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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys vs. Giants Week 10: What to Watch, Jason Garrett Edition

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Jonathan Bales

General Questions

Will Jason Garrett call plays differently now that he’s the head coach?

I don’t think this will be the case, but it is possible that Garrett’s increase in power could result in a shift in play-calling philosophy.  The offensive and defensive coordinators are generally supposed to call plays with the grander overall team philosophy in mind.  A team’s offensive philosophy is intricately linked to its defensive philosophy, and vice versa.  With Wade Phillips out, Garrett is completely free to call plays in whichever manner he deems most suitable.

The reason I don’t see major changes on the horizon is that I think Garrett was already free to call plays as he chose.  Even when Phillips was in town, it always seemed like the Cowboys had two head coaches–one for the offense and one for the defense.  Phillips rarely contributed to the offensive game plans, so I don’t think much will change.

This could still be a perfect opportunity for Garrett to alter his play-calling a bit, though.  Even if he did have free reign over the offense prior to Phillips’ dismissal, he can use the firing as a sort of “excuse” for a shift in philosophy.  Specifically, I’d love to see the offense be much more aggressive with deep throws, fourth down attempts, and so on.

How will Garrett perform with in-game tasks such as challenges, timeouts, and so on?

It will be interesting to see what sort of game manager the Cowboys have in Garrett.  I have a feeling he’s going to be far superior to Phillips, whose in-game decisions left much to be desired.  Garrett is far more detail-oriented than Phillips, meaning I expect better clock management skills and use of timeouts/challenges.

Will we see any lineup changes?

One of the major critiques of the Wade Phillips era was his inability to properly hold players accountable for sub-par play.  In my opinion, this is a valid criticism.  There is no reason on Earth that Marion Barber should still be starting (or Roy Williams, Igor Olshansky, Keith Brooking, etc.).

Garrett now has the power the do as he wants with the Cowboys’ starting lineup, but will he exercise that power?  I have my doubts.  As I argued above, Garrett was basically already the head coach of the offense.  If he wanted Barber out, it would have happened.  I am very eager to not only see if the Cowboys have any surprise lineup changes on Sunday, but also if Garrett yanks players who under-perform during the game.

The season isn’t over, but any hopes of making the playoffs have been squashed.  An alteration in goals should accompany this change in expectations.  Winning is always the top priority, but the Cowboys need to shift the emphasis of when they are trying to win–namely making 2011 the main focus.

That means the Cowboys need to find out what they have in certain players–Sean Lee, Barry Church, Danny McCray, Sam Young, Phil Costa, and so on.  The first step in improving a roster is accurately assessing current talent.  Dallas has yet to do that.

What sort of schematic alterations will we see on defense?  Will the Cowboys be more aggressive?  How about more deceptive in their intentions before the snap?

The largest changes to the Cowboys following Phillips’ departure could come on defense.  I’m interested to see what sort of mindset is employed by interim defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.  Will he shake up the lineup?  Will he disguise blitzes more effectively than Phillips?  Will he allow the defensive backs to play more aggressively?

The second half of the season is basically a long interview for Pasqualoni, meaning we should see some changes in philosophy.  The starters and scheme the Cowboys used under Phillips weren’t working.  Pasqualoni needs to make changes to survive.

Will the Cowboys regain a sense of pride in their play now that they may feel guilt over Wade Phillips’ departure?

A lot of players, particularly on defense, feel awful about their role in getting their coach fired. . .as they should.  They basically gave up on a guy they all claimed to love.  Their effort was a slap in the face to Phillips.

Now that Phillips is gone, I expect the players to up their level of play.  It shouldn’t take a guy losing his job to spark a sense of pride in the players’ effort, but with how low Dallas has fallen, perhaps Phillips’ leave is a necessary evil.

Will Dallas possess a more aggressive overall philosophy under the “new school” Garrett?

I would be willing to bet that Garrett won’t punt the ball on 4th and 3 at the opposition’s 39-yard line.  He seems to have a rather “new school,” stat-oriented approach to coaching, which is great.  Now it is my job to make sure he’s getting the right stats. . .

Will we see more disciplined play under Garrett?

I think we will, but I don’t know how much of it will be truly caused by Garrett.  Yes, Garrett seems to be more precise than Phillips, but he was already in control of the entire offense in the first half of the season.  They weren’t disciplined under him then, so why now?

