Lip service to run haunts Cowboys


IRVING, Texas -- The big lie at the Dallas Cowboys' Valley Ranch training complex is that coach Jason Garrett wants a balanced offense.

He doesn't. Not really.

If we look at his track record in seven seasons as an offensive coordinator and head coach, it tells us all we need to know. As long as Garrett controls the offense, the Cowboys will have a pass-first mentality.

Garrett is always quick with a plethora of excuses for why the Cowboys frequently abandon their running game, regardless of whether it's working. A sack, an incompletion or a dropped pass has never made Garrett shy away from throwing the ball.

Garrett's flawed approach cost the Cowboys a game Sunday as the Green Bay Packers rallied from a 23-point halftime deficit to beat the Cowboys 37-36.

If Garrett doesn't change the Cowboys' approach in their final two games, they will miss the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, and he might not be the coach next season.

A day after one of the biggest embarrassments of his career, Garrett went into more detail about why DeMarco Murray carried only seven times in the second half after gaining 93 yards and a touchdown in the first half. "We're trying to win the football game. DeMarco knows that," Garrett said. "We want to give him every opportunity we can. He knows how much we appreciate him and how well he's playing, and we'll continue to give him opportunities if they're worthwhile."

Basically, Garrett said when Green Bay started the third quarter with a four-play, 80-yard drive, he figured the Cowboys would need to keep scoring points, so he wanted to be aggressive on offense.

"They continued to move the football, so for us to sit back and say we're going to take a knee would not have been the right approach," Garrett said. "We had to continue to drive the football the best way we know how to do it and score points on the other end."

See, that tells you everything you need to know about Garrett's thoughts on the running game. The Cowboys had a 19-point lead, but he panicked. Murray needs only 23 yards to become just the third Cowboys player since 2000 to gain 1,000 yards in a season. Emmitt Smith had 1,203 yards in 2000 and 1,021 in 2001. Julius Jones had 1,084 in 2006.

Murray ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing with 977 yards. He's the only player among that group with fewer than 200 carries, and he's the only player with more than 100 carries averaging more than 5.0 yards per carry.

It was criminal not to feed him the ball against Green Bay, considering 14 of his 18 carries gained at least 4 yards. He finished with 134 yards on 18 carries.

After the game, the Packers' defensive players admitted they couldn't stop Murray. Then again, every team the Cowboys play knows it doesn't have to stop Murray; it simply has to wait for Garrett, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and quarterback Tony Romo to stop using him.

They do it all of the time.

Callahan loves the 5-yard pass more than the 5-yard run, and we all know Romo would rather complete a 5-yard pass than watch Murray run 5 yards.

This is a losing mentality. The Cowboys throw the ball 64.9 percent of the time. Only the Cleveland Browns (67.7) and Atlanta Falcons (68.3) throw it more.

Of the nine teams with the highest percentage of passing, only the New Orleans Saints (64.6) and Miami Dolphins (64.5) are above .500. The other seven teams are a combined 32-66.

It's not a coincidence.

We're talking about a coach and quarterback duo that ran it nine times and threw it 54 times in a win over the Minnesota Vikings, then became indignant when questioned about the absurd run-pass ratio.

Garrett should've understood the result was good, but the process was incredibly flawed. No one is asking Garrett to run the ball 50 percent of the time. Or even 60 percent. It's about using common sense.

Romo had completions of 27, 22 and 20 yards in the first half of Sunday's loss. Each came on a run fake. That's one good reason to run the ball.

Another reason to run the ball is the Cowboys' raggedy defense. Anything Garrett can do to keep it off the field and shorten the game, he should do, because it is historically bad.

Injuries have compromised the unit, so Garrett must protect it. He didn't against Green Bay.

Near the end of the third quarter, the defense had just allowed a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. The Packers were gaining momentum and the Cowboys needed to regroup.

Murray dropped a pass on first down and Romo threw an incompletion to James Hanna on second down. He was sacked on third down, and Chris Jones wound up punting from the back of his end zone.

The drive took just 44 seconds -- a disservice to a defense that should raise a toast every time it forces a punt.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

"There are always cases as a coach you look back and say, 'I could've done this, or I should've done that,'" Garrett said. "We, as a team, didn't handle that well enough, and we should've handled it better."

Until Garrett opts to change instead of just talking about it, the Cowboys will continue to be the epitome of mediocre.