The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ 2010 Play-Calling Based on Personnel



Jonathan Bales

The largest flaw in Jason Garrett’s play-calling, in my opinion, is his tendency to call a specific play (run or pass) based on the personnel on the field.  For example, take a look at the Cowboys’ 2009 pass rates with specific personnel.

Note that, no matter the personnel grouping, the Cowboys passed or ran the ball nearly three-fourths of the time out of all two-tight end, three-receiver, and four-receiver sets.  We’d of course expect certain personnel groupings and formations to be either run or pass-oriented, but Garrett could probably find more success by calling the “unexpected” a bit more often.  That idea is something I talked about a few months ago in my article on why the Cowboys should throw out of more double-tight end sets:

A few weeks back, I published a breakdown of every formation the Cowboys ran in 2009, including run/pass ratios, success rates, and big/negative play percentages.  Included in that article was a double-tight (two tight ends) formation called “Ace.”

The Cowboys ran 29 plays out of “Ace” last season:

24 passes (82.8 percent)/5 runs (17.2 percent)

11.46 yards/attempt

2.00 yards/rush

12 passes 10+ (50 percent), five passes 20+ (20.8 percent), two negative runs (40 percent)

“Ace” was the Cowboys second-most efficient passing formation, and they also had a ton of success passing out of other double-tight formations.  Not exactly the statistics you were expecting from “run-oriented” formations?  Me neither. . .which is exactly why passing out of it was so successful last season.

I hate to harp on it again (actually, secretly I love it), but run/pass selection is controlled in large part by game theory.  In a nutshell, game theory is thinking one step ahead of your opponent.  Why perform a surprise onside kick?  Why run on 3rd and 7?  Because your opponent will never be expecting it.

The passing success of the Cowboys out of “Ace” and other “running” formations is equivalent to the success teams have when running the ball on 3rd down.  There is nothing inherently efficient about running the ball in these situations.  Rather, the success comes from your opponent’s expectations.

Similarly, passing out of “running” formations isn’t an inherently superior strategy to passing with four wide receivers on the field.  Instead, it works because of the defense.

Think of it like this. . .let’s say passing the ball out of a four-receiver set receives a hypothetical score of 80 points (this total is arbitrary and independent of a defense).  Passing the ball out of a double-tight formation, on the other hand, is intrinsically worth just 60 points.

So, why would a team choose the latter scenario–a “sub-optimal” strategy?  Because the strategy is only “sub-optimal” in theory.  In practice, the defense makes substitutions to be able to effectively defend each formation.  To counter the run against the double-tight formation, they knowingly decrease their ability to thwart the pass.

Thus, they may receive a pass defense score of 75 against a four-receiver set, but just 50 against double-tight.  In that case, passing the ball out of double-tight yields a 10 point advantage for the offense, compared to just a five point advantage when throwing the ball out of the “passing” formation.

Play selection is dominated by game theory, meaning the actions of other offensive coordinators around the league really should affect those of Cowboys OC Jason Garrett.  It is for this reason that I would love to see the Cowboys do the “unexpected”–pass more out of tight formations (and run more out of spread ones) in 2010.  The theoretical value may be sub-optimal, but the actual value would be maximized.

So, what are the numbers telling us thus far in 2010?  While they are far from optimal, it seems clear Garrett is altering his play-calling to becomes less predictable.  Check out the chart below.

You can see that, outside of four-receiver sets, the Cowboys are at least slightly more balanced in each grouping.  Note that Dallas has implemented four receivers just nine times all season, so you can expect that percentage to change as well.

I’d still love to see the Cowboys run the ball more in three-receiver sets and pass more out of 2 TE, WR, 2 RB (one of those “2 RB” is usually a fullback, by the way).  Garrett is doing a fine job throwing out of two-tight end sets (55.3% of all plays with two tight ends on the field are passes), but the Cowboys are doing the throwing out of a specific type of two-tight end sets, i.e. with two receivers on the field.

With the receiving ability of fullback Chris Gronkowski, you can expect the Cowboys to throw the ball more with a fullback on the field in the coming weeks.  If Garrett finds a way to efficiently run the ball without a fullback on the field as well, the Cowboys will take huge strides in becoming a much more unpredictable, and potent, offensive football team.

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By Jonathan Bales

Tony Romo Funny-or-Die Starter Video



By Jonathan Bales

Analyzing Cowboys’ 3rd Down Run Trends Thus Far in 2010



Jonathan Bales

A few months back, I published an article on the Cowboys’ 3rd down run plays from last season.  I did this to determine not only how successful the Cowboys were on these plays as compared to league averages, but also to learn if 3rd down runs held any strategic advantage over passes.

Here is a passage from that post:

In a recent post on why the Cowboys should pass out of “running” formations (and also in one on why teams should attempt a lot more 4th down plays), I spoke briefly about run/pass efficiency on 3rd down.  In short, NFL offenses fair much better when running the ball on 3rd and short (particularly 3rd and 1-3, but up until 3rd and 5).  Incredibly, running the ball is just as effective as passing up through 3rd and 10.  You can click the link above to read more about why this is so and view a graph displaying the conversion rates.

Nonetheless, I wanted to compare the Cowboys’ 2009 results with the league-wide numbers.  How effective was the offense when they ran the ball in “obvious” passing situations?  Note that these results (above) may be (very slightly) off from the numbers of Stats, Inc. or other unofficial stats companies because I did not use the televised ‘down and distance.’  For example, the televised version of a game may have mislabeled a play as ’3rd and 1′ when it was really closer to ’3rd and 2,’ and I have corrected for these mistakes to the best of my ability.

Notice the Cowboys’ yards-per-carry steadily rose (other than on 3rd and 6) as the yards-to-go increased.  This is obviously due to personnel and the game situation.  A defense which has substituted dime personnel on a 3rd and 10 is much more likely to yield a significant gain on the ground.  Of course, the yards-per-carry means nothing if the Cowboys are not achieving first downs.

2009 Third Down Conversion Rate

The chart to the right displays the conversion rate of all Cowboys’ 3rd down plays (of 10 or less yards-to-go) in 2009.  As you can see, the Cowboys were more efficient on 3rd and 1 or 2 when running the ball.  They converted 17/21 (81.0%) plays in these situations, compared to only 7/11 (63.6%) when passing.

As the distance-to-go increased, however, the conversion rate on runs dropped.  The Cowboys converted zero 3rd downs when running the ball with 8+ yards to go (although they attempted just four).

Interestingly, the conversion rate of 3rd down passes remained relatively stable, regardless of the distance-to-go.  You can see a very slight drop in the Cowboys’ 3rd down passing efficiency, but for the most part, the conversion rate was flat.  This is probably due more so to the team’s success in 3rd and long situations rather than an inability to convert on 3rd and short (when passing).

I give offensive coordinator Jason Garrett a lot of flack, but his 3rd down play-calling is generally outstanding.  I’d still love to see him run more on 3rd and medium (the ‘Boys ran just seven times on 3rd and 3-6 all season, compared to 42 passes).  Of course one would expect more passes in this range, but a slight increase in “surprise” runs would be in-tune with league-wide 3rd down conversion rates and could perhaps significantly aid the offense.

2010 3rd Down Runs

You can see above that the Cowboys’ 3rd down play-calling in 2009 fell in line with league averages: running was more successful than passing up until 3rd and 6.  I praised Garrett for his 3rd down play-calling last season, but I still hoped to see more 3rd downs runs this year.

So far, we are seeing those runs.  The chart to the left displays my findings.  Note that the sample size of plays is still small, so my mid-season and final analyses will be more statistically significant.  Still, it is interesting to see what sort of trends we can determine early in the season, if any.

