Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie confirmed the trade Monday. Oakland will now have three first-round picks in 2019 after also getting the Chicago Bears‘ selection in last month’s Khalil Mack trade.
“I got a call from [Cowboys vice president] Stephen Jones this morning, he put it on the table, what he wanted to do, and he wanted the player, and he gave me the pick, and that’s what it came down to,” McKenzie said.
Cooper, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, has 22 catches for 280 yards and a touchdown in six games this season. He opened his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and made the Pro Bowl twice, but his numbers have fallen the past two seasons.
“I hate to see good players go, but I was on the practice field when Reggie came to me and said the Cowboys would do this for a No. 1 and I said, ‘Let’s do it,'” Raiders coach Jon Gruden told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. “We’re going to try to build this thing the right way. We now have five No. 1 picks in the next two years, so I’m excited about that.”
McKenzie said there had been interest in the 24-year-old Cooper from multiple teams this season, but he was holding out for an offer of a first-round pick, which the Cowboys delivered.
“I think he’s a first-round player, that’s why I had to get that first-round pick,” McKenzie said. “Now, has he been inconsistent? Absolutely. But, has he shown greatness? Absolutely. The consistency is something that I’m sure he’s worked on, and this guy’s still a young player. I think he’s going to do well down in Dallas.”
The 3-4 Cowboys had been doing their due diligence on receivers leading into the trade deadline and had zeroed in on Cooper, who became available in recent weeks with the Raiders’ 1-5 start in the first season of Gruden’s second stint as head coach.
The Cowboys placed Williams on injured reserve with a foot injury Oct. 6. Last week, Williams was suspended for three games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Veteran Brice Butler, who was signed Sept. 18, was released Monday to make room for Cooper on the roster.
The passing game has struggled for most of the season, ranking 29th in the NFL. Beasley leads the Cowboys with 33 catches for 350 yards and two touchdowns; no other wide receiver has more than 13 catches.
Gallup caught a 49-yard touchdown pass in Sunday’s loss to Washington and has 10 catches for 190 yards. Hurns has 13 catches for 158 yards and had his most productive game of the season against the Redskins with five catches for 74 yards.
Austin has been the big-play threat, with seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns, but he is expected to miss multiple weeks with a groin injury.
The last time the Cowboys made a major in-season trade for a wide receiver was in 2008, when they acquired Roy Williams and a seventh-round pick from the Detroit Lions for their first-, third- and sixth-round picks.
Williams did not live up to the expectations after the trade, topping out at 38 catches for 596 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009. The Cowboys released Williams after the 2010 season.
Cooper is set to play 2019 under a fifth-year option worth roughly $13.9 million.
Salary-cap space will not be an issue for the Cowboys, although they want to re-sign leading pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, cornerback Byron Jones and can look at long-term deals for Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott as early as this offseason.
If Cooper provides Prescott, who is signed through 2019, with the outside threat the Cowboys have lacked this season, the quarterback’s chances of landing a big deal would increase.
Cooper is in the NFL’s concussion protocol after suffering the injury Oct. 14 in Oakland’s loss to Seattle in London.
The initial reaction to this move has been diametrically opposed to the chatter we saw the last time Gruden traded away one of general manager Reggie McKenzie’s star selections. When the Raiders traded Mack to the Bears for a package built around two first-rounders, the NFL world seemed shocked that the Raiders would settle for such a pittance. This time, Gruden and the organization have been lauded for nabbing a premium asset while getting rid of a player they clearly didn’t intend to re-sign.
When I wrote about the Mack trade, I tried to understand why the Raiders could justify getting rid of him. This time around, let’s look at things from the Cowboys’ perspective. What’s their logic in going after Cooper? Can we piece together a scenario in which they’re better off in the short term or long term by swapping their first-rounder for Cooper?
This trade isn’t really about Cooper. It’s about Dak Prescott and whether the Cowboys want to commit to Prescott at the going rate for a franchise quarterback once his contract is up after 2019. After a stunning 2016 season, Prescott took a step backward in 2017 and hasn’t been much better so far in 2018. The Cowboys have essentially wasted Prescott’s rookie contract with salary-cap missteps and injuries to would-be offensive contributors.
