IRVING, Texas – The red zone issues Sunday left many wondering how often Tony Romo should have the ability to check out of run plays, particularly close to the goal line.
Head coach Jason Garrett said the coaches make evaluations "all the time" regarding how often Romo has the option to check from run to pass and vice versa. But it doesn't sound like Romo will be limited in that regard going forward, despite the Cowboys' red zone issues and unwillingness to run in close quarters during Sunday's game.
"If you look at the body of work and the efficiency that we've had and he's had, it's been fairly high," Garrett said. "Sometimes, in certain situations when it doesn't work out, people will really highlight that type of a thing, but you have to go back and look at the efficiency of him throwing the football and us running the football over time.
"Sometimes, when it doesn't work out, people overreact to something like that, but you do have to look at the whole body of work. We do that all the time."
One of the more egregious errors came on the Cowboys' first red zone drive during the Dallas offense's second possession of the first quarter. The Cowboys drove down the field and got into a second-and-1 situation at the 49ers' 2-yard line after a 9-yard gain by Lance Dunbar.
The Cowboys ran a jumbo formation onto the field, but there appeared to be some confusion and they burned a timeout. They thought better of the package, or "rethought the situation," as Garrett put in, and the receivers came back onto the field. But the next play still appeared to be a run – at least initially.
Romo saw a defensive look he didn't like and elected to pass, though it didn't seem the majority of the offensive line got the memo. Romo went down for a sack as Justin Smith breezed by Tyron Smith, who appeared to be run blocking or looking to wall off his defender to push him outside. Multiple linemen were near the goal line looking for linebackers to block.
Garrett said he didn't want to get into details about the communication issues going on during that play. DeMarco Murray, who averaged 5.4 yards per rush on the day, looked furious as he turned around to see Romo on the ground.
"I don't want to get into the details of that particular decision, but very easily could've run the ball in that situation," Garrett said. "Hopefully in the future, we'll handle that situation better."
An incompletion later, and the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal. Garrett said the Cowboys could've taken a more smash-mouth approach, but they didn't in that situation.
"In some cases, you give him a run/pass option to get into the most favorable play in a certain situation," Garrett said. "Often times, when you're down in the tight red zone, teams will play coverage, meaning they'll have seven or eight guys deep and have three or four defensive linemen or they'll just blitz you. Sometimes, when you have runs from particular formations or particular personnel groups and they blitz eight guys off the side, the run has absolutely no chance when you're overmatched by two and three guys." [embedded_ad]
Murray finished the game with 22 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown was the only rushing opportunity Murray got on 12 red zone plays from scrimmage.
"We were pretty efficient running the football," Garrett said. "I thought we did a good job even when we were down in the score as a result of the turnovers being persistent in running the football. DeMarco ran the ball well. It starts up front with that offensive line. They did a nice job."
As well as Murray ran the ball, he didn't get many opportunities to finish drives. That was the case on the aforementioned red zone drive that included a sack and a finish Garrett would like to have back.
"If you look at that sequence, two passes to Dunbar got it down close, from about the 20 or so down to the 2-yard line," he said. "Then, like we talked about, there are different ways to go about that situation. Hopefully in the future, we'll handle that better."