Cowboys Coaching Crossroad: The Case For Callahan

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May 21, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan talks with center Travis Frederick (right) and guard Ronald Leary (65) during organized team activities at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The consensus forming in the blogosphere that Cowboys offensive coordinator Bill Callahan should get the boot is at best an understandable overreaction to a frustrating year. I feel your pain. At worst, it’s a very Cleveland Browns way to run an organization.

Strange that such animus should be directed at a coordinator and play caller whose offense scored the fifth most points in the league. Not to say that alone is justification for keeping him, but it should at least give his critics pause enough to let him pack his bags before they run him out of town.

Truth is, the Cowboys offense improved in several important ways this season. We can’t know for sure how much Callahan should be credited for those improvements. The talent on this team has gotten better in each of the past three seasons – surely that’s the primary cause for any increased production.

Don’t forget Callahan had a hand in developing that talent. In his role as Offensive Line Coach, the resurgent Doug Free, the much-improved Mackenzy Bernadeau, and the development of the entire line from a liability to a key strength in the zone blocking scheme are all feathers in Callahan’s cap.

Of course, no one’s suggesting the Cowboys fire their Offensive Line Coach. But looking at the history of the Garrett offense at least suggests Callahan’s expanded role as Offensive Coordinator had a positive impact in several key areas.

The Garrett offense has long been known for moving the ball down the field efficiently. In his first six seasons with the organization, the team has averaged a rank of seventh in the league in total offense. Only once, however, have they ranked higher in points per game than in yards per game; the knock has always been that they move the ball well, but they don’t punch it in enough.

NFL RANKINGS

Yardage Per Game

Points Per Game

2007

3

2

2008

13

18

2009

2

14

2010

7

7

2011

11

15

2012

6

15

2013

16

5

Apparently that ended when Callahan took a seat in the booth. The 2012 dynamic – indeed, the five year epidemic everyone was keen on fixing last offseason – was flipped. Once terrific at moving the ball and average at scoring, this unit was middling on yardage and elite at putting up points.

The Cowboys punched it in to the tune of 439 points – the fifth most in franchise history behind the 2007, 1983, 1980 and 1966 clubs. This season, only four NFL teams scored more; those teams averaged 11 wins each, suggesting Callahan’s offense performed well enough to win 11 games, and the Cowboys won only eight for reasons having little to do with their offensive coordinator.

Kicker Dan Bailey had just 12 red zone field goal attempts this season, fewest of any kicker in the Garrett era. Part of that is because the Cowboys weren’t gaining as many yards, so they weren’t moving the ball as well, which means they had fewer red zone opportunities, right? The stats say different:

Red Zone Scoring

Attempts/ Game

TD Rate

2007

3.5

54.2%

2008

2.8

58.1%

2009

3.2

50.9%

2010

2.9

59.8%

2011

3.2

49.0%

2012

3.1

51.0%

2013

3.2

68.6%

Callahan’s offense had as many red zone opportunities this season as any Cowboys team since the 13-3 squad in 2007. The difference was they converted touchdowns nearly 70 percent of the time – a 28 percent increase over Garrett’s six-season average and good for third in the league. The only two teams who converted better will be playing in January, suggesting the Cowboys missed the playoffs this year for reasons having little to do with their offensive coordinator.

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  • Fact Based Opinion

    Jason “Mr. Mediocrity” Garrett needs to go. Period.

  • Jimmy DeMarco

    There’s no question the offense played well this season. & Callahans biggest contribution came up front, with the offensive line.
    So I’ll say this, whoever cost us at least 3 wins because we only ran the ball on avg of 8 times in the second half of games where we had the lead, he needs to go.

    • jarrett p

      The offensive line wasn’t the problem it was jason garrett thought he could line up shot gun all the time never did hard count or changed anything. Tony romo didn’t hike the ball until last second he had to keep telling everyone who to block wasn’t good coaching.your right they were several games that we could not have lost if we would have just run the ball.every body on defense got hurt but the way they wasted their draft picks the last four years caught up with them because we had no talented back ups bw webb please heath should have been run out of town much less been playing in the final game bad coach bad gm another rerun next year.

      • Jimmy DeMarco

        The drafts is what ultimately led to the past 2 years. Injuries obviously killed us the last 2 season’s also. The last 2 drafts were strange, at best. Trading up for Claiborne, didn’t like it. The Crawford pick, there’s something about him, I think he’ll be a decent pick, gotta stay healthy of course. Wilber, eh. Rest of the draft, no need discussing.
        Last year’s draft, Frederick was a good pick. But we could have had him in the next round. Escobar made no sense, especially since they drafted Hanna the year before. But, I do like his athleticism and is a huge target & catches anything. He can’t block me, hopefully he improves on that. Williams was a good pick. Wilcox, I actually like. Webb & Randle, bad picks. No need to draft Randle when we had 3 rb’s already and Webb is atrocious. Holloman, I think he can be good with the right personal around him.

        If Jerry doesn’t make a conscious effort to draft defense this year, probably an OG too, Stephen should file papers with the state of Texas to have him removed from his job for incompetence.
        We need at least 2 defensive lineman, if not 3, a DE, a safety and a linebacker. I could see them drafting either a WR or qb in the late Rd.

        • jarrett p

          I agree but I think we don’t need a qb until next coach comes along. Romo only looks at one side of the field and don’t trust the running game probably why he wasn’t drafted.offense looked smoother with orten even though he had limited reps don’t think he’s the answer either, but I don’t think on defence we have enough draft picks or cap room to fix that problem. Another wasted year another bottle of boz and hopefully a new coach gm and qb the next year.

          • Jimmy DeMarco

            Most definitely a qb will be taken next year.
            And as for this upcoming season, it most likely could be a rough one.
            One draft isn’t going to make our defense top tier. And if we lose Hatcher and Spencer, which looks like a huge possibility, and even though we’re getting back a couple of key players, our defense might improve slightly, maybe lol. But with Ware and Lee apparently injury prone now, I’m not sure how much of an improvement there will be.

            I’m not sure we can draft enough impact players in this draft, on defense, to make a huge jump. And our cap situation, I’ve read so many different articles from, we’re screwed for 3 season’s to, we’ll be able to make a run at Bennett, Johnson, Byrd or Ward and Decker.
            Stories are all over the place.
            It’s definitely going to be a very interesting off season.

  • Juanito Juanito

    callahan should stay but only like offensive line coach, hes good there

  • ed

    Good observations and good analysis in this piece. Here’s a hint to other commenters. If you put the observation before the analysis you too can sound smart like this writer.