The biggest problem for Prescott, at least in 2018, has been the issue many expected before the season: He’s saddled with an absolutely abysmal group of receivers. Prescott does get to play with Ezekiel Elliott, but I ranked Dallas’ weapons 30th heading into the season, even with Zeke. Prescott’s best wideout this season has been slot receiver Cole Beasley, with the likes of Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup and Allen Hurns failing to consistently make plays. Top tight end Geoff Swaim, who had nine catches in his first three seasons, was on pace for 55 targets before he went down with a knee injury on Sunday.
No receiving corps in the league looked less imposing on paper heading into the season, and the Cowboys have lived down to expectations. The NFL’s Next Gen Stats reveal what Dak is dealing with, as the league tracks the yards of separation between a receiver and the closest defender when a pass arrives. Just 36.4 percent of Prescott’s passes have gone to open receivers (3-plus yards away from a defender) this season, the lowest rate in the league among quarterbacks with 200 or more attempts. The league average is 45 percent. Prescott’s average pass goes to a receiver with 2.9 yards of separation. Again, that’s last among the 22 qualifying passers. Just 43.9 percent of Prescott’s pass yards have been generated by receivers after the catch, which ranks 21st out of 22 passers.
Once Cooper clears the league’s concussion protocol, he should be a receiver capable of creating one-on-one separation for Prescott. Cooper has been targeted only 32 times this season, but he has averaged 3.4 yards of separation on throws 6 or more yards downfield, which is the best rate in the league. Over the past three seasons, Cooper ranks 16th in average separation at target among receivers with 200 or more targets, alongside wideouts such as Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Odell Beckham Jr., Adam Thielen and Antonio Brown.
Beasley also ranks highly in the separation stat, in part because he’s running routes out of the slot and rarely being thrown contested passes. The division of labor in the slot might become a problem for these Cowboys. When Cooper struggled to start the 2017 season, the Raiders helped spark their star wideout back to life by moving him into the slot, where he posted most of a 210-yard, two-touchdown game against the Chiefs. The Cowboys would likely be smart to give Cooper plenty of reps in the slot, but they would be doing so at the expense of Beasley.
Dallas can’t realistically evaluate whether Prescott is its quarterback of the future with the Cowboys’ pre-trade wideout corps. Trading for Cooper gives them a credible wideout with which to analyze Prescott. Cooper’s numbers have slipped over the past two seasons, but the former Alabama star hasn’t suffered the sort of lower-leg or foot injury that would sap his athleticism, and he doesn’t turn 25 until next June.
Unless there’s some missing piece of evidence, it’s difficult to figure out why Cooper has declined the past two seasons. Some of the blame has to go to the Raiders’ coaching staff. They let offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave leave after the 2016 season to promote quarterbacks coach Todd Downing, in part to prevent Downing from leaving for a coordinator’s job elsewhere. Downing was an absolute disaster in his season at the helm. Gruden is now the de facto offensive boss, and while Cooper hasn’t been 100 percent for much of the season, he racked up two 100-yard games in his first four starts before the trade was made.
Adam Schefter breaks down the Raiders’ trade of Amari Cooper to the Cowboys for a first-round pick.
The clock on a Prescott extension is ticking. If the Cowboys were absolutely sure they wanted to stay in the Dak business for the next several seasons, they would sign Prescott to an extension this offseason in advance of the final year of his rookie deal. It’s the same fourth-year timeframe the Raiders had with Derek Carr and the Seahawks used with Russell Wilson, each of whom were also mid-round picks without fifth-year options attached to their rookie contracts.
On current production, I’d lean toward the Cowboys giving Prescott an extension without the Cooper trade, but Dallas has reasonable concerns about whether Prescott can elevate his game with better wideout play. There isn’t really a recent precedent for a team moving on from a passer as effective as Prescott has been after his rookie deal without a serious injury involved, although in a league in which rookie contract quarterbacks are essentially keys to unlocking Super Bowl rosters, we’ll see a team go for it in the next few seasons.
Trading for Cooper now gives the Cowboys a season and a half to figure out whether Prescott is their guy. If Prescott works out, the Cowboys can use the threat of the franchise tag in 2020 to keep Prescott around in advance of a long-term deal, though that runs the risk of creating a Kirk Cousins-in-Washington problem. If not, the Cowboys can go after a new quarterback without having committed to Prescott in the long term, though they’ll be down a first-round pick in the process.
