IRVING, Texas -- For the first time since 2007, Jason Garrett did not call plays for the Dallas Cowboys.
Even when he was the person relaying the calls from offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to Tony Romo or Kyle Orton down the stretch, Garrett said it was Callahan’s gig. Even in Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Garrett did not commit to the structure going forward in 2014, just as he did not commit to the returns of Callahan and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
“We’ll step back and try to evaluate everything we did and how we did it and try to make our best decision going forward,” Garrett said on Monday.
Will Callahan return in 2014? Garrett didn't say. He didn't commit to Monte Kiffin either. There is another question to ask: Does Callahan want to return? It's hard to get an offensive coordinator job in the NFL, so walking away from one would seem unwise. It all depends on levels of happiness.
Will he be able to make a change if he feels it is best for the team? Owner and general manager Jerry Jones insisted on Garrett not calling plays in 2013, but Garrett also said during the season he could have taken the job back if he wanted.
“I think the structure that we used to call the plays on offense this year worked out fine for us,” Garrett said. “It freed me up to do a lot of different things. I was able to be a part of coaching the whole football team maybe a little bit more on a daily basis than I have been in the past when I was the primary play caller. Hopefully that’s been a good thing for our team and for our organization. I’ve always tried to touch all parts of our team, but when you have that responsibility of calling those individual plays it’s hard not to have to get that time and attention that it deserves. I was on the practice field, I was in meetings more on the other side of the ball and with special teams more than I had been in the past, and hopefully that benefited our team.”
The phrasing "was fine" is hardly an endorsement, but there were numerous positives offensively.
Tony Romo had 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 15 games before he had back surgery. The plus-21 differential tied for the best in his career.
DeMarco Murray became the first Cowboys runner since 2006 to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, but many believe he could have had more -- or the team could have had more -- if the coaches allowed for more balance.
The red zone offense was much improved. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on 35 of 51 drives inside the red zone in 2013 compared to just 25 of 49 trips in 2012. Jason Witten had eight touchdown catches, the second-most of his career. Dez Bryant, who will go to the Pro Bowl, was a big factor as well.
Some things weren’t as good, especially the third-down offense. The Cowboys were 25th in third-down conversions (35 percent) and played a big part in their No. 16 ranking in yards. In 2012 they were fifth in third-down conversions (43.9%) and were sixth in yards (374.6).
Jones put Callahan and Garrett in difficult positions. Callahan was calling plays in an offense that was not his. Garrett was not able to do what he felt he did best.
Add to that the increased role that Jones gave Romo in the offense and things were not always smooth.
Garrett acknowledged Callahan was not as comfortable with the system on Monday, but he didn’t think it slowed down the unit.
“A lot of people get really focused on this system of football or that system of football and really all that is it’s a vehicle to do what you want to do on the offensive side of the ball,” Garrett said. “It’s a means of communicating, formations, protections, pass plays, the running game and just getting a comfort level with how you communicate that. That’s really what a system is and we believe strongly in our system. It’s been a good system for us. There are other good systems. Bill has been in our system a couple of different spots. He’s been in other systems at different spots. So he’s a really smart guy and I thought he handled that part of it really well.”