So Dick Stockton and Brian Billick had both adjusted the NFC East standings to reflect a Cowboys victory over Detroit on Sunday. Dallas was leading by three, with the ball and under 90 seconds to play. Who could lose there right? Dallas could and did. For a Cowboys fan this was another example of a phenomena known as Garretting, i.e. risk aversion at its best or playing to lose.
There are two maxims in the NFL that proved out yesterday, 6's beat 3's and there's always enough time. We'll get to NFL blackjack in a second, but let's address the later first. The NFL is an offensive league. Teams that embrace the wide open, balls in the air and to the wall mentality thrive. Teams that love to pull guards and run suffer. Quarterbacks and schemes have become so incredibly proficient at passing, that most pass plays are merely long hand-offs. Look at New England, New Orleans, Green Bay, Denver, and yes Detroit. Throwing the ball is the most efficient means of accumulating yards available today. The rules reflect it as well. Targeting penalties, pass blocking, and quarterback protection all bend the rules to favor the pass and the offense.
You know what wins the game yesterday? A first down. You know what else wins it? 6's over 3's. In the first half facing a fourth and two from Detroit's 35, the Cowboys took the field goal and were perfectly happy to do so. Those three additional point look real pretty now don't they? That's what Jason Garrett does, he coaches a risk averse game and wonders why his team's finish a mediocre 8-8. Follow the trends, not necessarily Super Bowl winners, but rather perennial division winners and playoff participants. They play aggressive, road or home, and they play to their established strengths. When they have the chance to put up a 6 instead of a 3 they do it. They call plays that way. They build teams that way. Step on their neck and don't let up.
1:24 left, you've got the ball in plus territory, Detroit has two timeouts and a receiver on the bench who has TORCHED you. Don't give him another chance. Finish the game. Your best running back is out and on the day, as a team, you're averaging 2.4 yards a carry. Even if you ran it 4 times and hit your average per carry, you aren't moving the chains. Add to that your best interior blocker is out of the game and Detroit is begging you to run, hoping you will to the tune of 9 men in the box. And who are your playmakers? Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, and even Dwayne Harris. A first down, makes people flee Detroit faster than we ever thought possible.
What did Dallas do? Three running plays that took 10 full seconds off the clock. Megatron finds his helmet after an insignificant field goal puts the Cowboys up six and 52 seconds later you've lost. Calvin Johnson produces the second most receiving yards in an NFL game because Detroit played to win. Defeat from the jaws of victory.
Risk aversion gets you an 8-8- season and a great view watching the playoffs and the teams that "get it" in the NFL.