The problem with that math, of course, is that the Cowboys also have to figure out what to do with Cooper. They’re on the hook for only $411,765 this season, but Cooper’s fifth-year option comes in at $13.9 million in 2019. Even that represents a discount in a market in which Sammy Watkins is getting $16 million per year in free agency, but do the Cowboys really want to pay Cooper something north of $20 million per season to keep him from hitting free agency in 2020?
Making these time frames work is tough because the Cowboys can’t franchise — or threaten to franchise — both Cooper and Prescott in 2020. They can sign one of them this offseason to free up the franchise tag in 2020, but they would either be locking up Cooper to an extension after half of a season in Dallas or signing Prescott before they’re sure he’s their guy.
Given that the Cowboys already committed a first-round pick to acquire Cooper and are set to pay him nearly $14 million next year, my suspicion is that they’ll lock him up to an extension this offseason. They already have more than $111 million in projected cap space for 2019, and while Cooper isn’t a sure thing, the free-agent market isn’t likely to deliver a better option.
The top available wideouts in the 2019 free-agent class are likely to be veterans such as John Brown, Chris Hogan and Golden Tate. The guys from the 2014-15 drafts who aren’t yet re-signed and are likely to hit free agency this offseason aren’t inspiring. Would you rather pay Cooper $18 million per year on a new deal or spend $14 million per season to sign Devin Funchess? Players with questions, such as Kelvin Benjamin, Quincy Enunwa, and Robby Anderson, could go for $10 million or more per season. You can understand why the Cowboys looked at their options and preferred the idea of paying a premium to sign Cooper, who is younger and has a more inspiring track record than just about anyone they could’ve gone after in free agency.
There’s also a benefit for the Cowboys in terms of competing for the NFC East, which looks up for grabs after the Eagles got off to a slow start. With the Giants quickly fading out of the race and turning it into a three-team battle, the 3-4 Cowboys have seen their odds of winning the division jump from 22.2 percent before the season to 30.7 percent after seven weeks, per ESPN’s Football Power Index.
Cooper isn’t going to swing the division on his own, but the trade addresses the weakest point of Dallas’ roster with enough time for the Cowboys to seriously shift things over the final nine games of the season. Does Cooper win them the game over the Texans, in which the Cowboys could barely move the ball in the second half? Is he enough of a weapon for Jason Garrett to trust Prescott with 52 seconds left in Sunday’s loss to Washington? I’m not sure, but it’s hard to argue that the Cowboys aren’t in better shape than they were yesterday.
Of course, it’s easy to improve when a team gives up a first-round pick, and the Cowboys incur an opportunity cost by not being able to get a player at relatively low cost over the next four seasons. Just as the Mack trade left the Bears implicitly pricing their star edge rusher at something north of $30 million per season, the Cowboys are likely going to be paying Cooper something close to $23-24 million per year when factoring in a new deal and the value they forfeited with a first-round pick. Cooper can make that work if he turns back into a superstar, but the Cowboys aren’t likely to realize much (if any) surplus value on this contract. They’ll also miss out on adding a first-rounder to help in the secondary or along the offensive line, where their once-vaunted unit has been ripped apart by injuries the past two seasons.
The very long term
As for Oakland’s side of things, it’s easier to understand. When you’re having a fire sale, you sell things. The Raiders quite clearly didn’t intend to give Cooper an extension after the 2019 season, and they’re better off trading a guy sooner rather than later if they don’t want to pay a premium. Getting rid of Cooper limits the extent to which the Raiders can evaluate Derek Carr, but the trade seems to confirm that Gruden might have already made up his mind about Carr.
If he doesn’t think his team can win and wants to rebuild the team in his image, going after draft picks makes sense. My concern would be less about the picks and more about the veterans. In the early days of the McKenzie era, Oakland struggled to attract veteran free agents because nobody wanted to come play on a miserable team in an antiquated stadium. The Raiders had to target veterans who were past their primes or massively overpay midtier starters until they showed signs of life with Carr, Cooper and Mack in 2015. One year later, with the help of additions such as Bruce Irvin and Kelechi Osemele, the Raiders went 12-4 and won the division.
