Why did the Dallas Cowboys abandon a dominant running game while protecting a lead Sunday?
There is no reasonable explanation other than to say it was wrong.
“We should have run the ball more in the second half,” coach Jason Garrett said Monday morning on 105.3 The Fan. “There’s no question about that.”
DeMarco Murray rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, an average of 7.4 yards per carry, in the Cowboys’ 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Only seven of those carries came in the second half despite Dallas leading by 23 points at halftime. Meanwhile, Tony Romo dropped back to pass 51 times, including 23 in the second half.
The Cowboys averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 4.0 yards per dropback in the second half, when the Packers scored touchdowns on five straight drives to pull off the greatest comeback in Green Bay history.
“They had some long drives where they had the ball a lot, but there’s no question when you look back in hindsight that we should have run the ball more,” Garrett said. “We were running it effectively. It does chew up some more clock. It wasn’t like we weren’t able to run it and, boy, the only way we could move this football is to throw it.
“I felt like we had good balance in the first half, made a lot of plays in the passing game, but DeMarco was running the ball well. I think in hindsight you look back on it and say we should have run the ball more, and tried to maintain our balance.”
The most glaring and costly decision to throw was Romo’s. A packaged play was called with run and pass options on second-and-6 from the Dallas 35 with less than three minutes remaining and the Cowboys protecting a five-point lead. It was the coaches’ intention for Romo to hand the ball to Murray despite the Packers stacking the box, but Romo opted to throw a slant to Miles Austin and was picked off by Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields after being hurried and making an off-balance throw behind his target.
Murray slammed his helmet in disgust as he reached the sideline after that play, which set up the Packers’ game-winning drive.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, teams have run the ball 94.7 percent of the time this season (3,061 rushes on 3,234 snaps) on first and second downs when leading by seven points or less in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter since 2001.
“It’s important for us to be able to still find ways to run it when they’re playing run defense,” Garrett said. “I thought we did a good job of that with some of the formations that we used, using motion to allow us to run away from some of the rotations that they had to help stop the run. We just simply needed to do that more.
“Again, the opportunities were more limited. We wanted to stay aggressive. But having said that, I think more balance in the second half certainly would have helped our team.”
However, abandoning the run is part of the Cowboys’ personality, even when they’re leading. Teams run the ball an average of 47 percent of the time when leading this season. The Cowboys have the league’s second-lowest rush percentage (37 percent) in such situations.
On Sunday, with the way Murray was rolling, there was no reason for the Cowboys to abandon the run again.