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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Film Study: Five Wacky Stats From the Database

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I often come across trends or “anomalies” in our Cowboys play database that I decide to not post.  These stats are often interesting (to me at least), but simply not wide enough in scope for me to dedicate an entire post to them.

Well, this entry is a collection of “too-small-to-post” statistics from the Cowboys’ 2009 season which I uncovered this weekend.

  • The Cowboys ran only four (FOUR!) play-action passes all season with 1-4 yards-to-go.

The number of plays on the season in that range:  132.  Thus, Dallas ran play-action on just 3.03% of plays in situations with just 1-4 yards to go for a first down (situations with a legitimate threat of a run).  I wouldn’t call myself an offensive mastermind, but that just doesn’t seem efficient.

With 10 yards remaining, however, the Cowboys dialed up 54 play-action passes (40.90% of all play-action passes came on this ‘distance-to-go’), making it the most frequent ‘distance-to-go’ for all play-action passes (relative to the number of overall plays from that distance).

Perhaps these figures are at least a partial cause of the Cowboys’ lackluster success rate on play-action passes.

  • 34 of Tony Romo’s 79 audibles (43.04%) were to draw plays.

Since 44 of the 79 checks were run plays, an incredible 34-of-44 (77.27%) run plays (which followed an audible) were draws.  While this seems over-the-top, our analysis of Romo’s audibles showed that the Cowboys averaged 5.8 yards-per-carry on these runs.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys would likely have even more success on these runs if the draw rate decreased.  In a previously article, we explained why checking to a run play might be successful:

One possible explanation for the lower productivity in the passing game after checks is that defenses are more prepared to defend the pass after an audible. They may assume an audible by the opposing quarterback means he sees an opportunity for a big play, probably a pass, thus making them more likely to effectively defend the pass.

Before we place all the blame on Romo for the disproportionate draw rate, note that, in almost all circumstances, Romo does not actually choose the “new” play.  The majority of the checks (75-of-79, in fact), are “kill” calls.  We explained how “kill” calls work in a previous article:

Sometimes Romo will actually call an entirely new play at the line of scrimmage, while other times he will simply signal for the team to check into the second play which was called in the huddle (the team often calls two plays in the huddle, planning to run the first unless Romo checks out).

The latter scenario is marked by a phrase many of you have probably heard the Dallas’ quarterback yelling on television, “Kill, Kill, Kill!” When you hear this, Romo sees something in the defense that makes him believe the first play called in the huddle will be unsuccessful. The second play, which is the one run after the “Kill” call, is generally dissimilar to the original call to combat whatever problem Romo noticed.

Thus, on all but four plays in 2009, the Cowboys offense ran a play which was originally called by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.  If the exorbitant rate of draws-after-checks is to continue, Romo is not the only person to blame.

  • Romo threw the most off-target passes to Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams, missing on 28.4% of throws to both receivers.

The chart to the right lists the off-target passes, attempts, and off-target percentage of throws to all Cowboys’ 2009 pass-catchers.  In our in-depth analysis of Romo’s off-target passes, we noted that we consider a pass to be ‘off-target’ if:

1.  Romo missed a receiver who was relatively open

2.  Romo was giving his best effort to acquire a completion.

Thus, spikes, throw-aways, and passes that were on-target but knocked away by a defender did not constitute ‘off-target passes.’

Of course, the percentages are not comparable among players at different positions, as Romo is more likely to be off-target to wide receivers than tight ends or running backs.

  • The Cowboys ran a true hurry-up offense on just 28 plays last season–less than two per game.

In this instance, we define “hurry-up” as a no-huddle play run with a time-saving mentality.  Of the 28 plays, only two were runs (for 6 total yards).  The 26 passes went for 151 yards, or just 5.81 yards-per-attempt.

25 of the 28 plays were out of a Shotgun formation.

  • The Cowboys completed a pre-snap shift 17 times in 2009–all on first or second down.

A shift is when multiple players change their alignment at once.  Offenses will frequently shift from a run formation to a pass formation, or vice versa, such as Full House (run formation) into Gun Trips Right (pass formation).

The offense ran on seven of these plays for 20 yards (2.86 yards-per-carry), and passed 10 times for 55 yards (5.50 yards-per-attempt).

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