Now, though, the Raiders are back to square one. Why would any veteran player want to come play for the Raiders under Gruden when they’re clearly not committed to winning in the near future? The Raiders don’t really have any promising, young players left on the roster who aren’t on veteran contracts, but if Cooper had stuck around, why would he want to play for a coach who doesn’t seem to want to pay young players who break out on their rookie deals? Who would play for the Raiders right now if given a choice to play anywhere else in the league? It’s fair to wonder whether Gruden, who has publicly thrown players such as Carr and Rashaan Melvin under the bus in recent weeks, has poisoned the well.
If you go to Las Vegas, you’ll see a billboard towering above the future site of the Raiders’ stadium, advertising the arrival of its future tenants. Most team billboards have a shot of the star quarterback or a dynamic skill-position player. The only person depicted on the Raiders’ billboard is the coach. Given what we’ve seen from Gruden so far, it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll be the only current member of this organization actually making his way to the desert for the team’s projected debut in 2020.
LANDOVER, Md. — Officially, the penalty was a false start in the game book. In the words of referee John Hussey, Dallas Cowboys long snapper L.P. Ladouceur was called for a snap infraction.
Ladouceur, a 14-year veteran, could not recall ever being flagged for such a penalty.
With three seconds remaining, Ladouceur’s penalty moved a potential game-tying field goal attempt from 47 to 52 yards, and Brett Maher‘s kick hit the left upright, leaving the Cowboys with a loss — 20-17 against the Washington Redskins — and at a loss.
“I just adjusted down so I could put my hands on the bottom of it, so I could snap it in the right direction,” Ladouceur said. “Exact same thing I’ve been doing for 14 years … I’m not even trying to get him offside. I know the situation. Just too bad.”
Coach Jason Garrett said he was told that Ladouceur moved the ball in a way that prompted Jonathan Allen to jump offside. Garrett could not recall the last time he saw that called as a penalty.
“Once? Twice? Not very often,” Garrett said.
On Twitter, Al Riveron, the NFL’s director of officiating, said the “illegal ball movement by the center causes the defense to come across the neutral zone and contact a lineman.”
Ladouceur — the longest-tenured Cowboy, having joined the team in 2005 — said he went through the same pre-snap routine he has followed his entire career.
“Never had that before,” Ladouceur said. “I do the exact same thing every time, so when that happens, that’s what I was telling the ref: ‘I do the exact same thing. Yeah, the guy jumped.’ That’s what I thought.”
Ladouceur said he puts one hand on the ball, then a second and lays it down so he can snap it accurately. Entering Sunday, he was perfect as a snapper, with clean snaps on 924 punts, 572 point-after attempts and 419 field goal tries.
What is Ladouceur’s understanding of the rule?
“As long as I don’t pick up the ball,” he said. “The ball was on the ground the whole time.”
Maher had made 16 straight field goal attempts prior to his miss. He said he pulled the kick slightly, and the wind might have played a part as it was coming down.
“That penalty had zero impact on the result of that kick, I can promise you that,” Maher said. “L.P. and [holder Chris Jones], like they’ve done all year, they made my job easy, and it was the same in that situation. Yeah, I felt like I was very capable of making that kick. Just didn’t get it done.”
A source said the penalty falls under the NFL’s substance abuse policy stemming from a summer intoxication arrest.
The Cowboys placed Williams on injured reserve Oct. 6, in part because of a foot injury that required surgery during the offseason.
The league said Thursday the suspension will be in effect Sunday when the Cowboys visit Washington. After Dallas’ open week and a home game against Tennessee, the final game of the ban will be Nov. 11 at Philadelphia.
But Williams will miss at least three more games after that while on injured reserve. His first possible game is Dec. 9 at home against the Eagles.
In August, Williams’ misdemeanor public intoxication charge was dismissed after he attended an alcohol-awareness course and paid the city of Frisco for property damage caused when Williams’ Lamborghini knocked over a light pole in May.
During training camp, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said he did not believe Williams would be punished by the league, although a player does not need to be found guilty in the legal system to face NFL discipline.
Williams is in the second year of a four-year, $17 million deal he signed in 2017. He had two catches for 18 yards in the first three games this season and played only 39 snaps. He is eligible to return to game action off injured reserve on Dec. 9 at Philadelphia. He can serve his suspension while on injured reserve.
Because he was punished under the substance abuse policy, he can still remain around the team while serving the suspension.
