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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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