The reason the Cowboys will at least appear more disciplined is (once again) regression to the mean.  The Cowboys committed so many dumb penalties under Phillips, how much worse could it get?  They’re likely to improve regardless of Garrett’s tactics.

Of course, refraining from committing penalties isn’t the only manner in which a team can be disciplined.  I fully expect Garrett to employ much more up-tempo practices than Phillips.  That started with yesterday’s full pads practice.

My high school football coach had a saying that I think fits perfectly with the 2010 Dallas Cowboys. . .

Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.

The Cowboys aren’t losing games on Sundays.  They’re losing them in the offseason, preseason, and during the practice week.  If Garrett can change the culture of Cowboys’ practices, he’ll reverse their fortunes on Sundays.

Giants-Specific Questions

Will the Cowboys run the ball more frequently in an effort to shorten the game?

The Cowboys are the largest underdogs in the league this week.  When was the last time that happened?  Garrett knows his team is an underdog, so let’s see if he runs the ball more (even if it isn’t effective) to force both teams to call less plays.  Less plays generally means less scoring, i.e. a smaller probability of the Giants pulling out to a big lead.

Using statistics in coaching doesn’t always need to be incredibly complicated.  Shorten the game, and you have a better chance of winning as an underdog.

How physical will the Cowboys be after practicing in full pads this week for the first time since training camp?

As I said above, the ‘Boys were in full pads for the first time since camp.  That’s a tone-setter and I love the move.  It isn’t like an injury is going to be devastating to the team’s playoff hopes.

So will we see a “hungrier” Cowboys defense?  I’m looking at you, Mike Jenkins. . .

Will Terence Newman move into the slot at time to cover Steve Smith (who has continually torched Orlando Scandrick)?

I don’t think this will happen, but I do wish it would.  Scandrick has been abused by receivers all year, and Smith in particular has had his number basically every game they’ve ever been matched up.  Newman has lots of experience playing in the slot, so why not make the move?

Of course, the major problem would be placing either Jenkins or Scandrick outside on Hakeem Nicks.  Scandrick is the better tackler and should probably man up on Nicks if he isn’t in the slot, but both guys are undersized.  Still, I’ll take my chances with Nicks on screen passes over Smith beating Scandrick deep over the middle all game.

Will Dallas place Gerald Sensabaugh on Ahmad Bradshaw at times as they did in the teams’ first matchup?

Lost in the hoopla of the Cowboys-Giants Week Seven contest was the fact that Sensabaugh did a fairly good job covering Bradshaw (when the two were matched up).  Although Bradshaw killed the Cowboys on the ground with 128 yards rushing, he caught only two passes for 12 yards.

None of the Cowboys’ linebackers can hang with Bradshaw.  Sensabaugh is the defense’s best option.

Can the Cowboys’ thinning defense stop the Giants’ running game?

This is going to be a major key to the game.  If the Giants can run the ball as effectively as they did a few weeks ago, their playaction passing game will destroy the Cowboys’ secondary.  The Cowboys simply don’t have the talent or numbers on the defensive line to properly respect run and get to the quarterback on playaction fakes.   Eli Manning could have all day to pass.  No cornerback can cover a guy for more than three or four seconds.

Actually, I think the Cowboys’ pass rush (or lack thereof) has been totally overlooked as a major contributor to the struggles in the secondary.  The first way to make your cornerbacks look good is to get to the passer.

Will Garrett trust the offensive line enough to allow for the occasional deep playaction pass?

The Cowboys will probably need a big play or two.  They aren’t going to get it on screen passes.  The offensive line is probably going to struggle, but from time to time, Garrett just needs to trust them and take some shots downfield.  If it doesn’t work then so be it, but the Cowboys probably won’t be able to consistently move the ball down the field without opening up the offense a bit.

As always, passing out of two-tight end formations can help.  Not only is the defense already in base personnel and anticipating run, but don’t underestimate Martellus Bennett’s blocking ability.  He’s been far superior to Jason Witten in that department all season.

How many draws will the Cowboys run?

I’m saying double-digits, which wouldn’t be a horrible idea.  Draws will allow Dallas to keep the clocking moving and take advantage of the league’s most aggressive defensive ends.

