Cowboys running more, better under Garrett
Jason Garrett called the offensive plays under Wade Phillips, so his promotion to interim head coach shouldn't have changed a thing about how the Dallas Cowboys run and throw.
Boy, has it ever.
In each of Garrett's two games in charge of the entire squad, the Cowboys have run more than they've thrown, something they hadn't done even once. Dallas also won both games, something else that had been unprecedented this season.
Garrett insists the revitalization of the running game stems from how the games have gone overall. In many of the early games, the Cowboys got behind early and had to throw a lot to try catching up.
They also weren't very good when they did run. As a result, last year's average of 131.4 yards rushing per game was whacked to 75.6 yards per game, second-worst in the NFL, when Phillips was fired.
But the past two games, they've been ahead in the fourth quarter, allowing them to close games out by repeatedly handing off against a defense that's already worn out, physically and mentally.
Against Detroit on Sunday, Dallas ran 15 times in the fourth quarter, after running 15 times over the first three periods combined. In that final quarter, Marion Barber broke off a run that went for a season-best 24 yards on a third-and-15, and quarterback Jon Kitna went 29 yards for a touchdown, the longest run of his 14-year career.
''He didn't show a tremendous amount of explosiveness in space,'' Garrett said with a smile. ''But he had kind of an oozy feel to his running style that allowed him to get in the end zone.''
Kitna's scamper also was the perfect play call, something the Cowboys detected in the Lions' defense. Barber's run was a hard burst by a guy who just wanted it.
Put them together, and those are the kinds of things that keep an offense and a team rolling along.
A woeful running game was among the things that led to Phillips' departure.
Over his last three games, all ugly losses, the Cowboys ran for a grand total of 130 yards. They had 134 on Sunday alone. The previous week, facing a Giants defense that was No. 2 in the NFL against the run, Dallas ran 27 times for 103 yards.
There's still plenty of room for improvement. The Cowboys have just three rushing touchdowns - one in September, one in October and Kitna's marking the lone one in November.
But at least they're seeing progress. Their average yards per carry is up from 3.6 in the half-season under Phillips to 4.2 in the Garrett era.
''We've just been more efficient,'' right guard Leonard Davis said. ''If we're getting 4, 5 yards per carry, we're staying you out of those third-and-longs. We eliminate those situations. Being in third-and-2 or third-and-3, it keeps the defense guessing. Are they going to throw it? Run it? What?''
Tight end Jason Witten believes the efficiency comes from opportunities. The more they do it, the better they get.
''We've done a good job executing running the ball and then our line has done a good job of blocking them,'' Witten said. ''We had a lot of (defensive) guys getting through earlier in the year.''
The Cowboys went through a stretch Sunday of six straight series without a first down, with the offense losing a fumble near its own end zone and then committing a holding penalty in the end zone for a safety.
That all helped turn a 7-0 lead into a 12-7 deficit. It could've been a lot worse, if not for the defense.
Then a punt was returned for a touchdown and suddenly the struggling offense was back in the lead. They took it from there, scoring on the next three drives. The fact the game didn't get away from them enabled Garrett to keep calling runs.
''When you're ahead or when you're playing a closer game you can afford to be a little more persistent with the running game,'' Garrett said.
Felix Jones, who has become Dallas' lead back in recent weeks, left the Lions game with a hip injury. He returned later in the game, but sat out practice Monday.
Barber practiced - and wore a covering over his dreadlocks, keeping them inside his helmet. He was pulled down from behind by his dangling hair Sunday, but got lucky that officials mistakenly called it a horse-collar.
Next up for Dallas is New Orleans on Thursday afternoon. The Saints are allowing 105.4 yards rushing per game, about middle of the pack. A sustained running game also would help keep Drew Brees and the offense on the sideline.
''Any time you're balanced on offense, it helps your offensive line, it helps your quarterback and it helps your whole football team,'' Garrett said.