Are the Cowboys a better team with Jon Kitna under center?
The rate of league-wide Shotgun snaps has increased dramatically over the last decade. The Cowboys have been one of the league’s top contributors, particularly this season. Through Week 10, Dallas has been in the Shotgun an astounding 47.3 percent of all plays. That’s right–nearly half of all the plays the Cowboys have run in 2010 have been without the quarterback under center.
Part of that sky-high Shotgun percentage can be explained by game situations–the Cowboys have been down in a lot of games and have thus been forced to throw the football more than anticipated. That isn’t the only explanation, though. Many of the team’s Shotgun snaps have come in the first quarter, in close games, or even with the ‘Boys ahead on the scoreboard.
While I do think the Shotgun is a necessary outcome of the spread offense and increased emphasis on passing, I don’t think the Cowboys should run it as often anymore. The primary reason is Jon Kitna. He has been far more productive during his career when taking snaps from under center (the staple of a Mike Martz offense in which he flourished).
I think Jason Garrett is beginning to agree. Last week, the Cowboys were in the Shotgun on just 12 plays (24 percent of all snaps). An enormous reason for Kitna’s success in that game was the incredible pass protection he received, but let’s not discredit his comfortability in five and seven-step drops. In his three starts this season, the veteran is averaging nearly 1.5 yards more per pass from under center (9.81) as compared to throws out of Shotgun (8.45).
Plus, perhaps the offensive line is simply better at protecting for a quarterback who is in a pass drop. The defensive linemen know where a quarterback in the Shotgun will end up, but they don’t know whether a quarterback dropping from under center will take three, five, or seven steps. The numbers support this theory too, as 10 of the 13 sacks Dallas has allowed this year have come with the quarterback in Shotgun. That rate (76.9 percent) is significant even after we adjust for the inordinate amount of passes out of Shotgun as compared to formations with the quarterback under center.
A few weeks ago, Garrett remarked that he uses his experience as a backup quarterback when calling plays for Kitna. Specifically, he mentioned that he attempts to call plays that mesh well with the backup’s strengths (as opposed to opening up the playbook to take advantage of a defense’s weaknesses).
It’s quite clear that one of Kitna’s primary strengths is taking the snap from under center. If Garrett continues to call plays to suit Kitna’s skill set, the Cowboys should be able to continue the success they found in New York last week.