Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has been bearing the brunt of the blame of the team’s struggling and seemingly predictable attack for much of the season.
While owner Jerry Jones has been unwavering in his support of coach Jason Garrett returning in 2018 in the days leading up to Sunday’s season final with the Cowboys firmly out of the playoff, he wasn’t as committed to the return of his coordinators.
Jones also second-guessed the goal-line play calls against the Seahawks.
The criticism went to another level on Wednesday when receiver Dez Bryant cited Linehan’s limiting schemes as a reason for his decline in production and lack of chemistry with quarterback Dak Prescott that has typified disappointing passing attack.
Linehan says he doesn't hear the criticism and doesn’t feel any extra pressure regarding his job security.
“I've been doing this for a long time,” Linehan said Thursday. “It's part of the gig. If you spend time listening to whatever you call it, criticism or whatever, then you're not focusing on the right things. We stay in a pretty tight, close-knit group and we focus on our team and what we got to do to win football games and do it the best way we can.
“We're not focused on what people think or how they think we should do it. That's really our approach. That's been my approach.”
Linehan says much of the criticism and frustration with the offense is based on the team’s disappointing record.
He said he didn’t hear much criticism in 2016 when the Cowboys finished 13-3, powered by an offense that was top five in the league in scoring and yardage while being led by Prescott in the midst of the finest rookie season of any quarterback in NFL history.
He said things looked pretty good this year when the Cowboys started 5-3 before losing Elliott for six games due to a suspension.
He said he hasn’t talked to Bryant about his concerns until after the season.
“That whole word of frustration, that's what everybody's focus is on if you don't win,” Linehan said. “We didn't have these questions when we won 10 or 11 games or whatever it was last year. The system hasn't changed. There's no difference. So, when you don't win, people aren't in as good a mood I guess. That comes from being the competitors that guys are. We've got to handle it by moving forward and finding a way to win our ninth game this year and set the tone for the next season.
“We got to get ready to play this game so evaluating where we are and all that stuff, this isn't the time or place. There is a time or place, for that, just like when we adjusted our offense when Tony (Romo) got hurt a year ago. It wasn't exactly the same. You got to make adjustments as you go. Evaluating where you are and what you're going to go and how you do it, I mean eight games into the year, after we played Kansas City, we're 5-3 and a top-five offense. Things were pretty good then. We have the chance to finish as a top-five third-down offense and a top-five red-zone offense, so there's great things that we can build on that's how we're going to focus.”
That Prescott, who has been intercepted 13 times, has seven games passing for 200 yards or less isn’t a big issue for Linehan.
What Linehan is concerned with is Prescott's 6.8 yards per attempt, down from 8.0 of a year ago. That is because of a lack of big plays and a lack of protection. He has been sacked 31 times in 15 games after being sacked 25 times in 16 games a year ago.
“I think that's the big plays,” Linehan said. “I think we're going to run first here. Throwing for 300 yards in this approach is going to be a little bit more of a less common thing. I don't think we say we have to throw for a certain number of yards. I just think the big plays have been the biggest thing. You saw it in the New York game you really saw it for a couple games the big play was a part of that game. We didn't really throw the ball a whole lot more than we normally would. That's going to be a part of our approach but again that's something we'll look at when we look at every play and every game and every scenario. And then we'll make those evaluations then.”