Through three weeks, Garrett has run the ball a lot more on 3rd and 1-5.  In “true” short-yardage situations (one or two yards-to-go), the Cowboys have run on eight of nine plays this season.  That 88.9 percent rate is higher than last year’s 70.0 percent run rate in the same situations.  Further, the Cowboys are converting on a higher percentage of those runs.

On 3rd and 3-5, the Cowboys have run the ball twice this year.  That may not seem like much, but note that the Cowboys ran the ball just five times in that range in all of 2009.

Of course, we can’t be sure whether these numbers mean anything or not yet, but in combination with some of Garrett’s other early-season trends (which I will continue to detail throughout the bye week), it does appear as though the Cowboys’ much-scrutinized offensive coordinator is certainly using advanced statistics and game theory in a much more authoritative manner this season. . .and that is definitely a great thing.



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By Jonathan Bales

NFL Week 4 Power Rankings: Atlanta Falcons on the Move

Biggest Riser:  Atlanta Falcons (11 spots)

Biggest Faller:  San Diego Chargers (12 spots)

——————————————————

1. New Orleans Saints (2-1); Last Week- 1

The Saints remain at No. 1 for me even after losing to Atlanta because, quite simply, I still think they’re the best team in football.

2. Indianapolis Colts (2-1); Last Week- 4

The Colts may have jumped to the top spot in other rankings, but I don’t think their defense is even as good as that of New Orleans.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0); Last Week- 5

Mike Tomlin has to be the early favorite for Coach of the Year.  What he’s done in Pittsburgh is incredible.

4. Green Bay Packers (2-1); Last Week- 2

The Packer still ranked ahead of Chicago even after losing?  Well, they probably would have won that game if it was in Green Bay, and I think they win seven out of 10 match-ups at a neutral site.

5. Chicago Bears (3-0); Last Week- 13

What a difference Brian Urlacher makes to Da Bears’ defense.  He’s still an asshole, though.

6. Atlanta Falcons (2-1); Last Week- 17

Even though the Saints missed a “gimme” field goal in OT, the Falcons deserved to win the football game.

7. Baltimore Ravens (2-1); Last Week-7

The Ravens were lucky to hold on against the Browns.  They were my preseason pick to win the AFC but aren’t inspiring much confidence in me right now.

8. New York Jets (2-1); Last Week- 11

The Jets seem to be back on track after looking miserable in Week One, and they didn’t even get Santonio Holmes back yet.

9. Houston Texans (2-1); Last Week- 3

I think the Texans had an off-day against Dallas, although their defense really needs to step up if they want to contend for the playoffs.

10. New England Patriots (2-1); Last Week- 9

The Pats barely hung on against the Bills, but it doesn’t really matter how you win ‘em.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1); Last Week- 10

I don’t know what to think about the Bengals.  As long as they’re winning, though, we shouldn’t hear too much from either Batman or Robin.

12. Philadelphia Eagles (2-1); Last Week- 18

Cowboys fans: this is the NFC East team which should scare you most.  Vick’s style of play is a match-up nightmare for Dallas.

13. Miami Dolphins (2-1); Last Week- 8

The Dolphins had a shot to win in the final seconds on Sunday night but Henne couldn’t deliver.  He’ll do what is necessary to improve in the future.

14. Kansas City Chiefs (3-0); Last Week- 16

The Chiefs now have a two-game lead on the rest of the AFC West, including a win over San Diego.

15. Tennessee Titans (2-1); Last Week- 19

Are the Titans really worse than the Chiefs?  Well, Tennessee (at least theoretically) can be made one-dimensional.  That dimension (CJ2K) might just be so good it doesn’t matter, though.

16. Dallas Cowboys (1-2); Last Week- 21

Huge win for the ‘Boys, but it was only one game.  They need to show that kind of intensity each week.

17. Minnesota Vikings (1-2); Last Week- 14

I’m not sure how the Vikings won and dropped three spots, but beating the Lions doesn’t prove much of anything.

18. San Diego Chargers (1-2); Last Week- 6

The Chargers are notoriously slow starters, but one of these seasons it is going to come back to haunt them.  With the Chiefs rolling, this may be just that year.

