Garrett’s play-calling fails another Giant test

Jason Garrett got a little snarky with the media the other day.

The day after Sunday’s 29-24 loss to the Giants, the Cowboys head coach was asked if he regretted not running the ball in a key situation.

With 1:23 left, the Cowboys had 2nd-and-1 at the Giants’ 19 yard line. They had three timeouts, so running plays were still an option. Instead, the Cowboys ran three straight passing plays and ultimately turned it over.

“They were pretty committed to stopping the run,” Garrett replied. “I don’t know if you saw the game, but we ran it 17 times for 19 yards. It was obviously pretty difficult for us to run the football throughout the game.”

I don’t know if you saw the game?

As a matter of fact, Coach, we did see the game. We saw two other instances in the third quarter when your team needed a yard and managed to get it. One time it was by a run, the second time quarterback Tony Romo could have walked backwards for the yard but chose to dump the ball off.

It’s good to see Garrett get a little persnickety with the media, because it shows passion. He said it rather dispassionately, in his typical press conference drone, but he still said it. Bill Parcells would be proud.

And he’s right to say a run probably wouldn’t have been a good idea, but a smarter question would have been, “Do you regret the passing plays you chose?”

“We missed one of the throws,” Garrett later explained. “We had another one that was a near-miss and then ultimately on the fourth down they made a good stop.”

Here’s what happened: On second down Romo threw a long pass to Jason Witten on the sideline. Based on the angle and the need for near perfect-accuracy, it’s not an easy throw and Witten couldn’t get his hands on it.

On third down, the “near-miss” according to Garrett, Romo threw a deep pass into the end zone for Kevin Ogletree, who lately has been about as reliable as an ’85 Yugo.

That’s probably the play that infuriates fans the most, because on third down the focus has to be on getting a new set of downs. Instead, the pass was for the whole enchilada and it came up empty.

On fourth down, the Giants were able to pressure Romo backwards and he unleashed a prayer that was intercepted. (Even if a Cowboy had caught it, Doug Free was flagged for holding on the play).

So there went your three plays when you only need a yard, trailing by five with under two minutes to go.

It’s OK that Garrett doesn’t feel good running the ball. The Cowboys can rarely do anything in the running game when DeMarco Murray isn’t healthy. But where was a rollout pass-option? A quick slant? The eight-yard pass to Witten that he and Romo have perfected?

The Cowboys had two other instances when they needed a yard, both on the goal line, in the third quarter.

With a 1st-and-goal at the one, two running plays by Phillip Tanner went nowhere. A toss to third tight end James Hanna went over his head.

On fourth down, Romo ran a bootleg to the right side and carried it in himself. So you can get one yard on a running play against the Giants.

The Cowboys had another 1st-and-goal at the one on their next possession and Felix Jones was stuffed on first down. On second down, Romo again rolled to his right and could have scored, but he dumped the ball off to John Phillips for the touchdown.

So if you were watching the game, you did see the Cowboys twice get a yard in short-yardage by either running the ball or on a semi-run. The Giants may not have been in a true goal-line defense later on 2nd-and-one at the 19, but it would have been a similar look if the Cowboys had come out in a run formation instead of the shotgun.

“I think if you look at the landscape of the ballgame, we threw the ball particularly well in all situations. We didn’t run it very well at all,” Garrett said. “If we could have made a first down running the football, we would have changed the call.”

But it’s not so much that Garrett passed on three straight plays at the 19, it was the passes he chose. Or perhaps the passes that Romo checked to. Whatever, it just didn’t look good.

Garrett can bristle at media questions about his play-calling all he wants, but the questions are beginning to become a regular thing. He’s already had two infamous clock management debacles in the last two seasons.

Questioning the play-calling ultimately lead to a much bigger question: Can Garrett handle being both head coach and play-caller?

More and more, that’s a question that needs to be asked – if you saw the game.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire