The Morning After: Deja Vu for Garrett
Cover any sporting organization for a certain length of time and you will inevitably notice patterns that run through the overall tapestry. Patterns that define their actions and accomplishments. Patterns that also reveal their flaws and short-comings.
And, anyone who covers the Dallas Cowboys for any length of time has certainly seen patterns, or a certain feeling of "we have been here and done this before". You hate to recognize them too often, lest it suggests that there are pre-written narratives for each situation that simply get dusted off and re-used, but in this particular case, I have no choice but to reference something from the not so-distant past to discuss the events in Baltimore on Sunday.
It wasn't that long ago, really. It was the first game of last December. Ten games back. The Cowboys were in another difficult road stadium, this time in Arizona, where they were fighting their tails off trying to get out of there with a win by any means necessary. If you wish to re-live the final events of that gutting road loss to the Cardinals 10 games ago (a stretch that is just 3-7 with 2 of the 3 wins over Tampa Bay), I would encourage you to do so by clicking here.
The similarities are amazing and perhaps proof that the issues that we have been discussing have not been addressed and continue to fester a bit. Allow me to offer a few quotes along the way in italics from that day in December as we also explain how things ended against Baltimore;
one of the reasons for this defeat - not the only reason by a long-shot - was the way their coach seemed to lose the plot a bit down the stretch in the final moments of the contest.
Jason Garrett and his offense had just converted a very difficult 3rd and 11 when Tony Romo made yet another late-game play on a throw to Dez Bryant and set the Cowboys up at the Cardinals 31-yard line. As a point of reference, there was about :25 left in the game when Dez rose to his feet. The Cowboys owned 2 timeouts at this juncture, and despite that reality, the Cowboys did not stop the clock until Romo clocked the ball with :07 left.
The waste of 18 precious seconds made very little sense really. For one thing, their kicker, Dan Bailey, was having a rough afternoon.
In this fifth game in 2012, the situation was slightly different. It was a short pass to Dez Bryant who was tackled with :22 left. The Cowboys held one timeout. It was now second down and the easy thing to do here would be to clock the ball with :14 or so and preserve time for at least one more snap and throw to anywhere on the field - knowing that you still have one last timeout to get the field goal unit back on the field.
Another distinction here is that Dan Bailey was not having a bad afternoon. However, it could be stated that we are starting to wonder if late-game situations agree with him. The kick at Arizona, the kick against the Giants last December (that was blocked), and the kick yesterday could take a 3-7 stretch and get you to 5-5 or 6-4 if he hits them all. That has you winning the division last season and sitting at 3-2 right now. Bailey is a money kicker who is fantastic over his career (40-46, 87%). But, if you add in the end of the 1st half pressure kick at New York last January, he seems to only miss the kicks that are with huge, frenetic pressure as the clock kicks down and as everyone is running around.
Again, to call out Bailey is to call out a kicker that has really been good. But, in both the Arizona and the Baltimore game, if your kicker makes a kick of reasonable NFL distances, we aren't wondering about his coach's ability to manage the clock.
But, to me, this demonstrates a problem that I have felt has been in place since Jason Garrett was hired last November. The job of head coach is one that I believe fits him well. However, the job of Head Coach on top of his prior post of offensive coordinator is too big in my opinion for most in the early portion of their coaching career.
Very few people know how many decisions a head coach must make in 3 hours. I imagine, only those who have done it would know for sure. Now, add in a couple hundred more decisions that any offensive coordinator must make and put them all inside the head of one human. Surely, it must make someone feel like the most important human in the world to make all of those decisions for the Dallas Cowboys. But, every time I see a challenge call that should have been used, a timeout wasted, a 12-men on the field penalty, a needless delay of game, or something else that proves curious, I always come back to feeling like Jason Garrett is trying to do too much.
To put this all on the coach certainly does not put enough on those who are actually on the field. It makes you wonder why in both of those games, the QB couldn't have taken control and hurried his team to clock the ball - or if he feels the situation calls for it - just call the timeout himself. At this age and with this much experience, I don't need Tony Romo acting or being treated like he is new to this sort of thing. The whole point of having a veteran, experienced quarterback leading your team is so that he can handle situations like these as if they are not that complicated.
It makes you wonder why Dez Bryant is comfortable arguing the spot as the precious seconds are ticking away (even though he had a fair point).
It makes you wonder, as NBC showed last night, why Kevin Ogletree and Miles Austin are walking back to the line of scrimmage with the time ticking away.
But, more than anything, it makes you wonder why Jason Garrett didn't just grab the ref standing next to him and call a stinking timeout when chaos was erupting on the field.
And the feelings that were between my ears after the Baltimore game were almost word for word my feelings after the Arizona game last season:
I think Garrett, like Jimmy Johnson, may actually be a better head coach than a coordinator. But, decisions like the one he made yesterday, where he allows 18 seconds to drip off the clock when he needs 5 or 6 more yards to feel confident, make me arrive back at the spot where I have always believed the Cowboys would be better served to hire someone to call plays so that he can have a more clear vision of his head coaching post and make vital decisions at the moments they must be made.
Think about it; What play do we want to run is being decided under the gun here. Also, the clock is ticking. Fast. I need a play and I need someone minding clock and game management under the gun of pressure. On a traditional NFL sideline, I have two brains handling these 2 different tasks. But here, I have Jason Garrett doing both.
And, from the results that matched the results of the Arizona game - where he did not figure out a way to run another play and get each kick into the mid-40's in distance rather than over 50 yards, they failed to improve their odds of getting out of there with a win.
Wins are hard to find in the course of a season. It takes about 9 or 10 to extend your season into the playoffs. So, if something cost you at least one game in 2011, would you leave it all the same in 2012?
Then this conclusion - again from last time we did this and the Cowboys arguably lost a game due to their keystone cops routine:
Can certain people do both jobs? Perhaps. But, in this situation and with this team, I would suggest that Garrett could be a much better head coach if he wasn't trying to do both jobs at the same time. One of my first priorities for the off-season would be to bring in a proper play caller and allow Garrett to over-see and occasionally, to over-rule.
But, as it currently stands, it is too much on this one man's plate. The question will be whether or not he and Jerry Jones are willing to concede this.
Sometimes smart men can be exceedingly stubborn. Especially when they refuse to concede that they may have made a mistake.
As I said yesterday on Twitter, why would Garrett's boss think one man cannot do 2 jobs, when no member of the Cowboys organization is more guilty of over-estimating his ability to multi-task than Jerry Jones himself?
This is a league where long kicks decide games. This is a league where up is down and down is up. No team can rest easy because every Sunday is a war. The margin for error is non-existent and little things matter a lot.
Moral victories do not get you anywhere. The team played well and there is plenty to build upon. To see the running game perform, the offensive line fight back, and the entire team refuse to give up was certainly a basis to believe that this team will not go out like that. But, this is the other side of that ugly, wretched victory against Tampa Bay. You pulled a win that day. This day, regardless of how many things that went well, you left with out the "W".
One could easily argue that they never should have been in that situation. They had to recover their own onside kick successfully for the first time since the Buffalo miracle in 2007. Then, they were given a pass interference call that would have been highly debated in Baltimore today to put themselves in a situation to have a chance to be the first NFC team to get a victory in that city since 2006.
At that point, all Baltimore could hope for was a Dallas mistake and/or a missed kick at the end.
They got both.
For the first time in the Garrett era, I am now questioning something I did not question last December:
Unlike many, I do believe he is the man for this job. I believe he is a leader of men and gets them to maximize their abilities and to never quit in any situation.
If my coach is butchering significant moments in significant games repeatedly, how can I blindly stand by and offer support for his overall program? Either he gets it right or he gets the assistance he needs to get it right.
Hiring a play-caller last spring wouldn't have assured anyone that Bailey makes a kick. But, it would likely make many of us feel better that they did everything they could to increase their chances.
A great coach sees short-comings on his team - even if it is in the mirror. Again, I am not trying to hang this around the neck of Jason Garrett.
But, I sure wish he didn't offer so many opportunities for the media to do just that.