19. New York Giants (1-2); Last Week- 12

We are finally seeing what a lucky Super Bowl victory was able to conceal: Tom Coughlin is a poor football coach.

20. Seattle Seahawks (2-1); Last Week- 26

What is up with Seattle?  Trust me when I say they aren’t a good football team.

21. Arizona Cardinals (2-1); Last Week- 28

See Seattle Seahawks.

22. Washington Redskins (1-2); Last Week- 15

Washington’s recent play makes the Cowboys’ Week One defeat that much more unbearable.

23. San Francisco 49ers (0-3); Last Week- 20

Looks like my preseason NFC West champ could be my mid-season favorite to obtain the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft.

24. Denver Broncos (1-2); Last Week- 23

A loss to Indy won’t drop them much.  The Broncos are lucky San Diego has the same record, although it probably won’t matter.

25. Tampa Bay Bucs (2-1); Last Week- 24

The Bucs are about to come flying back down to reality.

26. Oakland Raiders (1-2); Last Week- 22

What dumbass picked Oakland to make the playoffs this season?  Oh. . .crap.

27. St. Louis Rams (1-2); Last Week- 30

St. Louis has played well enough to be 2-1, or even 3-0.  Who would have thought Sam Bradford would be so effective so early?

28. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2); Last Week- 25

I feel so bad but Maurice Jones-Drew, but you never hear him complain.  Actually, you never hear much of anything out of Jacksonville.

29. Detroit Lions (0-3); Last Week- 27

Just when it looks like Detroit is improving, they get off to another 0-3 start.  At least they’re fun to watch now.

30. Carolina Panthers (0-3); Last Week- 29

At least the Panthers’ strong running game can eat enough clock to keep them in some ballgames.

31. Cleveland Browns (0-3); Last Week- 31

Cleveland is the only team I think has a legitimate shot to compete with Buffalo to go 0-16.

32. Buffalo Bills (0-3); Last Week 32

The Bills actually played pretty well on Sunday, but they cut Trent Edwards on Monday.  How do you release your opening day starting quarterback after Week Three?

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans Final Film Observations, Player Grades



Jonathan Bales

In case you missed it, check out my Cowboys-Texans post-game observations and “What We Learned” about Dallas in the football game.  Here are my more in-depth film study findings. . .

  • The Cowboys ran a variation of the same play four straight times in the fourth quarter.  They motioned into “Strong” formation and ran a strong side dive.  The only thing that changed was the type of motion.
  • I’m starting to notice that Jason Garrett tends to motion a lot in the beginning of the game, with that trend decreasing as the contest progresses.  The Cowboys have motioned 46 times in the first half as opposed to just 31 in the second half, but seven of those second half motions came in the last nine plays on Sunday (when the ‘Boys already wrapped up the game).  The reason is that the team’s first drive or two are scripted plays.  On the Cowboys’ three opening drives this year, they’ve motioned 14 times (4.7 times per drive).  That’s nearly twice the rate of other drives (2.5 motions per drive).
  • The Cowboys had just five red zone plays on Sunday, but they took advantage of their time in the area.  They ran the ball twice for one yard and a touchdown, and also threw three passes for 32 yards and a score.  Give Jason Garrett props for excellent red zone play-calling all year.

Personnel

Base (TE, 2 WR, RB, FB): Seven plays
2 TE, 2 WR, RB: 18 plays
2 TE, WR, RB, FB: Nine plays
TE, 3 WR, RB: 22 plays
3 TE, RB, FB: One play

Formations

25 formations in Week One, 19 in Week Two, and 19 again in Week Three

3 Wide I (4), 3 Wide Strong Left (2), Ace (3), Double Tight I (3), Double Tight Left/Right I (2), Double Tight Left/Right Strong (2), Double Tight Left/Right Twins Left/Right Ace (2), Gun TE Spread (15), Gun TE Trips (4), Gun TE Trips Empty (1), Gun Trips (1), I Formation (1), Power I (1), Strong (9), TE Trips Empty (1), Trips (3), Twins (1), Twins Right Strong Right (1), Weak Left (1)

