Is the Dallas Cowboys Offense Like a Fine Wine?
By Jonathan Bales
The Cowboys are notorious poor starters following the opening kickoff of both the game and the second half. A few months ago, I conducted a study of the Cowboys’ initial drive statistics. The results (left) weren’t really all that surprising. The ‘Boys averaged significantly less yards-per-play and points in drives to begin the game or second half (as compared to all other drives).
In fact, the Cowboys averaged nearly 1.5 yards less per play on initial second half drives and well less than half the points-per-drive. There are likely a variety of factors which contribute to these numbers, but whatever the reason, the Cowboys must stop digging themselves into early holes.
Of course, 32 total drives (16 total to begin each half) is a fair sample size, but not an outstanding one. Perhaps the Cowboys aren’t inherently poor starters, but rather the victim of a less-than-stellar sample size of plays.
To determine the Cowboys’ success as games progressed, I decided to analyze the breakdown of “big plays,” i.e. plays of 10+ and 20+ yards. If a (significantly) larger percentage of these came as the games progressed, we would then be able to conclude that the Dallas offense is like a fine wine–better as times passes.
The graph to the right shows my results. Note that I sort the plays by drive number. I only listed the first nine drives because, with the exception of the San Diego game, all the games contained at least nine full offensive possessions.
Notice that, for both plays 10-19 yards and 20+ yards, the Cowboys (generally) improved as the game progressed. The increase in production is rather steep for 20+ yard plays, but it is also apparent for plays 10-19 yards.
Of course, there exists a multitude of reasons this could be the case. Firstly, the Cowboys seem to come out a bit conservatively to open games, particularly on the road. Whether this strategy is prudent or not, it would certainly affect their ability to obtain big plays.
It is important to note that, by season’s end, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett appeared to become more aggressive in his initial drive play-calling. Over the final three games, the Cowboys attacked opposing defenses during their first drive. The offense averaged an incredible 13.05 yards-per-play on these drives.
Another potential reason for the increase in big play percentage in late-game situations is because, during games in which the ‘Boys are losing, they are forced to attempt big plays.
However, this qualm does not appear justified. The graph displays only the first nine drives of each game, but only two games all season (San Diego and Tampa Bay) contained less than 10 offensive drives. In fact, the Cowboys had at least 11 drives in most games, and even up to 13 (in the second Giants game).
Further, the Cowboys simply were not down by a lot of points in any game. Thus, the ninth drive was unlikely to be one in which the offense was in much of a rush to secure quick scores.
Whatever the reasons behind the Cowboys poor starts in 2009, the team could really benefit from opening games on the right foot. Dallas basically manhandled New Orleans, Washington, and Philadelphia over the final three weeks of the regular season. It is no coincidence they came out firing on offense, scoring a touchdown on the initial drive of each contest.
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