According to Anderson, Hurns said the decision to run deep curls against two-man coverage on third-and-8 from the Dallas 32, “is the worst play call that you would make.” Prescott’s pass to Deonte Thompson was tipped and ended up getting intercepted by Justin Reid.
“I didn’t question,” Hurns said. “Everyone knows that’s not a good play call versus two-man. So what’s unfortunate for us is that was their only snap in two-man.”
Hurns said he has not had any discussions with the coaching staff about his comments.
“Far as all that, it’s pretty much outside of here that talks about it,” Hurns said. “No one really talks about it inside.”
If Hurns was critical of that particular play call, how does he feel about the play-calling of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan in general this season?
“I feel like it goes well sometimes,” Hurns said. “Of course, from a receiver standpoint you want more opportunities, but you can’t control that. As far as for us, you always say control what we can, but as far as some plays, we all have to do a good job of just executing and sometimes it’s where we’re not put in the best positions. But that’s part of football.”
The Cowboys are 28th in total yards offensively and scoring just 16.6 points per game, which is 30th in the league. The passing game is ranked 30th as well. Prescott does not rank better than tied for 18th in any passing category, completing 89 of 144 passes for 961 yards with five touchdown passes and four interceptions in the first five games.
Hurns, who signed as a free agent in March after his release from the Jacksonville Jaguars, has six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. He made comments after the loss to the Texans that the receivers have been open this season.
“The main thing is I just want to get across it wasn’t no shot at Dak,” Hurns said. “It’s a lot that goes into it, even in the passing game whether it’s receivers getting open. It’s not just Dak making the throw. He’s also got protection issues and then sometimes he does make the throw and we leave things out there on the receiver position. It’s across the board, and so the main thing with me and (Cole Beasley), we spoke out. We’re not saying it’s not us. We’re saying it’s not just us. But a lot of people don’t understand that side of it. The main thing was it was not a shot at Dak at all.”
FRISCO, Texas — A day later, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett still would have punted from the Houston Texans’ 42 on the first possession of overtime instead of going for it on fourth-and-1.
“It just made sense to us, to me at that time, to go ahead and play field position,” Garrett said Monday.
The Cowboys never got the ball back and fell to 2-3 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who made it to the AFC Championship Game last season and have a punishing defense, coming to AT&T Stadium on Sunday.
Questions about Garrett’s job security haven’t stopped since the end of the 2017 season. Before the first padded practice of training camp in Oxnard, California, this year, one fan yelled, “Coach Garrett, I love you, but this is your last year.”
The calls on social media grew louder after the 19-16 loss to the Texans and will grow louder still if the Cowboys are unable to put together any kind of winning streak.
Garrett is 70-58, including 1-2 in the playoffs, as Cowboys head coach. In 2016, he was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year. He has won two NFC East titles. He has the second-most wins in franchise history to Tom Landry, but the decision to punt is viewed by some as the last straw.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has been steadfast in his support for Garrett, even though he critiqued the decision to punt. He has long viewed Garrett as his Landry.
Jones opened camp by succinctly stating Garrett was not on the hot seat, but even he has a breaking point.
Here are factors to consider:
Why is this season different from others for Garrett?
Start with the financial ramifications. Owners don’t like to pay coaches not to coach.
Garrett is signed through 2019 at $6 million per season. Only wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal has a contract that goes past 2019.
After the Cowboys went 4-12 in 2015, there was some talk inside the organization that Garrett could be in trouble a year after a 12-4 record and the controversial loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in the divisional round of the 2014 playoffs.
Garrett was in the first year of a five-year, $30 million contract then, meaning Jones would have had to have eaten more than $20 million. Plus, quarterback Tony Romo started and finished two games that season because of a twice-broken left collarbone, offering up a good reason/excuse for the poor season.
The decision to stick with Garrett looked like a wise one in 2016, when the Cowboys finished 13-3 with a fourth-round pick in Dak Prescott substituting for an injured Romo. At the time, it looked like Jones’ willingness to stick with Garrett through the three consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2011-13 was going to pay dividends with a young team on the rise.
The Cowboys still have a young team, with only one position player older than 30, but they appear destined for another playoff-less season without a quick turnaround.
Would Jerry make an in-season move?