  • You may have noticed on television how often Romo checked out of plays at the line of scrimmage.  He’s certainly been given a lot of freedom this season, and he utilized it on Sunday.  He audibled nine times, six times to a run (for 38 yards) and three times to a pass for 14 yards.  Four of the six runs were draw plays.  I noted that last season, 77.27 percent of Romo’s run audibles were to draw plays.
  • Think the Cowboys wanted to run the ball up the middle and to the right?  Check out the chart below.

  • As I stated in my article on What We Learned About Dallas in Week Three, the Cowboys decided to return to an old staple of the running game: the draw play.  After running only six combined draws in the first two games, Dallas ran 10 in Houston for 66 total yards.
  • After throwing 16 passes of 10+ yards against Washington and 13 against Chicago, the Cowboys attempted only nine in Houston.  However, they obviously threw far less passes against the Texans, so the ratio is actually about the same.
  • The Cowboys seven playaction passes totaled just 30 yards.  Five of the seven passes came with exactly 10 yards-to-go.  That trend dates back to last year.  Take a look at these numbers.
  • The Cowboys attempted only one screen pass and it fell incomplete.
  • How awesome was Romo?  He threw two passes which I labeled as “off-target” after throwing 12 such passes last week.
  • Of Dallas’ 30 passes, Witten went into a route on 19 of them (63.3 percent).  That’s lower than last year’s rate.  I still think he needs to be in a route more often.

Player Grades

QB Tony Romo: A

Only two off-target passes all day–about one-fourth of his average from ’09

RB Marion Barber: B

Barber’s best game this season; showed some explosion and good field awareness

RB Felix Jones: B+

Still hesitant on some runs, but looks great on draws; appears to be improved in passing game

WR Roy Williams: A

His hands are back, and his releases were tremendous–all about improved quickness

WR Dez Bryant: B+

Hasn’t been asked to do much, but always seems to make a play

TE Jason Witten:  B

Classic Witten–solid in all aspects of the game

LT Doug Free:  A-

Really held his own against Mario Williams without too much aid

LG Kyle Kosier:  C+

Struggled a bit before going down with knee sprain; not as punishing in running game as usual

C Andre Gurode:  B

Cowboys ran behind him often, and he’s seemed to have recovered from Week One pass protection woes

RG Leonard Davis:  B

Two false starts (only one called), but great at point-of-attack

RT Marc Colombo:  B-

Still not as high on him as others, but he brings a nastiness to the line

OLB DeMarcus Ware: A+

Only Troy Polamalu may be a better defensive player

OLB Anthony Spencer: C

Similar start as in 2009; sacks will come with consistent pressure

ILB Bradie James:  B+

Still stout against the run but has really come on in pass coverage

ILB Keith Brooking:  C-

Poor day for Brooking, who looks lost in pass coverage lately; team needs to find a true nickel LB

NT Jay Ratliff:  B+

Hustle on Arian Foster fumble was incredible

S Alan Ball: B+

Gets a good grade due to one thing–no big plays

CB Terence Newman:  B+

Jenkins is a bigger play-maker, but Newman is the better all-around cornerback right now.

CB Mike Jenkins: B-

Great coverage, but his tackling is becoming a problem

K David Buehler:  A-

Want to see same distance on kickoffs as in ’09, but have to be thrilled with two long field goals


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By Jonathan Bales

Jason Witten, Kyle Kosier Out for Dallas

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and left guard Kyle Kosier both suffered somewhat serious injuries yesterday in Houston.  Witten and Kosier both have a sprained MCL and could miss a couple of weeks.  The bye week, which originally seemed to be too early, now seems to be arriving at just the right time for Dallas.

In my opinion, the Kosier injury is more devastating to Dallas.  Witten is the superior player, but backup tight end Martellus Bennett has shown increased maturity and play-making ability this season.  His blocking is as good as ever (which is damn good, by the way) and he has made some plays in the passing game, particularly when Witten came out of the Bears game with a concussion.

