The numbers, the supposed strength of the team, and competitive spirit told you the Cowboys should go for it, but in the end Jason Garrett lost the fight against his inner being, which is a coach who is too afraid to make a mistake.
This is a guy who grew up in an era that said you punt it and play field position, and simply has not embraced all of the statistical analysis that reveals fourth down gambles are worth the risk.
When he needed the smallest of plays, Garrett did not trust a top five NFL running back, two first round draft picks on the offensive line and another who was a first round talent, to run for one yard on the other side of the field in a game his team should have won.
One day after the Cowboys’ 19-16 overtime loss against the Houston Texans in H-Town, Coach Process was justifiably thrown into the DFW Bear Pit for his decision to punt on 4th-and-1 from the Houston 42.
In the locker room after the game, all of the players publicly supported the decision, even if it that required lying through their teeth.
Players always want to go it for it. Owner Jerry Jones would go for it on 4th-and-99.
For a coach who routinely preaches fighting and all of that football-sounding rhetoric, the decision to punt undermines any message of taking the game from an opponent. Or any hint of trust.
The Cowboys handed it to their opponent, because the coach can’t trust his offense.
The decision also bucks his personal trend in the last 20 games to go for it in these situations.
I can’t entirely blame him. How Garrett can trust any portion of his team right now, with the possible exception of kicker Brett Maher, would require a fifth of Johnny Walker Blue.
When your team is 2-3, few portions of your roster merit a place on the trust tree.
But had he gone for it, JG is off the hook with regards to this decision. It would be entirely on his players.
The previous play before the white flag punt was an Ezekiel Elliott run for no gain on a third-and-1. At that point, Zeke had run the ball 20 times for 57 yards.
And the passing game ... let’s not go there.
The Cowboys punted and downed the ball at the Texans’ 10. Considering how well Dallas’ defense had played throughout the game, the decision had legs.
The decision was also cowardly, afraid, timid and untrustworthy of a locker room that he can’t give one more reason not to listen to him. It was also classic Garrett. He can’t help himself, because this is who he is.
Here are the Cowboys’ stats on fourth downs since Garrett took over as full time head coach in 2011, and where they rank in the league in fourth downs attempted.
- 2018: 4 of 6 (T-3)
- 2017: 10 of 19 (8th)
- 2016: 8 of 9 (T-29)
- 2015: 8 of 16 (T-8)
- 2014: 3 of 6 (31st)
- 2013: 4 of 6 (31st)
- 2012: 8 of 11 (23rd)
- 2011: 5 of 10 (25th)
As you can see, it took him years to embrace the risk of going for it on fourth down. He will go for it, when he trusts the team.
He does not trust this team, and a few more of these types of decisions, coupled with losses, and his team will no longer trust him.