He has made one in-season coaching change since becoming the owner and general manager in 1989, elevating Garrett from offensive coordinator to take over for Wade Phillips after a 1-7 start to the 2010 season.
Garrett was viewed as a head-coach-in-waiting before Jones even hired Phillips as head coach in 2007.
Secondary coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard would be the most obvious candidate to take over if Jones made that kind of move. Richard has interviewed for head coaching vacancies in recent years while he was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, but how would that help the offense?
How would a coaching change affect Prescott’s development?
The Cowboys entered this season hoping Prescott would play the way he did in the first 24 games of his career, when he had 39 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. In his past 13 games, he has 10 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
The Cowboys can look to sign Prescott to a contract extension after this season, but there has been nothing through the first five games of this season to suggest they should. At present, their priorities would be signing DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones to long-term deals before Prescott.
Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan are the only voices Prescott has had in his three years. A new coach can bring fresh ideas, perhaps incorporating more creativity that has allowed young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz to excel early in their careers. Of course, that new coach might want to bring in his own quarterback, but in 2003 Jones convinced Bill Parcells to go with Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson to see what those young signal-callers could do. He could do the same with whomever he chooses as Garrett’s successor.
Is this all on the head coach?
Of course not. Contrary to popular opinion, Jones has always been heavily influenced in personnel by the coach. Always. He did not draft Randy Moss 20 years ago, in part, because then-coach Chan Gailey did not want Moss.
The perception Jones picks the players and tells the coach to make do is flawed. He will make decisions that might run counter to the coach’s wishes at times, but the majority of the organization’s decisions come from a group that includes Garrett, Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and vice president of player personnel Will McClay.
So far it looks as though the Cowboys went with a flawed approach at wide receiver and tight end in trying to replace Dez Bryant and Jason Witten by committee. Tight end Geoff Swaim has three of the Cowboys’ 10 pass plays of more than 20 yards on the season to lead the team. DeAndre Hopkins had nine catches for 151 yards for the Texans on Sunday, including the 49-yarder that set up the winning field goal. The Cowboys’ receivers combined for six catches for 80 yards.
The Cowboys tried to sign Sammy Watkins in free agency, but he opted to join the Kansas City Chiefs. Given the construction of the passing game, would Watkins have made that big of a difference?
Garrett has coached a team that will follow one of his mantras and “fight,” but the Cowboys haven’t been able to follow another of his mantras and “finish.”
FRISCO, Texas — At the day-after analysis of the Dallas Cowboys‘ 19-16 overtime loss to the Houston Texans, coach Jason Garrett on Monday explained his decision to punt on the first possession of overtime to owner and general manager Jerry Jones.
After the game, Jones was critical of the decision to punt at the Houston 42 since the Cowboys did not regain possession and lost on a 36-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn with 1:50 to play in overtime.
“We were being outplayed there, not out-efforted but we were outplayed,” Jones said Sunday. “But it’s time for risk at that particular time. That’s not second-guessing, but we were taking some risk too at certain points in the game.”
After the game, Garrett defended the decision because he was relying on a defense that forced three punts, created two turnovers and gave up just two field goals in the second half. On Monday, Garrett relayed the message to Jones during their Monday meeting.
“We talked about the thought process behind that and why we made the decision like that based on how we were playing on defense in particular and what the details of the circumstances were,” Garrett said.
While Jones said he was not second-guessing the decision, the comment resonated with a fan base that wanted Garrett to go for it. Since quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott joined the organization in 2016, the Cowboys have converted on 18 of 19 fourth-and-1 situations, including one earlier in the Houston game.
Ten of Elliott’s 20 runs against the Texans went for no yards or loss yards, which played a factor in the decision. After the first quarter, Prescott threw for 111 yards and his receivers struggled making contested catches.
“I think the reasoning is the same. We’ve been aggressive going for it on fourth down. That’s been a good thing for us,” Garrett said. “But not every fourth-down situation is the same. I think we’re on the 42-yard line. It was a long 1. I was standing right there. So it was probably a hard and a half when we had it. We had a play that we liked. Unfortunately, they did a good job coming in and stuffing that. Actually we probably lost a little bit on the third-down play, so it got you to fourth and really kind of close to 2 … It just made sense to us, to me at that time, to go ahead and play field position.
On Monday, Garrett was asked if he still felt supported by Jones and offered a one-word answer: yes.