Meanwhile, Montrae Holland is a rather large drop-off from Kosier.  Holland is okay in the running game, but his lack of athleticism leads him to get out of position in pass protection.  Further, while the offensive line hasn’t been perfect, the starters have yielded zero sacks in the last two contests.

Updates to come next week.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans Week 3: What We Learned About Dallas



Jonathan Bales

Breaking down the film last night and today was, as you might imagine, far more enjoyable than the previous two weeks.  The Cowboys played an all-around great game, able to protect the ball and, for the most part, limit drive-killing penalties.  While it is an awesome sign for the future, it also makes you wonder “Where has this team been?”  Read my initial post-game observations for more.

Let’s take a look at my pre-game Cowboys-Texans Manifesto and see how the ‘Boys performed. . .

What to Watch for Dallas vs. Houston

How will the Cowboys attack Matt Schaub?  Will they blitz a lot in an attempt to get sacks and force short throws, or will they sit back in coverage as to not allow you-know-who to beat them deep?

The Cowboys decided to sit back in coverage on most plays, and it worked wonderfully.  They were able to get adequate pressure on Schaub with just four and five rushers, meaning they could always keep a safety over top of Andre Johnson.  Johnson went for just 64 yards.

I’d still love to see the Cowboys disguise their blitzes more effectively, but the rarity of blitzes against the Texans may have contributed to their increased effectiveness.

Will Dallas commit to the run?  Will they attack the middle of the Texans’ defense or try to run outside?

Yesterday’s game is a perfect example of why people tend to overvalue the importance of the running game.  People usually look at statistics ex post facto, noting the correlation between running performance and winning percentage.  The two are certainly correlated, but correlation does not always equate to causation.  In fact, passing performance has been shown to be much, much more indicative of a team’s success than success on the ground.

The reason rushing yards are so closely linked to wins is simple: teams that are already winning run the football.  That says nothing about how that team came to gain a lead, however.

We saw just this yesterday, as the Cowboys actually had much of their success through the air.  Yes, the early efficiency of the running game helped, but it wasn’t until late in the game that Dallas “committed” to the run.  Actually, in the middle of the game (with the game still a one-possession contest), the ‘Boys threw the ball on 21 of 28 plays.  They racked up a lot of their carries and yardage at the end of the contest, as they ran the ball on nine of the final 10 plays.

How will the ‘Boys exploit the absence of the Texans’ starting left tackle Duane Brown?

Simple: put DeMarcus Ware over him and let him do his thing.  Ware racked up three sacks, particularly because the Texans seemed pretty comfortable allowing replacement left tackle Rashad Butler to be on an island.  They even tried to block Ware with Joel Dreessen once, and Ware manhandled him.

Will the Cowboys be able to effectively halt the Texans’ rushing attack, allowing them to force Houston to become one-dimensional?

The Texans actually ran the ball pretty well (22 carries for 124 yards).  Again, you can see that early rushing success doesn’t necessarily equate to wins, as the Cowboys were content in allowing the Texans to record the occasional big run in exchange for not allowing the really big play.  Houston was forced to continually beat Dallas with the running game and underneath routes, and they weren’t able to do it.

Will Jason Garrett dial up more draws?

Running more draws was one of the primary goals in my game plan, and the Cowboys executed that task tremendously.  After calling just six total draws in the first two games, the Cowboys called 10 of them against Houtson for 66 yards.

Will Martellus Bennett continue to see a lot of playing time in an effort to effectively block Mario Williams?

He saw an “average” amount of action: 26 snaps.  Of those plays, however, the Cowboys threw the ball on just 10 of them.  Thus, Dallas obviously thought spreading our the Texans’ defense (likely in an attempt to exploit their weak secondary) was more important than the “extra” protection which Bennett could provide.  Kudos to Jason Garrett.

