Cowboys have zero sense of timing
The Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator had a hell of a game Sunday. But the head coach came up woefully short in yet another heart-breaking defeat.
Jason Garrett had 13 days to prepare the Cowboys for a road game in the most hostile of NFL stadiums. And by leaning heavily on a running game that had been on ice since a Week 1 win over the Giants, the Cowboys physically manhandled the Ravens' storied defense.
And all they had to show for it Sunday afternoon was a 31-29 loss that dropped them into the cellar of the NFC East. Fan bases in Washington and New York watched their teams score impressive wins against formidable opponents. The Cowboys left their fans wondering how good this team could be if they weren't completely clueless at the worst-possible times.
If you looked at the stat sheet separate from the final score, it would seem virtually impossible for the Cowboys to lose. But this team's never been able to stand prosperity during the Garrett era. I'm reminded occasionally by folks who work inside the walls of Valley Ranch how Garrett instilled a form of discipline that had been lacking under Wade Phillips. But no one's going to celebrate players showing up for meetings on time or brisk practices if it doesn't translate to more wins on the field. And with each passing week, Garrett is actually making the Phillips era look like the glory days.
On Sunday, he presided over an offense that kept making back-breaking mistakes in the red zone. A 13-penalty game is a familiar sight to fans, but the illegal shift call was a new wrinkle. Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan promised to simplify things for quarterback Tony Romo this week, but that wasn't evident to the naked eye. Romo spent much of the afternoon yelling "kill, kill, kill" before the snap in an attempt to change plays. This led to the Cowboys barely being able to beat the play clock on numerous occasions. Thank goodness referee Mike Carey took responsibility for spotting the ball too late or the offense would've been hit with a key delay of game penalty.
I'm not sure if any quarterback in the NFL has more on his plate than Romo when it comes to getting the ball snapped. Most of Peyton Manning's pre-snap drama involves him trying to confuse the defense. Romo appears to be informing at least five of his teammates of their individual responsibilities before each snap.
This has to be a reflection on Garrett and his hand-picked assistant Callahan. I thought the arrival of Callahan would take some pressure off Garrett and allow him to have a better handle on how to manage games. Well, that certainly wasn't the case Sunday. At the most critical point of the game, players looked dazed and confused. Garrett has been praised, at times, for his emphasis on situational football. He had special clocks installed at Valley Ranch so the team could go over different scenarios.
But in the game's final moments Sunday, coaches and players showed a stunning lack of clock awareness. Following an onside kick recovery and pass interference penalty, the Cowboys had the ball at the Ravens' 34-yard line with 26 seconds left on the clock. Kicker Dan Bailey has been extremely dependable for this team, but it was important to try and get him a few yards closer. A slant pass to Dez Bryant only gained 1 yard. With 21 seconds and one timeout remaining, players reacted like the first quarter was coming to an end. Romo rushed to the line of scrimmage, but wide receivers were jogging back with no sense of urgency. Garrett would later say that it took players awhile to extricate themselves from the pile, but anyone watching the game knows that wasn't the case.
Garrett's failure wasn't as glaring as what happened in Arizona last season, but he's accountable for how his players react in these situations. With a timeout left, the Cowboys could've taken one last crack at the middle of that Ravens defense that had been knocked off the ball all day. At the worst, you get stuffed for no gain and then try the same 51-yard field goal. At best, one of the Cowboys running backs busts through for 3 or 4 yards that could've put Bailey in a more comfortable position.
It was the most striking example Sunday of a team that seems to be disjointed in so many areas, including special teams. To hear owner Jerry Jones come out and defend Joe DeCamillis was laughable. On a team that's already having to overcome so many self-inflicted mistakes, you can't give up a 108-yard kickoff return. That's at least the third game-changing play this unit has given up this season. DeCamillis has done enough to lose his job this week, but Jones wouldn't let that happen even if Garrett wanted to pull the trigger. Jones was already looking at the silver linings that came out of Sunday's loss. He believes it's incumbent on him to express faith in his team even though it continues to come up short in several areas.
If you're into moral victories, Sunday's loss offered some positive signs. But if you deal in cold-hard reality, it was simply another reminder that Garrett's failing at his job.