Let’s debate about whether it’s a stroke of detail-acknowledging genius or some anal-retentive poppycock. Let’s debate about whether the Dallas Cowboys’ reasoning for wanting to get the ball to start the second half on the road represents an innovative path to an edge, or a reach for a 3-5 team that maybe oughta just block, tackle, throw, catch and run better.
But let’s agree on this: Winning the coin flip to start a road game and then deferring should be called the “Halftime Hotdog Hypothesis.’’ And as near as I can tell, if it works, the Cowboys and brainy head coach Jason Garrett deserves the credit.
“We feel like there are a lot of statistics that suggest it’s easier to play defense early in games on the road,” Garrett said Friday as his Cowboys were preparing for Sunday’s game at the Philadelphia Eagles. “There are a few other factors that add to this that I don’t want to get into. But we feel like when certain conditions are right, deferring is a better choice for us. A lot of it has to do with being on the road in that kind of environment.”
What are those “certain conditions’’? Well, we’re talking about crowd noise, of course, always an issue on the road for any offense that benefits from quiet so players can hear all the signals – but in Garrett’s studies, an issue that is lessened at a certain time in the game for a very specific reason.
“I like it,’’ Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan tells me. “No question. Everything we do, we’re trying to think of every detail and we’re taking everything into account. Against Philly, you’ve got to handle the first 15 scripted plays they like to run. That’s to start the game. And then when you start the second half, you want the ball when the home crowd is out eatin’ hotdogs.’’
Out eating hotdogs. Or getting a beer. Or visiting the restroom. Watch the games on TV and look into the seats to start second halves and you see it’s true: The 80,000 people in their seats and making noise in a hostile environment to start a game slices itself down when the second half begins.
And where was this concept born?
“Aw, just something we’ve been messing around with,’’ Garrett tells me, unwilling to take the credit for what according to Ryan is the rare NFL idea that is new under the sun. “Last couple of weeks, it’s just something that is talked about.’’
But where Garrett is vague, Ryan – with a head coaching brother (Rob with the Jets) and an innovative and legendary football dad (Buddy Ryan) something of a historian in these matters – is very specific.
“Jason is the first guy I ever heard doing it,’’ Rob says, adding that wanting to start the game on defense isn’t unique. “Playing defense first, my brother’s always liked to do that. You get your defense right into the eye of the storm. But The Hotdog Factor is new and it’s outstanding.’’
Worth noting: It hasn’t exactly paid off for Dallas yet. The Cowboys have deferred to the second half in three games this year and on second-half opening possessions have two punts and a field goal to show for it.
Making fun of Garrett and the Cowboys is a popular sport right now, and so goofing on the “Halftime Hotdog Hypothesis’’ is natural. I’ve presented the idea to media people who generally response by saying, “Oh, just go play football!’’ and “You think Tom Landry worried about dumb little things like that?’’
But of course … he did.
Landry created the Flex defense, re-popularized the Shotgun, helped create the idea of situational substitutions, invented studying “tendencies,’’ and was part of the Cowboys being the first sports team to use computers. Mix in former Cowboys GM and the Cowboys tended to innovative details including putting the Texas Stadium visiting team on the sideline looking into the sun, inventing the idea of jersey numbers on shoulders for TV visibility, and the just-right skimpiness of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniforms.
Garrett’s “Halftime Hotdog Hypothesis’’ actually fits right in as a next chapter in a rich Cowboys tradition … if only it would actually help them win a game or two.