How will the teams’ preseason match-up affect this contest?

The Texans came out with a game plan which was radically different from that in the preseason.  In that game, Houston blitzed Romo on an incredible two-thirds of his snaps.  This week, they rarely came at all.

I counted just 14 blitzes all game for Houston, and they only “showed” it on half of those.  Further, they didn’t show blitz a single time without actually sending pressure.  Washington and Chicago had success doing just that, so I’m not sure why Houston chose the game plan that they did.

DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

DO run more counters and misdirection plays in an effort to get the running game back on track.

Dallas ran only two counters all game for five yards.  I thought they could be used effectively against a very aggressive Texans defense, but the ‘Boys obviously didn’t.  Note that the “Fail” below is simply representative of their inability to run a lot of counters, not a judgment on whether or not that was a good idea.

Result: Fail

DON’T continue to have David Buehler perform directional kickoffs.

I’m not sure if Buehler is having trouble maintaining his distance on kickoffs, but directional kicking has obviously become a part of his repertoire.

Result: Fail

DO take advantage of the willingness of the Texans’ safeties to sell out against the run.

I loved Garrett’s decision to implement a lot of playaction passes against the Texans.  The Cowboys ran seven of them for just 30 yards, but a few of Romo’s incompletions appeared to still be good play-calls.  I talked about one such call in my initial post-game notes.  I wrote:

In the second quarter, the Cowboys tried a backside screen to Bennett.  It was incomplete due to Bennett falling, but the play looked to be wide open.  Interestingly, the Cowboys motioned from “3 Wide Strong” to a traditional “Strong” formation on the play–something they had been doing earlier, but running a strong side power play from that look (below).  They faked the power, so it was obviously something they had been trying to set up.  Nice call, even thought it didn’t pan out.

Result: Pass

DON’T allow Mr. Johnson to beat you.

Check.  Johnson’s 64 yards has to be considered a big-time “win” for the Dallas defense.  They did it by limiting their blitzes and giving the cornerbacks a lot of help over the top.  They were determined to not let AJ beat them deep, and they executed perfectly.

Result: Pass

DO disguise blitzes more effectively.

The Cowboys actually started to do this early in the game, but got away from it as the contest progressed.  Teams like the Eagles and Steelers have so much success with their blitzes because of how they disguise them.

Result: Fail

DON’T punt so often in opponent’s territory.

I loved the Cowboys calls to go for it on three fourth down plays in Texans’ territory.  They converted on two of them, including a big 4th and 2 pass to Bryant late in the game to seal the victory.  I think the Cowboys are being more aggressive due to their lack of confidence in David Buehler (as opposed to the reason they should be going for it–the math), but I’ll take it.

Result: Pass

DO get Tashard Choice on the field more.

I think we just need to realize that, barring injury, Choice isn’t going to be taking many of Barber’s snaps this season.  He was on the field for only seven plays on Sunday.

Result: Fail

DON’T worry about external points of view–play for each other!

This was the big one–worth more than all of the other “DOs and DON’Ts” combined.  The Cowboys are loaded with talent, and yesterday they showed they are capable of cashing in on it.  They looked genuinely excited to be playing in Houston, and many of the players even said the game was for Coach Phillips.  He passed his father in career victories in the city in which Mr. Phillips (the elder) obtained the majority of his wins.  If the Cowboys can continue to ignore outside attention and play smart, fundamental football, watch out.

Result: Pass



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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys-Houston Texans Top 20 Photos

Photos courtesy of Getty Images and Chron.com

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys/Texans Game Highlights

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans Week 3 Initial Post-Game Notes, Reactions



Jonathan Bales

Finally!  The Cowboys took down the Texans 27-13, but the game wasn’t even as close as the score indicates.  At last, Cowboys fans have something over which to rejoice.  The Giants also lost, so it’s a good day.