Will Tashard Choice finally get some work?

I sure hope so.  After being told he’d get significant playing time last week, Choice received all of three carries while the Cowboys were down 38 points.  Marion Barber probably won’t be in Dallas next season.  With playoff hopes shot, why is he still starting?  Give Choice at least 10 touches.

Will Dez Bryant continue to get more reps, including in base personnel packages?

Last week was the first time I saw Bryant on the field in a non-three-receiver package.  That’s good news.  You can expect more of the same this week for the rookie who, in my view, is the team’s MVP over the last five weeks or so.  His effort has been noticeably better than the majority of veterans, which is sad.  He deserves more looks.

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6 Responses to Dallas Cowboys vs. Giants Week 10: What to Watch, Jason Garrett Edition

  1. Mark Watkins says:

    Great points Jonathan. I’m excited to see what happens this week! I sure hope that Choice, Bennett and Bryant all get more playing time.

  2. JJ says:

    After reading so many opinions about Jerry the GM, the draft, head coaches, I must say that I’m anxious to evaluate trends during the “Garrett administration” with a strong eye on Coach P as well.

    Some random musings: someone mentioned how foolish Jerry was to believe in Ball going to Safety and, Jonathan, you replied that Jerry did not go into the season knowing our safeties were poor. This, in large part, is what I hope is evaluated through the balance of the season. I pray that nothing is left to guess work or momentary infatuation. For example, Campo is known to excessively praise any DB that he feels can run in shorts. So, Jason:

    1. Show us that you will truly put the best players performing on the field if someone is not performing.
    2. Show us what the Cowboys have now so no one is guessing next season…this means we need to see Lee, Costa, Young, Lissmore, Church, Williams, Butler, etc.
    3. Do think about experimenting if able. Maybe Ball is a better back up corner than FS. Maybe it’s time to find out if Ogletree should be on the roster. Maybe you think about putting Tony on IR so you can bring in another player to evaluate on your roster. If there are any intriguing players on other teams practice squads, churn the bottom of the roster if it means improving your team.

    I realize Garrett is just the coach but his ability to shape the team’s mindset (from soft to determined) as well as working Jerry for improvements not only this year but next year will be very impressive.

  3. JJ says:

    Jonathan- this is more for you as a poor attempt at humor. While not anything close to a statistician, I endured my way through many of these courses in college. So, I decided to provide you a few stats in appreciation of your approach to penalties as they “regress toward the mean.” My measurements are “alot” and “little” related to trends:

    Scandrick: Get’s burned- ALOT
    ILBs: Fail to cover in space – ALOT
    Dez makes great catches – ALOT
    Davis and Colombo look like they have lead feet – ALOT
    Ball makes plays – LITTLE
    Barber gains big yards – LITTLE
    Our DEs get pressure on QB – LITTLE
    Buehler makes great special teams tackles – ALOT
    Cowboys are losing – ALOT

    These are statistical trends in which I hope you can appreciate and Coach Garrett surely recognizes.

  4. OmarJ says:

    JJ you missed; jenkins: giving up plays-A LOT

  5. JJ–I think you’re correct in your assessment of what JG SHOULD do, but I have my doubts it will happen. He wants to show he can win right now to save his job. It’s really a catch 22 because you can’t hire JG for 2011 until you see him this season, but you’d prefer he coaches as if he knows he’ll have the security of being here next year. Jerry REALLY needs to find a way to create an incentive for JG to play for the future–and telling him he MUST is probably a large enough incentive.

    And I like the stat breakdown haha Finally in mathematical terms Wade could have understood.

  6. moses says:

    You are right. This was a 2 headed coaching job. Wade ran the D. Garrett ran the O.
    I think we saw what Jason Garrett brings just by the way that the offense played.
    The offensive line got pushed around alot. There were a lot of offensive penalties, turnovers and 3 and outs. I did not see any passion from the offense; no fight; nothing. I just saw the players look at the clock periodically wishing that time would expire.

    Garrett had NO answers once Romo went down and continued to show that he really does not have what it takes to be a top-notched coach.
    Wade lost his D. The D stopped playing for him. They quit. Shameful

    I think JJones needs to run out the clock on this season and look for someone with the creativity and football know-how to make a run next year. We need a couple of good offensive linemen to help the O and a couple of good safeties for the D

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