cushion, seemingly inviting the Cowboys to throw a slant to their No. 1 receiver.

That’s a run-and-catch play in which the odds greatly favor the Cowboys, given Bryant’s explosiveness and 35-pound weight advantage over the 187-pound Flowers. Instead, Romo audibled to call the screen for Williams, who was tackled by three Chiefs before he had a chance to get to the line of scrimmage. No Kansas City player lined up deeper than the 3-yard line.

“You are allowed to run after the catch in this deal,” Garrett said, attempting to justify Romo’s audible. “We tell our players all the time, it ain’t Ultimate Frisbee. In Ultimate Frisbee, you catch and have got to have that pivot foot. We don’t have a pivot foot in this deal. You can run with it afterwards.

“When the plays don’t work, I understand why people don’t like those calls, but we’re trying to get into the best plays. And sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.”

The short throws to Williams on third-and-long in the red zone haven’t come close to working. Can we reach the conclusion that they aren’t the best plays?

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