HOUSTON — Jason Garrett had a chance to make a statement about himself and his belief in the Dallas Cowboys‘ offense Sunday night.
Facing fourth-and-1 from the Houston Texans‘ 42 on the first possession of overtime, the Cowboys coach played it safe when the opportunity to be bold was staring at him in the face.
Garrett punted, trusting in a defense that held strong for most of the night.
The Cowboys never got the ball back and are now 2-3.
All they could do was watch hopelessly as Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 36-yard field goal gave the Texans a 19-16 win in front of the largest crowd to see a game at NRG Stadium, set up by a 49-yard catch and run by DeAndre Hopkins.
“We were being outplayed there, not out-efforted, but we were outplayed,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “But it’s time for risk at that particular time. That’s not second-guessing, but we were taking some risk, too, at certain points in the game.”
The differences between Jones and Garrett are stark.
Jones made his money as a risk-taker, drilling for oil in spots that many believed to be barren. Since owning the Cowboys, Jones has taken risks to great benefit (Charles Haley, Deion Sanders) and great loss (Joey Galloway, Roy Williams).
Garrett is more willing to play the percentages and is more averse to taking risk.
On Sunday, he had a chance to be bold and lead the Cowboys to a win in a game that never should have been that close.
A week earlier, the Texans were able to beat the Indianapolis Colts when their coach, Frank Reich, opted to go for it from his own 43 with 24 seconds left in overtime. Andrew Luck’s pass was incomplete, which set up Houston’s game-winning kick.
“I’ll just address it now: I’m not playing to tie,” Reich said after the game. “I’ll do that 10 times out of 10. That’s just the way it’s got to roll.”
A day later, Reich amended his “10 times out of 10,” saying it was not an absolute, but a sign of an aggressive mindset.
Garrett has been bold before.
In his lone playoff victory in 2014, he went for it on fourth-and-6 from the Detroit Lions‘ 42 with six minutes to play and down by three points. Tony Romo hit Jason Witten for a 21-yard gain and six plays later Romo hit Terrance Williams for the game-winning touchdown pass.
You don’t even have to go back to 2014 and the Lions. You can go back just one week ago against the Lions.
In the third quarter of the Week 4 win, Garrett elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Detroit 3. Elliott picked up 2 yards. He fumbled, but Blake Jarwin recovered the ball. On the next play, Prescott threw a touchdown pass to Geoff Swaim for a touchdown and a 20-10 lead.
Why did he go for it?
“Just to be aggressive and make it a two-score game and a tremendous belief in our offensive line and our runner against their defense in that situation,” Garrett said the day after the win over the Lions. “There’s a lot of talk about analytics and when you go for it, when you don’t go for it. Sometimes what’s missed from that equation is the fact that it’s a game played by grown men, and it starts with that. When you have a belief in the guys up front, and you can hand the ball to 21 and you feel good about that, that’s really where the decision-making process starts. And we certainly feel great about those guys. That doesn’t mean we’re going to go for it every time in those situations, but in that situation we felt like that was the right thing to do.”
Since Elliott joined the Cowboys, they’re 18-for-19 on fourth-and-1 or shorter.
If that’s how Garrett felt a week earlier, then clearly he did not feel the same confidence in the group against Houston.
“Yeah, it was a long 1,” Garrett said. “We had a third-and-2 (actually 1), and we didn’t make much on it and just felt like at that point in the game, the way our defense was playing, the idea was to pin them down there. Chris [Jones] did a great job with the punt. They got the ball on the 10-yard line, and hopefully you make a stop and you win the game coming back the other way with a game-winning field goal.”
Quarterback Dak Prescott wanted to go for it, “but in that case you don’t question the coach’s decision on defense.” Elliott agreed with Garrett. “Obviously you would like a chance to go for it on fourth-and-1, but I don’t know if that was the best decision right there,” Elliott said.
The Texans had seven second-half possessions and had as many turnovers (two) as scores (two field goals), but then Hopkins broke free and the game changed, with the moment to be bold long gone.
“Any decision he makes, he makes, and we just got to hold it down and we didn’t,” defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said.,
Jason Garrett said he hoped to pin the Houston Texans deep in their own territory when he decided to punt on fourth-and-1 at the Houston Texans’ 42-yard line in overtime Sunday night. Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, however, thought his coach should have made another call.
