On Saturday night, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Cincinnati Bengals at AT&T Stadium in their home-opener 24-18. In the first quarter, starting running back DeMarco Murray fumbled the ball. Fortunately, it was recovered by tackle Jeremy Parnell and did not result in a Cowboys’ turnover. Unfortunately for Murray, it did result in head coach Jason Garrett benching him until the second half of the game. And I believe this action was a result of Garrett’s delegation of play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.
Aug 24, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett on the sidelines in the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at AT
Up until this offseason, Garrett has made all the offensive play calls for the Cowboys during their games. And for a first time head coach, I’m sure things can quickly become overwhelming with that much responsibility on his shoulders. But at the behest of owner and general manager Jerry Jones, Garrett reluctantly delegated those duties to Callahan this year. And the results have been positive so far. Garrett finds himself having more time to coach and focus on game management. The latter being a criticism often thrown at the young head coach.
I believe this new sense of freedom on the field actually allowed Garrett to make the call to bench his starting running back on Saturday as punishment for fumbling the football. If this exact play happened last year, I”m not sure Garrett has the time to do so. He explained the thought process behind the benching of Murray in his post-game press conference:
"“You can’t hand the ball to a guy if he’s going to fumble it. Those should be safe plays. Control the game type plays. If the ball comes out, we really don’t have a chance to be a good football team. Obviously, in Arizona last week, we turned it over six times. We made a huge emphasis on taking care of the ball and taking the ball away all through the offseason. All through training camp. And then we have a game like that. And we make a further emphasis as a staff, as a football team, all week long. And then on the fifth or sixth play of the ball game, the ball comes out in the shadow of our own goal post. We can’t have it. I don’t care who you are. We can’t have it.”"
When asked if this would be something he would consider doing in the regular season, Garrett declined to speculate. Still, there was a certain amount of toughness that he displayed by making this call. And while delivering the above quote to the media, an underlining anger emerged. The fact that the fumble happened after so much emphasis was placed on it all week, really pissed him off. And for a coach who many think is overly-conservative and emotionless, that’s a big step. I guess he really is learning on the job.
And Murray’s cause wasn’t helped by the fact he also had an assignment error on the first sack of the game. Fortunately, DeMarco is the type of player who reacts well to criticism. And he rebounded well in the second half of the game against the Bengals recording 45 rushing yards and a seven yard touchdown reception. Murray also responded positively off-the-field when talking about his head coach:
"“As a competitor, you’re never happy to not be in the game and compete. He is a great coach. I’m always going to be behind him. Whatever is best for the team. I’m all for it. We know how important the ball is. I think there are different approaches to go about it. They chose to go about it that way and I respect that. I just have to take care of the ball.”"
Translation: Message received coach.
I honestly do think the delegating of Garrett’s game play-calling responsibilities will continue to payoff in positive dividends on the field for Dallas. He now has more time to argue with officials, make quicker decisions concerning the challenging of plays, and to simply be a present-minded coach for both sides of the ball. There are plenty examples of winning coaches in the NFL who call their own plays. But they all have more experience at the position then Garrett. For a head coach who has never held that position at any level of football before, giving Garrett a bit more breathing-room during the game could end up being the best thing for the young coach. And hopefully, it leads to playoff success for the Cowboys.