John Lanfranca
JL's Observation Deck - Week 9

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You really have to be careful these days about letting the television media brainwash you into becoming mind numbingly presumptuous. The fact that Dez Bryant ’s passionate actions on the sidelines completely overshadowed the awful game plan implemented by the coaches in this Dallas Cowboys' contest against the Detroit Lions was plenty cause for me to break down not only the factors that led to this latest Cowboys’ heart-breaking defeat, but their overall state of mediocrity as well. Let’s get started.

Although Jason Garrett’s play-calling duties were revoked in the middle of the 2012 season, the offense is still under his guidance.

On the offensive side of the football, the Cowboys continue to emphasize what they do the worst, and minimize what they do best. This offensive line is not suited to become a physical, blow-you-off-the-ball type of front. Yet, of the 56 plays the offense ran on Sunday afternoon, 26 were runs, and those 26 runs averaged a putrid 2.4 yards per carry. In the first half especially, this offense under Bill Callahan started off extremely conservative. Dallas started off the game running the ball seven of its first 11 plays, and in fact gained a first down on three of the four called pass plays. On 1st-and-10 situations in the first half Sunday, again the Cowboys chose to run the football 64 percent of the time. The worst part about it is, this team only gained 13 first downs in the duration of the entire game with 77 percent of them being attained on called passing plays.

To make matters even worse, after a few big plays in the passing game that gave them the lead late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys got the ball back twice with a three-point lead. The predictable, conservative nature of Garrett again showed its ugly face. Running the ball on both drive’s first and second downs on consecutive possessions for a total of minus-6 yards on those four runs. Of course, no first down was achieved on either one of these drives and Dallas ultimately settled for a field goal after being handed great field position. Six total plays run on both drives combined, not nearly enough time taken off the clock and only three points scored. That’s the definition of taking your foot off the gas pedal in the sport of football.

While the offense lacked creativity, the defensive schemes used by Monte Kiffin were even worse.

I have never seen a defense who gave up 632 total yards and the game-winning touchdown drive talked about less in the media than this Cowboys’ bunch. Sure, they created four turnovers, which is always a big boost, but you can attribute that more to luck than skill in this instance. Detroit’s entire offense was extremely excited about Calvin Johnson seeing the least amount of double coverage he has seen all season long. That was clearly displayed by the fact Matthew Stafford targeted Johnson 16 times as they connected for better than 300 yards.

After getting lit up for 400 yards passing already, the Cowboys defense needed to step up as the Lions got the ball for one last drive with a minute to go at their own 20-yard line and the Cowboys up six points. On the first three plays of this Lions' possession, the defense not only did not disguise anything, but they played the exact same soft Cover-2 shell on three straight plays. Dallas rushed four defensive linemen at the quarterback all three plays, had three linebackers in the game all three plays and had their safeties playing about 25 yards off the ball in an immediate back-pedal right from the snap on all three plays.

Play 1: All three Lions’ receivers ran vertical routes,
Calvin Johnson , Kevin Ogletree and Kris Durham got down-field as Brandon Pettrigew and Reggie Bush leaked out as check-downs for Stafford. Stafford ultimately took the short gain dump down to Bush. No harm done.

Play 2: The exact same offensive play, except
Calvin Johnson ran a deep in cut about 17-18 yards downfield. To show just how far the linebackers were dropping, the closest defender to Johnson after he caught the football in the middle of the field was cornerback Brandon Carr . When Johnson made his in cut, Carr was just making his break about five yards away from Johnson as the free safety was still an astonishing 16 yards from the receiver the football was going to. Kiffin’s defense gives the Lions a free 17 yards.

Play 3: Stafford has seen this defense for two straight plays and finally takes his vertical shot to a streaking
Kris Durham down the sideline. Durham also ran a vertical route on all three of these plays, but despite that, when Stafford released the ball, Durham was right at the 50-yard line behind the Cover-2 corner. Where was the safety, you ask? Just now making his break out of his back pedal all the way back at the 30-yard line. Stafford makes a great throw and all of the sudden Kiffin’s extremely soft prevent style Cover-2 shell has let the Lions gain about 60 yards in 30 seconds.

What happened next might have even been more incredible than what had previously just taken place. Kiffin finally switches his defense to a man-under Cover-1 which asked his one safety (
Jakar Hamilton , who had been on an active NFL roster for all of three days) to cover anything deep from the middle of the field, leaving Carr one-on-one with Johnson in the slot. Stafford saw this, put the ball on the outside shoulder of Johnson and not surprisingly, Johnson beats Carr for the catch as the Lions now find themselves on the 1-yard line. Hamilton was late in making his break and after an easy jumping quarterback sneak by Stafford on the next play, the Lions find themselves with a win after needing to drive 80 yards in one minute.

I can only hope I conveyed clearly exactly what I witnessed on the coaches tape. The state of mediocrity the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in should be nothing new for their fans as Jason Garrett is 25-22 in his tenure as head coach. You know something is wrong when your head coach is stripped of his play-calling duties as he was in 2012. What kind of message are you sending when you admit your head coach is not qualified to call plays, but yet is still qualified to lead your team? Try to lead your team, I should say, as this team completely lacks the leadership at the top it so badly needs.

If you want to see Bryant’s sideline antics stop, bring in a real leader as head football coach. They would love to have a guy who they have to reign in a bit because he is so passionate about his craft. I know they would much rather have that than somebody they have to constantly motivate and manufacture the fire in.

Garrett’s conservative nature, combined with Kiffin’s lack of creativity and stubbornness is a very bad match for this football team as a whole. Dallas was outgained 632-268 Sunday for a reason. Sometimes I wonder if owner Jerry Jones purposefully hires and keeps such poor choices as his head coach for his storied franchise just so he can stay in the limelight just a little bit longer.

Follow me on twitter @JohnnyLFootball for more football tidbits. Thanks again for reading.