From the Archives: Double Tight Strong and Tipping Plays Via Formation
By Jonathan Bales
In my original study on the Cowboys’ Double Tight Right Strong Right formation (and other versions of it, shown to the right), I found that the Cowboys ran a strong side dive out of the formation 73.3 percent of the time through the first 14 weeks of the season. As the season progressed, opposing defenses clearly noticed this trend on film, as the average yards-per-rush on the play decreased from 7.8 in the first five games to 5.0 yards per carry over the next eight games (including just 3.2 YPC against all non-Oakland-based squads).
Further, the Cowboys play-calling was even more predictable when they motioned into the formation, as they ran dive 34 out of 40 times (85 percent) when using motion.
I expected the Cowboys’ play-calling out of this formation to become less predictable as the season progressed, but unfortunately this was not the case. Over the final three weeks, the team lined up in the formation 26 times, running a strong side dive 17 of these plays. The results were even worse than in Weeks 6-14, as the team averaged only 3.1 yards-per-carry. With those kind of numbers and the success Dallas had on other running plays, teams clearly were clued in on what the team was trying to do.
Over these final three weeks, the teams also motioned into the formation nine times, and ran the same strong side dive on all but one of these plays (88.9 percent, as compared to 85 percent in the first 14 weeks).
Further evidence Dallas was tipping their plays via the formation
If teams truly were noticing these tendencies on film and stacking against one particular play, we would expect the Cowboys to have success running plays other than the strong side dive out of the formation. In fact, this is just what we see over the final three weeks. Though they averaged just 3.1 YPC on the strong side dive out of Double Tight Right Strong Right during this time, they averaged over twice that number, 6.7 yards per tote, when running weak side out of the formation.
It is quite clear that the Cowboys were, at least at times, too predictable in their play-calling. If I was able to spot this trend on film, then you can bet the Cowboys’ opponents (other than the Raiders) noticed it as well. The numbers don’t lie.
Final Double Tight Right Strong Right (and variations) statistics
Weeks 1-5 (Dallas ran the formation just five times per game over the first four weeks, so defenses likely had yet to recognize it as a trend): 7.8 yards-per-carry
Weeks 6-17: 4.4 yards-per-carry, including just 3.2 YPC against all teams but Oakland
Weeks 1-17: Ran strong side dive out of the formation 83/116 times (71.6 percent), including an incredible 42/49 times (85.7 percent) when motioning into it