Cowboys running on all cylinders under interim coach Jason Garrett
SportsdayDFW – Dallas Morning News
It’s interesting that Jason Garrett has found comfort with the running game as a head coach that he never did as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator.
In the four games he’s been the head coach, the Cowboys have run the ball an average of 34 times per game for 148.7 yards. In the eight games before he ascended to the throne, the Cowboys ran the ball an average of 21 times for 75.6 yards per game.
Now, Garrett would tell you that it’s the result of not playing from behind like the Cowboys did during their 1-7 start. They trailed by at least 10 points in all but one of their losses.
During their 3-1 stretch under Garrett, they’ve trailed only one game by 10 points – 17-0 to New Orleans – and they nearly came back to win it because Garrett didn’t give up on the running game.
It’s also helped the Cowboys that Garrett has the players wearing pads on Wednesdays, the day when the team puts in much of the running game. It allows them to be more physical in practice because the players don’t have to worry about getting hurt since they’re wearing pads.
Dallas has rushed at least 30 times each of the last three games. It has rushed for at least 134 yards each of the last three games, including for 217 yards against the Colts.
Maybe Garrett finally understands the running game is not always about pure production.
Sometimes it’s about giving the defense a rest. Sometimes it’s about trying to force a team to use a safety against the run to open up the passing game. Sometimes it’s about wearing down the opponents’ defense and keeping their offense off the field.
The Cowboys are no longer among the worst running teams in the NFL. It’s coincided with their best stretch of football this season.
It’s no coincidence.
Surely, Garrett understands that.
Q: Am I the only Cowboy fan who was flabbergasted by Jon Kitna taking a knee at the 25-yard line with three timeouts in a tie game? While David Buehler is not perfect, he does have a strong leg. The Cowboys only needed to gain 35 yards to give him a shot.
TAYLOR: Obviously, you have forgotten about the disaster on the final play of the first half against Washington in the opener. Or the disaster – Felix Jones’ fumble – at the end of the first half against the Giants in New York. The Colts play a two-deep zone that gives few opportunities for big plays. Only two of Jon Kitna’s 18 completions went for more than 20 yards on Sunday. The odds of the Cowboys going 40 yards or so in the final 25 seconds were remote. If they got the ball at the 40, then it would’ve been different. There’s a time to gamble, but that wasn’t it.
Q: I can remember when the company line about Sean Lee was that he seemed deficient in pass coverage, so he would only play on running downs. Thoughts?
TAYLOR: Well, the first thing we need to do is keep one game in perspective. That said, Lee was outstanding against the Colts with four tackles and two interceptions, including one for a touchdown. There are a couple of different theories as it relates to Lee. One is that the leg injuries he suffered early in training camp and the regular season retarded his progress. Another is that Jason Williams is a guy former coach Wade Phillips really wanted in the draft, so the coach did everything in his power to ensure he has an opportunity to earn a job in the nickel defense, which never happened. Lee is here now, and there’s no stopping progress. He’s going to keep getting opportunities to play.
Q: One thing that will likely cripple Garrett as a head coach is a failure to develop and recognize talent and then get it on the field.
TAYLOR: All Garrett needs to do is what he said he was going to do: play the best players regardless of salary or draft pedigree. If he does that, he’ll be fine.
TAYLOR: No. I really just think he’s trying to make sure he doesn’t give Garrett too much credit, because he was clearly part of the problem during the 1-7 start. He doesn’t want that to be forgotten, which it could be if Garrett gets too much praise. He’d like to hire Garrett, but I think he’s going to look around and see what’s out there before he commits one way or the other.
Q: Is there any way Marion Barber gets his job back? Do you think in the future (say next year) that Tashard Choice will take the majority of the snaps and Felix Jones will go back to a 10- to 13-carry-a-game role?
Greg Presutto, Shelton, Conn.
TAYLOR: So now we think Choice is better than Felix Jones? Let’s just pump the brakes. Tashard is not Jim Brown. Or Emmitt Smith. Or even Adrian Peterson. There’s a difference between being a spot player and being “The Man.” No team is game-planning for Choice and trying to defend the plays he runs best. For now, let’s say he should have a larger role than Barber as we enter the final month of a wretched season. You can’t dismiss the fact that he does have fresh legs this time of year and the Colts are awful on run defense, but he’s earned a bigger role.
Q: I am not ready to crown Dez Bryant a superstar yet, but I have seen enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. I tend to grumble a bit when I see him playing on special teams. During the Colts game on Sunday, my 9-year-old son asked me why I don’t think Dez should be playing on special teams. He received the answer to his question later in that game. Do you think Jason Garrett has figured it out yet?
Brent McCarthy, Bismarck, N.D.
TAYLOR: That makes no sense to me. Don’t tell me special teams are one-third of the game and then say you don’t want to use your dynamic kick returner. Part of the reason teams wanted Bryant is because they thought he was the best receiver and the best returner in the game. Football is a violent game. Injuries happen. There’s not one iota of data that says kick returners and punt returners get injured at a higher rate than position players. Bryant has been a difference-maker as a returner. You can’t win playing with scared money.
Q: Would it make sense to move Marc Colombo to guard next season?
TAYLOR: No. Injuries have really robbed him of the skills that made him a first-round pick. He plays a little high, and I know he doesn’t have the speed or quickness to pull effectively. He’s tough and competitive, but he’s strictly a tackle.
Q: It’s time to have a real conversation about Terence Newman. He plays well at times but gets beat too often. Realistically, isn’t he someone who “could” make the switch to free safety?
Christian P. Cornette, Knoxville, Tenn.
TAYLOR: No. He’s too small to play safety. Safety is a physical position because of the run responsibilities, and it would be too rough on his body. As a cornerback, his run defense is fine because he doesn’t have to do too much of it. Down the road, he’ll be a better nickel corner because he does have the toughness to play the run in the nickel. The problem with Newman is that he’s paid like he’s a great player, but he’s performing like he’s a good player.
Q: Do they have any confidence in Stephen McGee?
Ian Olson, Denver
TAYLOR: Sure, but he hasn’t done anything to deserve playing time over Jon Kitna, who has been superb. I thought he was going to get a chance to play earlier because I didn’t think Garrett and Kitna would have the kind of impact on the team that they did. You have to earn playing time – not give it away. Kitna has earned the right to play.
Q: When are the Cowboys going to get serious about having a defense? Whatever happened to the Doomsday and the Flex? Used to be a Dallas tradition.
TAYLOR: It’s hard to have a good defense when you can’t rush the passer or stop the run. This team doesn’t have anyone playing great on defense, which is a problem. DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff were great last year, but they’re good this year. Mike Jenkins and Anthony Spencer looked like they were about to be stars, but Jenkins has struggled this season, while Spencer has been average most weeks. The same goes for Newman. Bradie James might be the only player on defense doing exactly what the coaches expected from him at the start of the season.