The DC Times

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Film Study: Initial Drive Statistics

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One of the more important aspects of an offensive coordinator’s play-calling ability,we believe, is his success on initial drives–those drives to begin a game and to start the second half. At these points, a coordinator is generally calling scripted plays. Thus, he has had all week to plan his attack on the defense (in the case of the initial offensive drive), or the entire halftime (in the case of the opening 2nd half drive).

When given time to prepare, offenses generally outperform defenses. Year in and year out, the league-wide average yards-per-play and scoring totals for offenses are higher on the first drives of each half than any other drive.

Some teams, of course, are more apt to come out firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have not seemed to be one of them in recent years.

Note: Drives during which the Cowboys simply took a knee were not counted.

First Half

The Cowboys’ first half average yards-per-play (5.78 yards) is significantly lower than the 6.45 yards-per-play the team averaged on what we will call “non-initial drives”– all drives excluding the first drive of the game and the first of the second half.

While point scoring can be fluky and thus susceptible to fluctuations over the course of just one season, Dallas’ points-per-drive was noticeably lower to begin the game (1.69) than in non-initial drive situations (2.30).

But why is the Cowboys’ initial drive success so poor? Is it fair to place all of the blame on Jason Garrett’s play-calling?

Probably not. Our guess is that it is a combination of Garrett and the overall mindset of the team. Remember, Wade Phillips is an excellent “X’s and O’s” coach, but he is not exactly a top-notch pre-game motivator.

2nd Half

A stat that is more indicative of Garrett’s play-calling might be the initial drive of the second half. At this point, most of the pre-game adrenaline and hype has faded and the mindset of teams has shifted to a more ‘cerebral’ approach.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys’ second half opening drive stats are atrocious. As the chart details, the team averaged just 4.94 yards per play in these situations. That is an astounding 23.5 percent drop from the non-initial drive average.

These second half failures are only worse in terms of points, as the Cowboys averaged just 1.06 points-per-drive to open the second half, a 54.0 percent drop from the non-initial drive average of 2.30.

In Garrett’s defense, the team did improve vastly at the end of the season, scoring a touchdown on the first drive of the game over the final three weeks. They averaged a ridiculous 13.05 yards-per-play on those drives.

Let’s hope he can carry that success into the 2010 season.

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