Commentary

Garrett's passive leadership costly

Failure to take control of late-game strategy could be head coach's fatal flaw

Originally Published: December 15, 2013
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas - If the Dallas Cowboys don't make the playoff this season, and Jerry Jones decides to fire Jason Garrett, the coach can only blame himself.

Garrett let Tony Romo, his $108-million quarterback, and pass-happy offensive coordinator Bill Callahan potentially determine his fate with some of the dumbest decisions you'll ever see intelligent people make Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

Understand, pretty much the only way a team can blow a 23-point second-half lead at home is with dumb play calling and turnovers, but that's exactly what the Cowboys did.

Green Bay 37, Dallas 36.

It would be unbelievable, but we saw this just two seasons ago when the Detroit Lions rallied from a 27-3 third-quarter deficit to beat the Cowboys in this same stadium.

Apparently, Garrett learned nothing.

The Lions rallied that day in part because they returned interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive third-quarter drives. This time, Garrett, Callahan and Romo collaborated to ignore running back DeMarco Murray in the second half.

Just so you know, Murray finished with 134 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. He had 11 carries for 93 and a touchdown at halftime. How does a team throw the ball 48 times in a game it leads 26-3, 29-10 and 36-24 in the second half?

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsJason Garrett's clock management and the team's play calling were only two of the many problems the Cowboys displayed in a collapse against the Packers.

From 1:04 of the third quarter until Romo's interception with 2:58 left, the Cowboys dropped back to pass on 14 of 15 plays, while never leading by fewer than five points.

Ridiculous. Blame Garrett.

Jerry Jones made Garrett a walk-around head coach in the offseason to handle situations just like this. He's supposed to speak up in certain situations and dictate the strategy.

This is when Garrett should've demanded the Cowboys run the ball, especially since Green Bay couldn't stop Murray.

He gained at least 4 yards on 14 of his 18 carries and had four runs of 10 yards or more. Murray's only negative run occurred on his fourth carry of the game.

But Garrett took a passive role and let Romo and Callahan dictate the offensive approach instead of asserting himself. What happened in the last five minutes is a fireable offense.

Leading 36-31 with 4:17 left, Green Bay had scored on four consecutive possessions. We've seen this defense all year. No way, you could trust them to protect a lead.

The Cowboys needed to score or burn virtually all of the time off the clock.

A 13-yard slant to Dez Bryant on third-and-12 gave the Cowboys a first down with 3:02 left. Two more first downs and Green Bay probably wouldn't have enough time to come back.

A 4-yard run up the middle by Murray forced the Packers to burn their second timeout with 2:58 left. According to website Advanced NFL Stats, the Cowboys had an 88 percent chance of winning at that time.

Callahan called another running play as he should've done. Remember a few weeks ago, when Garrett became more involved in the play calling. Callahan gives the play to Garrett, who gives it to Romo.

During those few seconds Garrett can talk to Romo. That's when Garrett should've implored Romo to keep the running play no matter how many defenders Green Bay stacked in the box to stop the run.

At that point, time was the only thing more important than protecting the ball. Romo, who has been as conservative as Sen. John McCain this season, picked the worst possible time to return his gun-slinging ways.

On second-and-6, Romo narrowly avoided a defender off the edge. Then he whirled and fired a pass to Miles Austin, never known to fight for the ball, who was running a slant near midfield. Sam Shields undercut the pattern and made a finger-tip interception.

Eight plays later, Green Bay grabbed its only lead on Eddie Lacy's 1-yard touchdown run. It marked the Packers' fifth consecutive second-half touchdown drive.

"The idea was to run the ball and make them use the clock," Garrett said of the Cowboys' fourth-quarter strategy. "Run it, and then if we have to throw it, throw high percentage passes to keep the clock going and make them use their timeouts.

"Tony threw a pass on what we call a smoke -- or a flash -- that we have accompanying runs if he gets a bad look. That's what happened on the interception. It was a run call that he threw the ball on."

Romo had not thrown an interception since the first quarter against the New York Giants a month ago, a span of 130 passes. Romo said he switched the play because Green Bay had overloaded the side the Cowboys had planned to run.

So what.

Take the no gain or a negative play, at worst, and force the Packers to use their final timeout. Romo said the Cowboys wanted to be more aggressive on offense because of how Green Bay's offense was moving the ball.

"It's easy to look back now and say run the ball, run the ball, run the ball," Romo said. "At the same time, if they're going to have numbers, it's a tough situation.

"What I have to do a better job of is protecting the ball in that situation, and I didn't do a good enough job of that tonight. I will next time."

We've all heard that before. Still, the Cowboys control their playoff fate.

If they win their last two games they will make the playoffs. If not, no one will be surprised if Jerry changes his mind and fires Garrett.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.