Analyzing Jason Garrett’s 2nd Down Play-Calling in 2010
We are just five games into the 2010 season, but already offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has displayed much improvement in a number of areas. The casual fan will look at the Cowboys’ mediocre 20.4 points-per-game (16th in the NFL) and conclude that Garrett is having a horrible season. With all of the weapons Dallas possesses on offense, shouldn’t they be averaging, like, 28 points-per-game?
Yes, they should. But a five game sample size is hardly enough to convince me that Garrett isn’t superior in his play-calling from a year ago. I’ve told you all season that Garrett has been much, much less predictable with his play-calling. He’s dialing up more weak side runs (see study on weak side runs here), more 3rd down runs (see study on 3rd down runs here), and less predictable play-calling based on personnel (see personnel-based play-calling stats here).
As I analyzed my database of Cowboys’ 2010 plays this morning, I realized perhaps Garrett’s largest improvement has come in the way of play-calling on 2nd down. You may remember I conducted a study on Garrett’s 2009 play-calling trends on 2nd down awhile back, noting the Cowboys’ run/pass selection was highly correlated with their previous play-call (even after adjusting for specific situations). This is from that article:
On 2nd and 3 to 7, for example, Garrett dialed up a run on only 23 of the 78 (29.5 percent) plays that followed a 1st down run. After 1st down passes, though, the Cowboys ran on 2nd down on 26 of 34 plays (76.5 percent). Thus, Dallas was 2.95 times more likely to run on 2nd and 3 to 7 after a 1st down pass than after a 1st down run.
On 3rd and 8 to 10, that trend, surprisingly, did not get much better. The team ran on only 10 of 50 plays (20.0 percent) in these scenarios following a 1st down run. After passes, Garrett called a run on 32 of 58 2nd down plays (55.2 percent), meaning the team was 2.76 times more likely to run on 2nd and 8 to 10 after a pass than a run.
On 2nd and 11 or more, the team was still 2.33 times more likely to run after a 1st down pass than after a run. Obviously Garrett did some things right in the past few years, but this sort of predictability is unacceptable.
I’ve posted a graph to the left detailing the information above. Note that I am not criticizing the overall rate of runs/passes. Garrett could pass 95 percent of the time, but if his current play-call is dependent on the previous one, there will be a problem. Again, the issue is not with the overall run/pass ratio, but rather the fact that it gets skewed based on previous calls.
For a play-caller to maximize his effectiveness, we’d want the run/pass ratio to be equal in comparable situations following a particular call. Note that I am not advocating a 50/50 balance. I am simply stating that it is in an offensive coordinator’s best interest to retain his particular run/pass ratio in specific down-and-distances regardless of the previous call. If he passes 90 percent of the time on 2nd and 3-7 following a 1st down pass, he should pass 90 percent of the time in the same situation following a run. Don’t let previous calls affect current ones.
As far as the graph above, we’d want to see the red and blue lines be as close together as possible. The specific run/pass ratio is irrelevant–what’s important is that the lines match up, wherever that may be.
As I analyzed the Cowboys’ 2nd down plays in 2010, it is very obvious Garrett has made a conscious effort to clean up the mess from last season. Check out the graph below.
Note how much closer the lines are to converging as compared to 2009. On 2nd and 3-7–plays on which Garrett “mixed it up” last year in an attempt to be random (only to, ironically, become very predictable)–his run/pass ratio is nearly identical, regardless of his call on 1st down. That’s as much as any fan could ask from an offensive coordinator.
There are still some issues, which is to be expected (it is unreasonable to think an offensive coordinator, in the heat of a game, can perfectly equalize all ratios). Although the run ratio on 2nd and 8-10 looks about equal, the Cowboys have actually been nearly 3.5 times as likely to run after a 1st down pass as compared to following a 1st down run. In fairness to Garrett, the offense has only run nine plays on 2nd and 8-10 that followed a run (just one was another run).
There also appears to be a large gap between 2nd and 1-2 run ratios, but note that the Cowboys have had just six total plays in that down-and-distance. Hardly a significant sample size.
Overall, Garrett’s improvements in his 2nd down play-calling are remarkable. Looks like someone has been visiting DC Times. . .