What would you do if you were coaching a football team that had a 29-10 lead midway through the third quarter? Wouldn’t logic dictate that you run the football as much as possible to move the chains, run time off the clock and salt away the win?
Now throw in the fact that your running game, to that point, has been dominant. It has averaged nearly eight yards per carry. Your running back and offensive line have imposed their will upon your opponent’s defensive front seven.
That was the exact situation the Dallas Cowboys faced against the Green Bay Packers. And they ran the football exactly two times in the final 21 minutes of that football game, one the Cowboys ultimately lost, 37-36.
Two times — and that doesn’t include a DeMarco Murray run that was called back due to a holding penalty.
The Cowboys played like they were the team that was behind, not the ones with a dominant lead.
The Cowboys played Sunday’s game like they were the team that was behind, not the team that led. The team that was behind, the Packers, ran the ball 13 times in the same span. No one would have questioned the Packers had they thrown it on every down. But they ran it 13 times.
The Cowboys ran away and hid from a run game that saw Murray gain 134 yards on 18 carries. And the Cowboys’ explanation for not running the ball when logic dictated they should wasn’t terribly logical either.
Head coach Jason Garrett had to answer for the interception Tony Romo threw with 2:58 to play, one that ultimately led to the Packers’ game-winning score. Romo was flushed out of the pocket, spun and tried to hit Miles Austin on a slant. But the Packers’ Sam Shields intercepted the pass.
Garrett said the idea on that drive was to “run the ball and make [the Packers] use clock.” But Romo’s interception was the fourth pass play on a five-play drive. Garrett then told reporters the Cowboys called a run, but Romo checked out of the play and decided to throw a pass.
Romo said the Packers overloaded the side he was going to run to, which caused him to check out of the run and into a pass play. He said he’ll do that about three to six times a game. He also said that if he had it to do again, he’s running the ball.
When a reporter asked Garrett how many of the other four plays on that drive were runs, he said he didn’t know off to the top of his head. Then, later, Garrett contradicted himself. He said the Cowboys wanted to move the ball and make the Packers use their time outs with high-percentage passes, and then run the ball.
The Cowboys’ first play on that drive was a deep bomb to Dez Bryant that fell incomplete. “We adopted an aggressive mentality, but at the same time we wanted to be smart,” Garrett said.
The bomb wasn’t a high-percentage play call, nor was it smart. The smart thing would have been to feed the ball to Murray as much as possible when the Cowboys were up 29-10. Or 29-17. Or 29-24. Or 36-24. Or 36-31.
That’s the smart thing for offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to do. That’s the smart thing for Garrett to do. That’s the smart thing for Romo to do. And none of them did it.
Not on the next-to-last drive that everyone wanted to focus on and not for the entire second half.
The Cowboys lost on Sunday because they simply weren’t smart enough to recognize what anyone with a basic understanding of football was able to while watching this game. It is just another reason why the Cowboys are who they are — a frustratingly average team that truly doesn’t know how to win.