Offense saw improvement under Garrett

It appeared that Jason Garrett was the coach-in-waiting for the Dallas Cowboys.

With the Cowboys moving forward with Wade Phillips as coach for the foreseeable future, it seems Garrett's current path is to remain the offensive coordinator.

Garrett, who has one year remaining on his contract, is the highest-paid assistant coach in the NFL at $3 million.

In 2009, the Cowboys finished second in the league in total offense and first in total yards per play. Garrett's rushing attack was seventh; the passing attack was sixth.

Garrett improved the play of quarterback Tony Romo, who threw for a career-high 4,483 yards and a career-low nine interceptions. Although receiver Roy Williams wasn't a playmaker, Miles Austin emerged as one while earning his first Pro Bowl berth.

The Cowboys rushed for 2,103 yards, the first time since 2001 the unit surpassed 2,000 yards.

But a closer look reveals the Cowboys' offense scored just one touchdown four times -- going 2-2 in those games. The Cowboys also failed to score a touchdown in the divisional playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Wide receiver Patrick Crayton said he was stunned to see an offensive attack that averaged 6.3 yards per play fail to score any touchdowns.

Garrett also was surprised.

"It was disappointing," Garrett said. "They're a good defense, very good up front, and they create some sacks and negative plays. They do it particularly well in [the Metrodome]. We did a lot of good things early in the ballgame, particularly moving the football. We didn't cash in enough on the drives, and that hurts you."

The Cowboys are not moving Garrett out of his current position, but it's clear he needs to improve in a few areas.

For one, he needs to find a way to get Williams the ball. Whether it's Williams or the way the Cowboys are using him, he seems like a $45 million decoy.

The running game, although it averaged 4.8 yards per carry, struggled at times, especially in short-yardage situations.

Phillips believes that Garrett has grown quite a bit as a coordinator in his three seasons but that there is room to improve.

"Game strategy and those things, that's not something you have all the time," Phillips said. "You have to experience it. But he has a great knowledge of the offense himself and what he wants to do with it and what everybody does. He knows what every single person is supposed to do on every single play, so that hasn't changed."

What has changed is Garrett's stock. In his first two seasons, Garrett turned down head-coaching opportunities with Baltimore and Atlanta and watched those teams reach the postseason without him. This season, teams have not asked the Cowboys for permission to speak to Garrett about a head-coaching job.

Now, the possibility of a work stoppage for the 2011 season because of the current climate of the collective bargaining agreement has affected how teams deal with the future of their head coaches. Buffalo and Seattle didn't talk to Garrett before hiring new coaches. Oakland, in the middle of evaluating coach Tom Cable, hasn't reached out to the Cowboys for permission to interview Garrett.

Garrett was linked to the Buffalo job, but never got an interview. Phillips said Garrett could be a good head coach if given the opportunity. Garrett has tried to downplay any future opportunities, saying he's happy in Dallas.

The Cowboys, it would seem, believe in Garrett's abilities to make the offense stronger with the pieces Jerry Jones has presented him with.

"Jason is always way ahead of where he was when we were standing on the sidelines against the Giants [in a 2007 playoff loss]," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "His players certainly are the ones that were there [playing], and we were counting on winning the game against the Giants.

"We are further down the road in executing [now] and frankly putting a game plan in and then trying to implement it on game day. You were hoping that would happen."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.