Jason Garrett's shotgun misfires in red zone

It’s silly to panic after one preseason series, but the starting offense’s red-zone stall in the Hall of Fame Game was all too familiar.

As Calvin Watkins pointed out, the Cowboys were a mediocre red-zone team last season. That’s inexcusable for a team that features a massive offensive line and a running back known as the Barbarian.

But it’s tough to be a physical football team if you operate out of the shotgun inside the 5. The Cowboys’ final two snaps of their 14-play, 63-yard opening drive were incomplete passes out of the shotgun. Marion Barber didn’t touch the ball on that set of downs.

The shotgun in punch-it-in territory is a personal pet peeve of mine, but it seems to be a formation that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett goes to often in such situations. Why does the Princeton-educated play-caller do that?

Garrett said his formation choices are often dictated by what the defense does. The Bengals were blitzing heavily up the middle, according to Garrett, so he wanted to spread them out.

Garrett often says the Cowboys pride themselves on being a physical football team. Can a team have that personality in a finesse formation like the shotgun?

“You need to be a power, physical football team really in all your personnel groups,” Garrett. “We’ve done that fairly well from what we call 11 personnel, our three-wide receiver sets. Obviously, when we’re in the bigger personnel groups, we run it pretty well too.

“That’s the nature of your football team – the guys you have, the aggressiveness with which you play – and you better be physical with all of your groups. We try to do that.”

They didn’t succeed often enough out of the shotgun within sniffing distance of the end zone last season. That trend continued in the preseason opener.