By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—After witnessing the play-calling in Sunday’s games involving NFC East teams, I have come to the conclusion to every armchair quarterback, every Madden video-game junkie, retired ex-jock (regardless of sport) and every football beat writer will now think they’re better play-callers than the coaches who get paid to do it.
With the bad play-calling by coaches in some of Sunday’s games, it is easy to understand why folks would have that delusion.
Let’s start in Dallas where the Cowboys blew a 23-point halftime lead to a Green Bay Packers squad that was without Aaron Rogers. Now granted, we all know that Dallas’ defense is just awful in every aspect of the game and we’re not all that surprised to see them give up points.
The Cowboys had the ball and were leading 36-31 with 4:17 left in the game. Football 101 says you run the football and make Green Bay use their time outs.
On first down from the Cowboys 20, Tony Romo tried to hit Dez Bryant on a fly pattern that was incomplete, forcing a stoppage of the clock. On second down, Romo gets sacked, loses two yards while the Packers call their first time out.
Luckily, on third and 12 from the 18, Romo hits Bryant for a 13-yard gain to the 31 and a first down. On the next play, Romo hands off to DeMarco Murray, who was averaging 7.4 yards per carry, for a four-yard gain that forced Green Bay to take their second time out with 2:58 left.
With the way Murray was running the football, you would think that the Cowboys would put the ball in his hand to further melt the clock and force Green Bay to take their last time out.
On second and six from the 35, Romo, according to head coach Jason Garrett, audibled to a pass play instead of a run. The pass was thrown behind wide receiver Miles Austin and intercepted by Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields.
“I think (Romo) be the first to tell you that he should have run the ball in that situation,” Garrett said after the game.
You can blame Romo’s penchant for tossing interceptions in key situations and for being dumb enough to call for a pass play when you need to run out the clock. To tell you the truth, I blame that on Garrett and his lack of leadership.
At that point, Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, should have made it clear to Romo that it was more important to run out the clock, especially when Murray was killing the Packers in the running game.
Football 101—whether we’re talking Pop Warner, high school or college, says when you have a lead with under five minutes, you milk the clock and make your opponent use his timeouts. You don’t risk a pass there because an incomplete pass stops the clock and an interception or a fumble gives the other team an opportunity to rise from the dead.
The Packers did exactly that and won the game 37-36. If the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs and Garrett is fired, he will look back on this game and have only himself to blame.
Thanks to the generosity of the Cowboys, the Eagles (8-6) are still a game ahead in the NFC East after a bad 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
While not as egregiously bad as Garrett’s play-calling, Chip Kelly had his own unique contribution to why coaches do stupid things.
In the third quarter with the Eagles down 24-9, they faced a 4th and one situation at their own 24. Common sense or conventional wisdom says you cut your losses and punt for field position.
But Kelly decided to go for it and they Eagles didn’t make it. To their credit, the Birds defense held the Vikings to a three and out and a field goal. If they had punted and held the Vikings to a three and out on Minnesota’s half of the field, you wouldn’t have given up any points.
Once again, we have to remind Kelly that this is an NFL game in December, not Oregon versus a Washington State squad in the Pac-12. Even the worse teams in the league will stop you on fourth and short deep in your own territory. If he doesn’t believe that notion, give him Barry Switzer’s number.
Of course, there were a couple of other bonehead decisions in this game by Kelly today. When you have the NFL’s leading rusher at your disposal, shouldn’t you use him a little bit?
LeSean McCoy had just 38 yards (4.8) on eight carries while quarterback Nick Foles led all rushers with 41 yards. Really?
One week after rushing for 217 yards against one of the league’s best interior lines in a few inches of snow, McCoy became a forgotten man in the Eagles attack Sunday even before the game got out of hand. He got just four carries for 19 yards in the first half.
Trailing 17-9 going into the third quarter, you would think they would put the ball in McCoy’s hands on their opening possession of the second half to establish some rhythm . But on their first three plays of the half, they passed and went three and out.
The Vikings didn’t stop McCoy, the Eagles coaching staff did.
On special teams, Eagles placekicker Alex Henery was pooch kicking the ball short to keep it away from the Vikings dangerous kick-returner Cordarelle Patterson, who has a 109-yard kick-off return. All that did was give Minnesota the ball in good field position to launch scoring drives.
The most glaring example was the kickoff after the Eagles scored a touchdown to cut the Vikings lead to 27-22 near the end of the third quarter. Henery short-hopped the ball into the arms of tight end Chase Ford, who took the ball from his 31 and returned it to the Vikings 46.
It took the Vikings six plays to score the touchdown that extended lead to 34-22. The Eagles would come no closer.