Cowboys Signal-Callers, Different But Same

The Cowboys will have their third signal-caller in three years, but he will still be orchestrating the Garrett offense. Are the Linehan-related changes worth it?

After two and a half years under Jason Garrett’s leadership, the Cowboys brass decided the entire team needed new wrinkles. The thought process seemed to be that the young head coach was having difficulty managing the entire team while simultaneously directing the offense. Part of this was bred from the divisiveness of philosophy the brass had instilled to start the previous regime. The offense was left to the OC hired before the head coach, Garrett, and the defense was left to Wade Phillips.

When Phillips was relieved of his duties and Garrett made the main man, the philosophy continued. The defense was Rob Ryan’s defense and Garrett seemingly didn’t have much input. As some fans remember, Ryan wasn’t the first, second or third choice to run the Dallas defense so it wasn’t much surprise when he was removed following the 2012 season.

Undoubtedly, the strength of team over the last few years has been the offense, although it has been far from infallible. After owner Jerry Jones mandated Garrett add a play caller, then chose Bill Callahan to do the job, the results were mixed. Dallas vaulted up to fifth in the league in scoring, but that might have been the result of the team’s vastly improved special teams play. In yardage, Dallas dropped to 16th in the league.

When looking at advanced statistics, it was no change at all. The Cowboys ranked 12th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) in 2011, a Football Outsiders metric that measures how productive an offense is above what the league average team would do in the exact same down/distance/game situation against the same defenses. Dallas ranked 11th in 2012 and 11th again in 2013. Hardly a ripple.

EPA (Expected Points Added) tells a similar story. Advanced NFL Stats tracks EPA of NFL teams, as it is assigns a value to each individual play based on how much it improves (or decreases) the team’s chances of scoring. The Cowboys bounced from eighth in the league in 2011, down to 14th in 2012 and back up to 9th in 2013.

Conversely, something that ailed the team relentlessly seemed to take a positive turn. Pre-snap offensive penalties dropped greatly after the separation of church and state.

Season False Starts + D.o.G.
2006 (Sparano) 25
2007 (Garrett) 37
2008 (Garrett) 35
2009 (Garrett) 29
2010 (Garrett) 33
2011 (Garrett) 32
2012 (Garrett) 35
2013 (Callahan) 21

After averaging 33.5 combined false starts and delay of games through Garrett’s six seasons as play-caller, that dropped precipitously to just 21 in 2013. Most coaches attribute pre-snap penalties to concentration and preparation, and there should be little doubt those things are affected by the coaching staff duties.

If the thought process of bringing in a offensive play caller allowed Jason Garrett to be a walk-around head coach, not weighted down by the responsibility of an OC, then consider the move a success. The team didn’t go backwards in their production, and they improved on a key area that doesn’t appear in the normal stat sheet. It could even be argued the Cowboys yardage totals of the past were buoyed by the need to overcome the pre-snap penalties.

Of course, one would have to ignore the fact that most observers feel that Garrett took over play-calling down the stretch of the 2013 season; despite the team’s contention. The real question is whether or not the Cowboys can have the best of both worlds with Linehan’s addition.

Garrett has brought in a man that he feels comfortable running his show. Linehan and Garrett go back to their days on Nick Saban’s Dolphins staff and being that this hire was actually made by JG, one would expect Linehan to keep the play-calling responsibility as long as Garrett is employed.

Garrett clearly didn’t agree with Callahan’s way of running his offense, yet the unit was able to stay the course. What happens when a coach who Garrett fully supports takes the reins? A coach that has a habit of stepping up the pace of the offense and cranking out plays at a rate near the top of the league?

Based on the philosophy, Dallas’ offense only needs to remain as good as it has been over the last couple of years if it means that a Garrett that can spend more time managing the team. If Linehan actually improves the unit in some areas while not sacrificing what Callahan improved (including the run game quality), this could be a very explosive year for the Cowboys offense.

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