Commentary

Jason Garrett could benefit from help

Coach might be better making quick decisions if mind wasn't cluttered with play calling

Updated: December 6, 2011, 12:42 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- It's too bad refusing to admit a mistake doesn't just make the issue disappear.

Man, marriage would be so much easier if that were the case. Same goes for coaching the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately for Jason Garrett, sticking to his guns the day after the debacle won't convince anybody with a football IQ higher than his old jersey number that he wasn't responsible for a ridiculous clock-management crisis in Sunday's overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Garrett won't acknowledge that he did anything wrong, only that it didn't work. He continues to insist that the Cowboys were satisfied with settling for a 49-yard field goal at the end of regulation and intentionally let almost 20 seconds tick off the clock instead of calling one of their two remaining timeouts after Dez Bryant's catch for a first down.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinJason Garrett insists the Cowboys were satisfied settling for a 49-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation against the Cardinals.
The timeout Garrett did use, essentially icing his own kicker, was at least understandable. He had the special-teams coach and kicking consultant screaming in his ear to call it as the play clock ticked down. The conscious decision to not try to put the rookie kicker, who missed a 53-yarder and banked a 50-yarder off the right upright earlier in the game, in better position for the game-winning attempt is the head-scratcher.

"We chose to play it this way, and unfortunately, it didn't work out for us this time," Garrett said Monday when he emerged from underneath a mountain of criticism. "Hopefully, in the future, it will."

If Garrett really believes he made the right call, a man who preaches aggressiveness is coaching scared. He emphasizes a "Swing the Bat" philosophy -- even awarding an engraved Louisville Slugger as the ultimate individual honor after each win -- but essentially explained his crunch-time decision-making by saying he was scared the Cowboys would screw up.

However, common sense suggests that this situation is further evidence that an inexperienced head coach needs help. It's apparently asking too much for Garrett to call plays and keep the big picture in mind when the bullets are flying with the game on the line.

Jerry Jones should send a moving company to San Diego the day the regular season ends. As soon as the Chargers fire Norv Turner, the Cowboys ought to bring Garrett's X's and O's mentor back to Valley Ranch as the offensive coordinator. Unless, that is, the Miami Dolphins dump Tony Sparano and the Cowboys would prefer a reunion with him.

Let Garrett be a "walkaround head coach," a phrase Jerry coined and uses with a strong hint of contempt despite Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer putting Lombardi Trophies in his office as CEO types.

Head coaches are paid millions of dollars to make quick, smart decisions with the game hanging in the balance. Wanna bet Garrett would be better at that if his mind wasn't cluttered by play-calling duties?

Of course, that's giving Garrett the benefit of the doubt that he's trying to sell us a bunch of bull with his explanation of why he willingly let the clock keep ticking after Bryant was downed at the Arizona 31-yard line with 26 seconds remaining.

Garrett wants us to believe that it was a sign of ultimate confidence in kicker Dan Bailey, who had made 26 consecutive field goals -- including four game winners -- before his miss in the first quarter.

"He's been an awfully good kicker for us," Garrett said, "probably as good a player at his position that we have on our team."

So why did the Cowboys opt to punt from the Arizona 35 on the possession following Bailey's first miss in the first quarter? Four yards of field position really made Garrett that much more comfortable? (After a long pause, Garrett answered that they opted to play for field position at the time, which worked with Mat McBriar pinning the Cardinals at the 10.)

While Garrett didn't use these exact words, he also cited a lack of trust in his offense. This isn't related to Tony Romo's critical turnovers late in losses to the New York Jets and Detroit Lions this season. It's an offensive line issue.

Garrett mentioned that the Cowboys had three runs for negative yardage, allowed five sacks and committed two pre-snap offensive penalties against the Cardinals. He was afraid of moving backward.

That's coaching scared -- something the owner criticized Garrett for after conservative play calling late in a loss to the New England Patriots -- but it makes some sense. But spiking the ball to kill the clock with two timeouts remaining and seven seconds on the clock makes no sense whatsoever.

More like mass confusion.

Why risk a botched snap if you can just call a timeout with a few seconds remaining? Did Garrett order quarterback Romo -- who, remember, lost track of timeouts and tried to call one the Cowboys didn't have before the game-winning field goal a few weeks ago against the Redskins -- to spike the ball?

"I don't have a great answer for you on that," Garrett said.

Huh?

"Again, we're just working through that situation, to be honest with you," Garrett said. "We're talking timeout. He was getting them to the line of scrimmage and obviously when he got them to the line of scrimmage, the conversation we had going in was to clock the ball. Does that make sense?"

No, it really doesn't.

Neither does stressing accountability but refusing to admit an obvious judgment error. And neither does believing that an inexperienced head coach wouldn't benefit from some supremely qualified help.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

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