A year ago, Scott Linehan could do no wrong.
He directed a Dallas Cowboys offense that averaged 26.3 points per game and 376.7 yards total per game, including 149.8 yards rushing per game. He did so with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick, starting every game. He had the NFL’s leading rusher in rookie Ezekiel Elliott and an offensive line that boasted three All-Pros.
All of that earned Linehan a contract extension after the 2016 season.
As 2017 comes to a close, Linehan has been under fire for an offense that is averaging 23.2 points and 334 yards per game. The Cowboys still run the ball well; even without Elliott for six games, they averaged 136.1 yards. But the passing game is 25th, averaging just 197.9 yards a contest.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Linehan said. “It’s part of the gig.”
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones has backed head coach Jason Garrett’s return for 2018, but he has not done the same for the rest of the staff. A number of assistants have expiring contracts when the season ends.
Linehan was asked if he feels pressure for his job.
“No, that’s just part of the deal,” he said. “If you spend time listening to whatever you call it, criticism or whatever, then you’re not focusing on the right things. We stay in a pretty tight, close-knit group, and we focus on our team and what we got to do to win football games, and do it the best way we can. We’re not focused on what people think or how they think we should do it. That’s really our approach. That’s been my approach.”
Linehan came under question for calling a run-pass option from the Seattle Seahawks’ 3-yard line in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 21-12 loss. Prescott went with the pass based on Seattle’s look, but he was not able to get the ball to an open Cole Beasley. On second down, Jason Witten was called for a hold on another pass call.
“It’s a called run, but if the free safety is blitzing, it’s going to be a negative play,” Linehan said. “So we missed that opportunity. … And if it works, everything is fine. If it doesn’t, I’m sure like with any loss, you are going to have a lot of naysayers out there criticizing what we do. That doesn’t really affect our approach and what we do and how we do it.”
The passing game has taken a step back. Prescott has failed to reach 200 passing yards in a game seven times this season. Linehan put that on the lack of big plays. The Cowboys have just 31 pass plays of 20 yards or more. A year ago, they had 39.
“I think we’re going to run first here. Throwing for 300 yards in this approach is going to be a little bit more of a less common thing,” Linehan said. “I don’t think we say we have to throw for a certain number of yards. I just think the big plays have been the biggest thing. You saw it in the New York game. You really saw it for a couple games, the big play was a part of that game. We didn’t really throw the ball a whole lot more than we normally would.”