Garrett’s post-Elliott plan fails Cowboys
Head-scratcher of the week goes to Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
Everyone knew the absence of Ezekiel Elliott would create more pressure on Dak Prescott. But Garrett did a poor job of helping his second-year quarterback.
The Cowboys coach deviated from the philosophy upon which his team is built and, as a result, set the offense up to fail in his team’s 27-7 loss Sunday at Atlanta. Yes, Prescott is a crucial figure for the unit. But part of the reason he has thrived has to do with Dallas’ balance.
Atlanta’s defense had allowed an average of 114.5 rushing yards per contest (and 201 the week before). But the Cowboys made only minimal attempts to establish a run game, their backs posting 65 yards on just 15 attempts.
Garrett put his trust in Prescott’s arm. But a Falcons defense that entered the game with 18 sacks all season racked up eight (six by Adrian Clayborn) against Dallas. A Cowboys offense that had averaged better than 25 points per game mustered one touchdown.
Replacing Elliott’s 98 rushing yards per game is not easy, nor is playing without all-pro left tackle Tyron Smith. But a coach has to find ways to mask those deficiencies, and remaining committed to the run would have been his best bet.
Sure, there’s a drop-off from Elliott to Alfred Morris. A three-time thousand yard rusher and two-time Pro Bowl back, Morris is more than capable. But success in the run game requires patience.
In their first two possessions, the Cowboys ran the ball five times and threw it six times. After having to punt at the end of their first series, they got the ball back thanks to an interception and then scored on a Prescott scramble.
Morris had just 9 yards on those five carries, but he has shown that he grows more effective with a heavy late-game workload. This is where the patience comes in. Two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan, whose teams could always run with the best of them, both in Denver and Washington, always used to preach the importance of sticking with the run early. The benefits are twofold.
Production might not arrive immediately, but after consistently pounding the ball, the defense wears down. Then, the small gains from the first and second quarter turn into long runs in the second half.
The other benefit of maintaining a balance: keeping an opponent honest.
It’s much harder for defenders to go full bore after the quarterback when they have to worry about playing the run as well. That’s when an offense can capitalize on a big play-action pass.
But Dallas didn’t create those opportunities.
The Cowboys scrapped the run midway through the first quarter. Prescott handed off just once more and dropped back 16 times. Then after gains of 14 and 20 yards early in the third quarter, Morris scarcely had his number called again. While Garrett repeatedly called pass play after another, the Falcons feasted on Prescott.
Dallas coaches also made the puzzling decision not to give struggling backup left tackle Chaz Green more help against Clayborn. An extra tight end could have made a difference.
At 5-4, the Cowboys remain in the mix for a wild-card spot. The 6-3 Seahawks and Panthers are ahead of them, and Dallas plays the NFC-leading Eagles
on Sunday night. For the Cowboys to have a chance, Garrett has to get back to balance and patience.
Costly stubbornness in Houston?
Despite his 47.3% completion percentage, 62.2 passer rating, five fumbles lost, two interceptions and just two touchdown passes in four appearances — oh, and a 0-3 record guiding the oncepromising Houston Texans — Tom Savage will remain the starting quarterback.
Bill O’Brien announced the news to reporters Monday morning, the day after his team lost 33-7 to the Rams.
This is truly a mind-bending decision by O’Brien. He committed to Savage to start the season, and the fourth-year pro didn’t even last beyond the first half of the opener. In came Deshaun Watson, and the Texans suddenly looked like a contender.
But Watson’s season-ending knee injury has sent O’Brien back to his seemingly stubborn ways. As Watson showed, the Texans have the components for a thriving passing game. His success even created opportunities for running backs. So why stick with the guy who magnifies every wart on the team? Savage repeatedly displays poor pocket presence. He holds on to the ball too long, which puts more pressure on his line. He takes unnecessary sacks (12 in total this season) and puts his team in worse field position.
But O’Brien plans to stick with him. Perhaps O’Brien doesn’t have confidence in the guys behind Savage — journeymen T.J. Yates and Josh Johnson are the only other options on the roster. But the Texans can’t continue this way. It’s time to swallow pride, call Colin Kaepernick, and have him run the same schemes that Watson put to use to ignite this offense. Kaepernick could struggle some picking up terminology and learning the scheme inside and out. But Savage supposedly knows the system, and it can’t get much worse than this.
Good problem for Vikings
Teddy Bridgewater’s return to the active roster had Vikings fans excited about the chances that the young quarterback can again become the face of the franchise and deliver the promising body of work that he displayed before August 2016’s gruesome knee injury. And this time last week, Minnesota faced the question of whether to stick with Case Keenum or whether to reinsert Bridgewater as starter for the first time since 2015.
But Keenum quieted those “We want Teddy” chants, as he completed 72% of his passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns while leading his team to a 38-30 win over Washington. That’s the fifth consecutive victory for the Keenum-led Vikings, who stand at 7-2.
Now Minnesota has a more important decision on its hands. With Keenum and the offense topping 33 points in back-to-back victories, it seems unwise to risk disrupting this rhythm. Ride this horse until he falters.
The legitimate question for Vikings brass isn’t whether or not they should make a change at quarterback right now, but if they should sign Keenum to an extension. The team doesn’t have a quarterback under contract for 2018. It’s hard to envision Minnesota being able to bring back its current group, which also includes Sam Bradford. Given the injury histories of the other two and the steady, albeit generally unflashy, play of Keenum, riding their current hot hand beyond this season could be the smart bet.
Jason Garrett’s Cowboys running backs had 15 carries while Dak Prescott threw 30 times against the Falcons.