One of the benefits of not calling offensive plays in the NFL is that someone else can receive the blame for a stunning lack of balance. If only Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett had learned that lesson a year or two earlier.
Since taking over play calling duties for the Cowboys in 2007, Garrett has on many occasions been accused of relying too heavily on the pass. When it was awkwardly revealed that Bill Callahan would be taking over the play calling duties this past offseason, there was a thought he might place more emphasis on the running game.
As a longtime offensive line coach, Callahan knew how important it was to establish the run. But through two games, Callahan is making Garrett look like Darrell Royal. It’s not fair to draw sweeping conclusions after two games, but I’ll do it anyway. The Cowboys have the 26-ranked rushing offense, and starting tailback DeMarco Murray is already complaining about not getting enough touches (32 carries, 111 yards). If Garrett has a sense of humor – and the verdict’s still out – he has to be cackling about all the complaints. Now he’s free to second-guess the play caller. He’s finally learned one of the most important rules in coaching: surround yourself with plenty of potential scapegoats.
But let’s not forget that Jerry Jones desperately wanted quarterback Tony Romo to have more say in the game-planning process. Romo’s also been given more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage, so perhaps he’s overruling some of Callahan’s run calls. On Wednesday, though, Romo was extolling the virtues of the running game.
“It just makes everyone’s job easier if you can run the ball effectively,” Romo told reporters. “…It’s about production. So we’re trying to figure out different ways and I think we’ll do some things in the future to continue to get better and better at it.”
The Cowboys had hoped that a commitment to a two tight end offense (“12 personnel”) would allow them to be more creative from a play calling standpoint. But rookie tight end Gavin Escobar has a long way to go when it comes to blocking. And the Cowboys are attempting to use a zone-blocking scheme that is ill-suited for Murray. He is not a player who does well waiting for a seam and then cutting back against the grain. Murray’s at his best when going north and south. It’s baffling the Cowboys would design a running game that doesn’t fit their starting tailback.
Maybe the Rams returning to AT&T Stadium on Sunday will be enough to jump-start Murray and the running game. Out of nowhere, he broke the Cowboys’ single-game record with 253 yards on 25 carries against the Rams in 2011. He continued to pile up big numbers over the next three games that season, but injuries have hampered him since. Like a lot of running backs, Murray needs a high volume of carries to hit his stride. The Cowboys gave him 12 carries in last Sunday’s 17-16 loss to the Chiefs.
“DeMarco’s a good football player, and we’ve got to give him more chances and we’ve got to run block for him better up front and on the edges and give him some chances to be successful,” Garrett said this week.
Maybe the running game will improve once 36-year-old veteran Brian Waters takes over full-time at right guard. Waters, who missed all of training camp and the preseason, is still trying to catch up on his conditioning.
Meanwhile, the onus is on Callahan to show a commitment to the running game. He’s now in position to be second-guessed by the head coach. And that may be a healthy thing.
It’s not like the Cowboys need to run the ball 50 percent of the time. But if they will at least consider Murray on some downs, it should open things up in the passing game. Callahan should know better than anyone that an offensive line gains confidence when the team’s able to run the ball successfully. And joining the chorus of the “run it” crowd is the man in the tweed coat.
“Obviously we want to have more balance, not only more balance at the end of the game but more balance throughout the game,” said Garrett. “We have to run the ball more than 16 times in the game, and we have to be able to run it throughout the game. We just simply have to do a better job of that.”
Maybe this walk-around coach thing isn’t so bad after all.