At press conferences Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett can at times seem more Princeton than Plano, using words like “patina,” which some reporters have trouble spelling. But when recently talking about his offensive convictions, the message was simple and plain: Attack the defense and push the other team around with your big men.
“We believe that the game is won up front,” Garrett told reporters Friday. “We believe that it’s important to get the ball to your playmakers. We believe it’s important to put the players that you have in the best position for them to be successful.”
How do you get the ball to your playmakers? Give your quarterback time to do so. How do you best position players for success? Keep them on their feet and give them massive holes to run through. It all comes back to the big fellas.
It’s a conviction that has influenced the Cowboys’ draft strategy since 2011, when Garrett became a principal in the Dallas war room, leading to three first-rounders on the offensive line. It is likely the conviction that informed the team’s decision to retain supposedly disgruntled offensive line coach Bill Callahan.
Callahan’s demotion this offseason suggests the team was tepid about his performance as coordinator, despite scoring the fifth most points in the league last year. It was reported that Callahan, under contract through 2014, was denied his request to interview with other teams.
Folks wondered why Dallas didn’t let Callahan go, but the answer was likely as simple as Jason Garrett’s offensive conviction No. 1: We believe that the game is won up front. Whatever other ambitions Callahan may harbor, he’s a good man to have coaching your line.
“He’s just a great coach,” Garrett said. “I like to go over to his side of the field when he’s working drills, and you can see the guys get better before your eyes. The fact that he and (assistant offensive line coach) Frank Pollack have such a good relationship, working with those offensive linemen, I think it’s a great environment.”
Some have suggested the team’s investment in offensive linemen will lead to a deeper commitment to the running game this year. Perhaps that’s true. Garrett and his staff were roundly criticized last season for losses to Detroit and Green Bay, in which they did not protect late leads by running out the clock.
Whether that would have worked or not in those games is debatable. It’s hard to run the ball with 10 defenders in the box, all of whom know you want to run the ball. Three hand offs and a punt wasn’t guaranteeing any victories last year – not with the most porous defense in the league watching from the sidelines.
What’s not debatable is the Cowboys’ conviction of attacking the defense, by passing into a run front, didn’t work against Detroit and Green Bay. Part of that was execution. Twice in the final drive against Green Bay the team ran passing plays that got receivers behind the defense, and quarterback Tony Romo just missed the throws. Good playcalling at its essence is the art of creating such opportunities, but a coach can look pretty foolish when the players don’t execute and the game is lost. Will the team approach those situations differently in 2014? Garrett seems open to it:
“It’s important for us to have convictions – things you believe in, things that have been good for you for a long time,” Garrett said. “I think that’s a really, really important part of life. I think it’s an important part of coaching. Having said that, you have to allow for room to grow, evolve, listen to new ideas, go down maybe a different path, call something a little different maybe than you have in the past, and those are things that we all try to do as we grow as people and grow as coaches.”