“We were being outplayed. It’s time for risks at that particular time,” Jones told reporters after the Cowboys’ 19-16 overtime loss, adding he wasn’t “second-guessing” his coach.
The Texans started their eventual game-winning drive on their own 10-yard line after Chris Jones‘ punt. Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked the winning 36-yard field goal after Houston’s seven-play drive that was highlighted by DeAndre Hopkins‘ 49-yard reception in which he used two spin moves to avoid being tackled.
Garrett said the fourth-and-1 looked to be longer than 1 yard, and he cited the Cowboys’ failure to convert a short third-down play earlier in the game for his decision.
“You know, we had a third-and-2 and we didn’t make much on it and we just felt like at that point in the game, the way our defense was playing, the idea was to pin them down there,” he told reporters.
Ezekiel Elliott, who leads the NFL in rushing, was held to 54 yards on 20 carries (2.7 yards per carry) Sunday night by the Texans’ defense and was stuffed for no gain on a third-and-1 play before Garrett made the call to punt. He said he hoped for a chance to convert the first down but wasn’t second-guessing his coach’s decision.
“I really don’t remember the field position we were in, but obviously, you would like a chance to go for it on fourth-and-1, but I don’t know if that was the best decision right there,” Elliott said.
HOUSTON — For the second week in a row, the Houston Texans pulled off an overtime victory despite struggling in the red zone.
In the week leading up to the Texans’ 19-16 overtime victory against the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien was clear that while his offense has moved the ball well, the team needs to improve in the red zone if it wants to have any continued success this season.
“Yards don’t mean anything,” O’Brien said Wednesday. “It’s all about touchdowns.”
The Texans continued to show a weakness in the red zone in Sunday night’s victory. Although they finished with 462 total net yards, they were 1-of-6 in the red zone, including a failed fourth-down conversion at the end of the second quarter. On that drive, Houston had first-and-goal on the Dallas 9. Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw two incompletions before finding DeAndre Hopkins just shy of the goal line. Houston went for it on fourth down, but Watson was sacked for a loss of a yard, and the Texans failed to score.
“It’s bad,” O’Brien said of the Texans’ struggles in the red zone. “We have to get better. We tried everything down there, nothing really worked. We have to go back as a coaching staff and look at it, players, everybody.
“We all have to look at it and see what we can do to be better, because we are moving the ball. We moved the ball pretty well, but when we got down in there, we have to score touchdowns.”
Only the Titans have won a game with a worse red zone efficiency this season than the 17 percent the Texans had on Sunday night. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in Week 3, the Titans beat the Jaguars while not converting a single opportunity in the red area.
Hopkins said he can’t pinpoint why the offense has struggled there, but says “the short field” makes the red zone “the hardest place to score in the NFL.”
“You don’t have a lot of room,” Hopkins said. “Your play calls are limited. You’ve got 10-15 yards to make a play or to call a play. Defenders know your out of bounds is the back of the end zone. So that’s definitely the hardest place to score.”
Against the Cowboys, the Texans moved the ball well, as Watson was 33-of-44 for 375 yards with an interception and a touchdown. In Houston’s first four games, the team ranked fifth in the NFL, averaging 413.8 yards per game. On Sunday, the Texans had seven drives of eight or more plays.
The Texans missed a healthy Will Fuller V against the Cowboys, especially in the red zone. Although he caught two passes for 15 yards, he was targeted only three times after he was limited in practice all week with a hamstring injury. Prior to Sunday, Fuller had caught at least one touchdown in every game he had played with Watson, and he had 10 in seven games.
Instead, Watson relied heavily on Hopkins (nine catches for 151 yards), running back Alfred Blue (eight catches for 73 yards) and tight end Ryan Griffin (six catches for 65 yards) against the Cowboys.
In seven games last season, Watson was 15-of-27 on passing plays in the red zone, with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“If we are in the red zone, that’s a must score,” Watson said. “We are kicking too many field goals, and that starts with me. We will correct those mistakes.”
Earlier in the season, O’Brien said, “We’ve got to do a better job in the red area. That’s coaching and playing. We’ve all got to do a better job. That’s been a big emphasis for us.”
Even with a victory Sunday night to improve their record to 2-3, that message has not changed.