Random Observations

  • I loved the decisions to go for it on fourth down twice on the first drive.  The Cowboys converted once and failed once, but the statistically correct call (even for the 4th and 2 at the 30-yard line) was to forgo the field goal attempts.
  • Late in the first quarter, the Cowboys had a 3rd and 3 in their own territory.  Martellus Bennett caught a pass right at the sticks, got pushed backward, escaped, but didn’t return past the first down marker.  He should have gone down after the initial contact to gain forward progress (which appeared to be past the chains), but it is possible he was unaware of his position on the field.
  • The 3rd and 19 run for a first down by Arian Foster was ridiculous.  The Cowboys overcame it, but the subsequent field goal Houston kicked could have come back to haunt them.
  • On that play, Mike Jenkins completely whiffed on a tackle attempt.  He missed three on the drive.  He really isn’t progressing in run support, and it is becoming detrimental to the defense.  It really makes you appreciate how well-rounded Terence Newman is as a cornerback.
  • The Cowboys had a big screen pass to Felix Jones called back due to a block in the back by Miles Austin.  The play was a tremendous audible by Romo at the line.
  • I will report back on the official numbers tomorrow, but the Cowboys definitely brought back the draw play this week, as I suggested they should.  It really sparked the running game.
  • In the second quarter, the Cowboys tried a backside screen to Bennett.  It was incomplete due to Bennett falling, but the play looked to be wide open.  Interestingly, the Cowboys motioned from “3 Wide Strong” to a traditional “Strong” formation on the play–something they had been doing earlier, but running a strong side power play from that look (below).  They faked the power, so it was obviously something they had been trying to set up.  Nice call, even thought it didn’t pan out.

  • The pass protection was sensational.  Other than one third down play on which Mario Williams came in unblocked, the offensive line, tight ends, and running backs really did a commendable job on Williams and the other Texans defenders.
  • As a team, the Cowboys show poor clock awareness.  There have been multiple plays this year on which players have either stayed in bounds when they should have gotten out, or vice versa.  Marion Barber is the exception.  He always does an excellent job in late-game situations of getting down on the ground to keep the clock moving.
  • Dez Bryant is adjusting well to the NFL, but he got confused on the illegal touching rule in the pros.  The touchdown he scored in the second quarter got called back because Bryant got forced out of bounds before he caught the pass.  It would have been a touchdown in college (because he got forced out), but not so in the pros.
  • The Cowboys didn’t appear to blitz much at all, and I liked it.  They forced the Texans to beat them again and again, and even though Foster had some big runs, the Texans weren’t consistently able to move the football on Dallas.  It also seemed to make the blitzes more efficient when they did bring them.
  • Roy Williams’ first touchdown was beautiful.  He took a hard jab step outside to get an inside release on rookie Kareem Jackson, allowing Romo room to throw the football.  People might start to jump back on the Roy Williams bandwagon, but I’ve been on the whole time.
  • Igor Olshansky was lined up offsides by about a foot on a play late in the third quarter.  I have no idea what he was thinking.
  • Orlando Scandrick still seems to be a step behind everything.  Part of that is the nature of defending in the slot (a lot of crossing routes on which cornerbacks tend to get in a trailing position).  Still, I thought he would take a big step forward in 2010, and while he isn’t playing terribly, he isn’t lighting it up either.
  • I think Keith Brooking is playing too many defensive snaps.  He appears tired at times, and it showed today in his pass coverage.  Whether it is Sean Lee or Jason Williams, it would really help the Dallas defense if someone can win the nickel linebacker job.

  • I know Jason Garrett likes to call two plays (the second of which is run if Romo checks out of the first at the line), but the plays need to come in a little faster.  Romo is consistently snapping the ball with just one second left on the play clock, and it gives the defense an opportunity to jump the snap.  Perhaps Romo can speed up his pre-snap reads as well, although that’s less likely to happen.
  • David Buehler looked awesome today on his two field goals, both of which were fairly long.  One was also in a somewhat high-pressure situation: from 49 yards right before half.  I can’t help but wonder if this is a good thing for the Cowboys, or whether it will simply delay the inevitable.

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