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Analyzing DOs and DON’T for Cowboys vs. Dolphins/Final Film Observations

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Jonathan Bales

As always, I gave the ‘Boys some DO’s and DON’Ts for the Dolphins game.  Let’s see how they performed.

DO give Michael Hamlin and Danny McCray reps at nickel linebacker.

Hamlin and McCray both got time inside, and I thought Hamlin outplayed McCray.  Hamlin showed good footwork and technique, while McCray was just so-so.

Result: Pass

DON’T be as predictable and “vanilla” with the play-calling.

Like I said in my initial post-game notes, Garrett didn’t go crazy with extravagant play-calls, but he did run some new stuff and, more importantly, generally stayed away from the predictable plays from formations such as “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace” and “Double Tight Right Strong Right.”  Actually, the Cowboys didn’t line up in either formation once.

They did still run weak side from “Double Tight I,” however–something I hope doesn’t carry its way into the regular season.

Result: Pass

DO max protect for Stephen McGee so he can take some chances down the field.

The Cowboys didn’t max protect per se, but they did regularly send just two or three players into a route.  McGee’s reads were simple, and he did a nice job of making the right ones.  His reads generally looked to be long-to-short, which was a welcome change from the start of the preseason.  His 43-yard touchdown bomb to Sam Hurd was the best throw of his NFL career.

Result: Pass

DON’T leave Tashard Choice in the game too long.

Choice left the game even earlier than I expected–after just a couple of drives.  When he was in, he once again showed the incredible balance and vision which makes him so underrated.

Result: Pass

DO give Cletis Gordon an opportunity to cover Brandon Marshall (assuming Marshall plays).

Gordon was matched up on Marshall a handful of times, and generally did well.  He played with too large of a cushion at times and was thus unable to effectively drive on the ball, but he didn’t get burned.  Later, he struggled against Brian Hartline and Miami’s other less talented receivers.

Result: Pass

DON’T give Martellus Bennett too much playing time.

Like Choice, Bennett was out of the game fairly quickly.  He was replaced by DajLeon Farr and Martin Rucker, neither of whom I am projecting to make the final roster.

Result: Pass

DO give Chris Gronkowski a lot of reps, particularly on power rushing plays.

Gronkowski got a ton of reps and didn’t disappoint.  He displayed improved blocking at the point-of-attack, although I still prefer Deon Anderson.  He also caught a few balls and moved the chains a couple times on fullback dives.  I think his ability to move the pile in short-yardage situations could make him a valued asset to a Cowboys’ offense that struggled in short-yardage situations last year.

Result: Pass

DON’T put Patrick Crayton back deep on punt returns.

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Bryan McCann, and Manuel Johnson were the primary return men last night, but not Crayton.  Good job, Wade.

Result: Pass

DO kick a long field goal. . .no matter what.

How about a 51-yarder and a game-winner?  The team’s confidence in Buehler is growing exponentially with each contest.

Result: Pass

Conclusions

Wow.  Nine-for-nine on the DOs and DON’Ts this week.  Really solid job by Phillips, Garrett, and the rest of the coaches in putting the players in positions for optimal evaluation, while still allowing them to play well AND not giving anything away for the regular season.  Hats off to the second-team as well for giving the Cowboys some much-needed momentum heading into Washington.

Next week, my DOs and DON’Ts will be a bit more specific to the Redskins, as the focus of the game shifts from evaluating talent to kicking ass.

Final Film Observations

My film observations from Thursday night’s game aren’t as lengthy as usual, so I decided to slide them into this post.

  • I noticed the Cowboys’ fullbacks (particularly Gronkowski) have been giving away play-calls with their alignment.  In any variation of Strong formation, they have been lining up slightly closer to the line of scrimmage and a bit further toward the sideline (about a yard or less each direction) if they are running into the flat on a route.  If their assignment is to lead block or carry the ball themselves, however, their alignment is closer to the tailback.  Take a look below.

  • Gronkowski in particular has been shifting his alignment.  The reason is that he is much more likely to go into a route than starter Deon Anderson.  The extra yard lets him get there faster.  I don’t know if the alignment is pre-determined by the coaches, but if not, it should be corrected.  If it is, I would suggest that Garrett moves the fullback to position No. 2 (above) for all plays from Strong formation.  The fullback can then reach the flat easier, but isn’t too far from the quarterback to take a handoff or lead block on dive plays.
  • Like I said above, the Cowboys still ran weak side out of “Double Tight Right (or Left) I” (below).  They lined up in the formation eight times during the preseason, and ran weak side all eight times.  The reason they line up in “I-Formation” instead of “Strong” (above) is because it makes the fullback’s lead block to the weak side easier.  For some reason, I have a bad feeling this isn’t going to change.

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.  But 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.  “Kill” calls work as follows:

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.

Thus, it appears as though I was correct in assuming that the draw checks were originating from Garrett.  The fact that McGee uses a “Kill” call to check into draw plays just as often as Romo shows that the second of the two plays which are often called by Garrett is very frequently a draw.

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