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Settling The Play-Calling Controversy In Dallas

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While Tony Romo's future with the Cowboys seems secured, Jason Garrett's hinges entirely on the upcoming season. And when it comes to calling the plays, neither's role has been solidified. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
While Tony Romo's future with the Cowboys seems secured, Jason Garrett's hinges entirely on the upcoming season. And when it comes to calling the plays, neither's role has been solidified. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

For all the media hype and hullabaloo surrounding the issue, Tony Romo and Jason Garrett seem pretty removed from the swirling storylines about who will call the plays in 2013. It begs the question: why are writers especially intent on cracking this mystery?

At the risk of sounding cynical, it’s probably because if the Cowboys miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, having a ready-made target to hurl daggers at would make things easier. As Jean-Jacques Taylor of espndallas.com recently pointed out in a column on the play-calling enigma, assigning hefty amounts of credit and blame to singular parties is par for the course in Dallas.

That’s an important notion to keep in mind when you consider where the franchise stands right now. This chapter of the Cowboys’ saga is in dire need of a redemptive forgetting and forgiving process between management and fans, and making the playoffs in 2013 is the only way to get it started.

If that happens, who cares whether it’s the coach, quarterback or guy selling popcorn who’s calling the plays? But if it doesn’t, Garrett will be the first and biggest casualty no matter how much responsibility falls on the players. Which is why he needs to be able to call the plays or, at the very least, have significant input if the task falls to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.

Jerry Jones is a firm advocate of Garrett, but he’s not afraid to pull the plug when the team is sliding (that’s how Garrett got his current gig). But as head coach, his job security is subject to too many other factors to for him to willingly cease to calling the plays — something he’s done since 2007. The number and diversity of variables that could make or break the Cowboys’ playoff hopes and Garrett’s future in Dallas are staggering: the performance of the newly installed 4-3 defense with its concerns at safety and defensive tackle, late-game clock management, short down-and-distance decisions and wind altering the ball’s flight during a walk-off field goal.

Perhaps most importantly, he’d be calling plays for a team that finished 31st in pre-snap penalties in 2012. Garrett’s insights and acumen as an offensive mind are worthless when his players don’t execute, but that rationale won’t save his job.

Regardless of how 2013 plays out, when it’s over, Jones will still be the owner and Romo will still be the quarterback for the next five years. Whatever criticism they get might be vicious, but it will definitely be short-lived and inconsequential. Garrett, on the other hand, will be back to coordinating.

Romo’s heavier hand in architecting the offense should manifest itself on the field. The value his increased role brings to the offense can be recognized exclusively at the line of scrimmage: identifying blitz packages, spotting coverage gaps and executing the hurry-up offense in the right situation. Romo may be good with Xs and Os, but that’s not as uniquely leverage-able as his experience reading defenses.

This year’s offense is polished with familiar weapons and loaded with incoming contributors. Jones should entrust the play-calling chores to the man who can maximize these players’ individual talents and visualize formations and packages for them to succeed in. For now, that’s still Garrett. Instead of stirring up the media with vague declarations of Romo adopting a “Peyton Manning-like” approach to the position, how about just letting the quarterback do the quarterbacking and the coach do the coaching?

As this article from bloggingtheboys.com asserts, the play-calling conundrum won’t be solved by a simple delegation to one, the other or the group. But for the sake of preserving the fun of speculation, for the sake of maintaining the status quo system of blame and credit and for the sake of Jason Garrett’s future as the Cowboys head coach, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it were treated as a black-and-white decision. Then we could at least move on to other things, like how well the plays will move the chains and light up the scoreboard, instead of who deserves a cookie for calling them.