ARLINGTON, Texas – It has not gone unnoticed that, despite a strong effort running the ball, the Cowboys turned away from their ground game in the red zone against San Francisco.
The Cowboys ran five plays in the red zone during the first half, all of them passes. On two of those passes, Tony Romo threw completions to Lance Dunbar and Cole Beasley for a combined 22 yards. On the other two, he threw an incompletion and an interception.
Of the five plays, though, none encapsulates the turn away from the run more than a second-and-1 from the San Francisco 5-yard line. Trailing 7-0 early in the first quarter, and with DeMarco Murray averaging five yards per carry, Romo appeared to check to another play. Tyron Smith missed the call, leading to a sack for a nine-yard loss.
The Cowboys kicked a field goal.
"I'm guessing right now to some degree, but I know that will be born out that what he saw was a pretty stiff defense to try to get the ball in for a couple of yards and thought he could throw the ball in there," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "We quite easily could have had a lineman not hear the checkoff and that's why you got the sack, very easily."
The 49ers, even with several key starters sitting, boast a stout defense, which probably contributed to the decision to pass. Jones added "He obviously thought they loaded it up," to his assessment of the decision.
It still seems puzzling though, that with three first-round draft picks on the offensive line and a running back who averaged 5.4 yards per carry on the day, the Cowboys shied away from attempting to run near the goal line.
Jones attributed the decision to the quality of defensive fronts in the NFL – particularly in obvious running situations.
"I'm not second-guessing the call, but if you're a yard from the goal line and you have two or three downs, they'd make them all in the NFL -- and they don't at all," he said. "Those guys dig in and can get under your offensive linemen and then the next thing you know you've had a stop."
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett declined to comment on the mechanics of the [embedded_ad]
playcalling, but Romo echoed Jones' sentiments that trying to run against a concentrated defensive front can prove disastrous at the NFL level.
"If you have a run called but you have a hitter in the hole, it's not going to turn out well," Romo said. "I know it sounds easy to say 'Just run the ball,' but we have six blockers and if they have seven people, one of them is going to be free. If he's in the spot where we are running the ball, not many good things are going to happen."