Running Back Tony Pollard and Tight End Blake Jarwin share quite a few similarities. Both are backups to more experienced, trusted players.
Both are more explosive versions of the veterans they back up. Both players play positions where they can actually share the field with the starter, so coaches are not faced with absolute one or the other choices as far as playing time.
Another somewhat disturbing similarity between Blake Jarwin and Tony Pollard is the fact that both players experienced a decline in snaps (a very extreme decline in Pollard’s case) over a three-game stretch that coincided with the team’s three-game losing skid.
In the Dallas Cowboys’ four wins this season, the team is averaging 33.5 points and 461 yards per game. In those games, Tony Pollard has averaged 20.3 snaps (29% of team snaps), and Blake Jarwin has averaged 30 snaps (43% of team snaps).
In the Cowboys losses, the team is averaging just 18.6 points and 406 yards per game. Keep in mind that both numbers are skewed upward by a gun-slinging second half vs. Green Bay in a game that was over before it started. In the losses, Pollard saw his snaps plummet to just 4.6 a game (6.3% of team snaps). The decline for Jarwin was not as steep, but still significant as he dipped to 24 snaps per game (34% of team snaps).
If the Dallas offense pretty clearly produces at a higher clip when Jarwin and Pollard play more, then why the reduction in snaps? The most likely culprit is Jason Garrett, and his propensity to revert to safe-mode in big spots. Hostile environments (New Orleans), top-flight opponents (Green Bay), less than perfect weather, nasty defense (New York Jets), Garrett tends to reel everything back in when circumstances are less than ideal.
Snaps for Pollard and Jarwin dipped during the three-game losing streak the exact same way first-down passes, play action, and pre-snap motion experienced a decline during the same period. All signs of playing things close to the vest. If you trust young players to help your offense against lesser opponents, it’s insane to try to win without their help when the stakes heighten.
This play-it-safe approach in big or uncomfortable spots will absolutely serve as a roadblock for the Cowboys as far as real success is concerned. Some years you can win division titles just being more talented, or more healthy than your division foes. Achieving the playoff success that has eluded the Cowboys for a quarter-century requires all hands on deck personnel-wise, and at times a little bravery from the head coach.
Pollard and Jarwin have proven to be difference makers when given opportunities. Jarwin is the only vertical threat of the TE group and is a serious challenge for whatever type of player you decide to cover him with. He’s too fast for linebackers and too large with too much length and leaping ability for the average defensive back to contest. Whenever a play is made deep down the seam it feels as if it’s always Jarwin. It’s an element that no other player in his position group brings to the table and something that needs to be implemented at least to some degree each week.
Pollard feels like such an underutilized weapon. Once in every handful of touches, he seems to come tantalizingly close to breaking off one of those big runs this offense hasn’t seen in eternity. His background as a wideout in college (Memphis) suggests that he can be flexed out into the slot, or even out wide. That experience seems like something that could have been used at least a little when the Cowboys rolled into New York minus two receivers (Cooper, Cobb) and had a third (Gallup) unable to hang onto the ball for most of the day. Instead, Pollard only played 7 snaps that day, touching the ball on just three occasions.
At 4-3, the season is far from over for the Cowboys, who are about to hit the heavy lifting portion of their schedule. More speed, more multiplicity, more weapons a defense must account for… all good things for this Cowboys offense down the stretch. There will be tight games where the offense just needs to hit one big play bust the game open. The guys with the physical skillsets to hit those big plays should not be left on the bench to rot. Neither has committed a backbreaking, critical error to this point, so holding them out of big spots just in case they do is pretty illogical.
To make a run in 2019, the Cowboys would be best served to arm it’s blossoming quarterback Dak Prescott with all available weapons.
Jarwin and Pollard have shown that they can help this team, and need more opportunities to do so.