Commentary

Does Jason Garrett trust his offense?

Conservative play calling at end of Cowboys' win over Panthers begs question

Updated: October 23, 2012, 1:53 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys lead the NFL in offensive penalties and rank near the bottom of the league with 13 giveaways. FYI: Only two quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than Tony Romo.

Trust must be earned every day through actions.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesJason Garrett chose to run the ball late on a third-and-9 against Carolina rather than take a shot at the end zone.
So we shouldn't really be surprised that Jason Garrett trusted his kicker and defense more than his offense to win a game the Cowboys absolutely needed to win.

On third-and-9 from the Carolina 15, Garrett gave the ball to Phillip Tanner on a trap play with 3:39 left and the Cowboys trailing by a point.

It was the right decision.

Tanner's 5-yard run -- he would've picked up the first down if he had cut left instead of right -- set up Dan Bailey's go-ahead field goal as the Cowboys rallied to beat the Carolina Panthers 19-14.

"The biggest thing we wanted to do was preserve the opportunity to win the ballgame," Garrett said, "either by a touchdown or a field goal."

Garrett can spin it any way he chooses, but the decision showed he didn't fully trust his offense.

Hey, this is the second time in the past two weeks Garrett has taken the ball and decision-making out of Romo's hands at the end of a game. If it happens Sunday against the New York Giants, we're going to have to call it a trend.

Against Carolina, which has a raggedy offense and quarterback playing more like Clark Kent than Superman this season, a conservative approach made sense.

If your season is on the line would you trust this offensive line not to yield a sack and, maybe, a fumble? Would you trust Romo not to throw an interception if he found himself under extreme duress? Would you trust Dez Bryant or Kevin Ogletree to run the right route? Or catch the ball?

No. No. No. No.

Not when you can hand it off against a three-man rush and a defense playing a two-deep zone.

The Cowboys used a timeout before this play, so Garrett made a conscious decision to run the ball. Romo wanted to throw the ball, and he tried to talk his coach into it.

Garrett, who has been criticized more times than we can count for giving up on the running game, opted to manage the game. He put his ego in his back pocket, sat on it and it worked.

Last week against the Baltimore Ravens, Garrett's conservative approach didn't work. That was his fault, and he admitted it as he should have.

Against the Ravens, Garrett should've taken a timeout after his players failed to hustle back to the line of scrimmage with 21 seconds left in the game. He should've called a sideline pass play and ordered Romo to heave it out of bounds if it wasn't open immediately.

Garrett also knows Romo's propensity to try to make a big play out of chaos could've resulted in the Cowboys not even getting off the 51-yard field goal attempt that Bailey missed.

Different game, different circumstances.

Garrett, as you would expect, said trust had nothing to do with his play selection.

"I have a tremendous amount of trust in our offense. Anybody who's followed our football team understands my confidence in Tony Romo is high and it has always been high," he said. "My confidence level is very high."

Perhaps, but Garrett chose to put the ball in the hands of his third-string running back with the game on the line.

Not Romo. Not Bryant. Not Miles Austin. Not Jason Witten.

Heck, even Jerry Jones knew it was a conservative play, but declined to get involved in second-guessing.

Garrett understands he can't be that conservative against the Giants this week because New York's offense never leaves attack mode. And after Tom Brady brought the New England Patriots from behind to beat the Cowboys last season, we probably shouldn't expect Garrett to be conservative at the end of any game when an elite quarterback is running the opponent.

Still, the move made sense against Carolina because the Cowboys' defense makes fewer bad plays than the offense, and it has more playmakers than the offense -- even without Sean Lee, who had a sprained big toe.

DeMarcus Ware. Anthony Spencer. Brandon Carr. Jay Ratliff. Morris Claiborne.

Each had contributed to Carolina having four three three-and-out possessions and two four-and-out possessions in their 11 possessions.

This time Garrett's conservative approach worked, but he can't hide his offense the rest of the season.

They must regain his trust. Quickly.

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.

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