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Are the Cowboys a better team with Jon Kitna under center?

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Jonathan Bales

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.

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9 Responses to Are the Cowboys a better team with Jon Kitna under center?

  1. JJ says:

    Jonathan – astute observation. It will be interesting to assess how many other players will see adjustments to better use their skill set. The obvious is Kitna. Are their others? (i.e. how to better use Bennett? how to unleash Ware?, etc).

    And, just a thought although probably without any merit: I just wonder if Jason feels that he has even more authority to tinker with the offense or maybe it’s not just authority but energy now that he is the man. After all, the deficiencies with Kitna in shotgun or the weakness of the OLine or the failure for Felix to get in space, etc. have been present all season with Jason at the helm. Just wondering what may have held him back.

  2. john lacroix says:

    good morning…in regards to ware and unleasing him what about moving him around at times..over the center ..a delayed blitz..etc etc…john

  3. LandryStadium says:

    Interesting article, but the headline is a tad misleading. The article is about the rate of snaps the Cowboys are in the Shotgun and Kitna’s strength under center, but it never addresses the question in the headline, which the reader would assume to mean “Are the Cowboys a better team with Kitna at QB than they are with Romo at QB?”

    I’m okay with that, by the way. I almost didn’t even read the article, based on the headline, but I’m glad I did. Good work on the article. Could have made a better choice on the headline.

  4. JJ–There are tons of other adjustments that could be made, IMO. The hard part is accomplishing all of the tasks laid out in front of you as a coordinator. I do think you’re right about JG. Even though he was already the HC of the offense, I’m sure it’s a psychological boost to know you’re the man and run the entire team.

    John–awesome point, because you saw Ware and Spencer move around quite a bit today against Detroit. Great prediction.

    I know the title is a tad misleading :) I figured I might have some angry readers.

  5. Vince Grey says:

    Actually. knowing the number of insanely ignorant Romo-haters out there, I’d think you get a lot of love from them with that title.

  6. johncoleman says:

    To me it is simple as to why you should stay away from the shotgun. It is almost automatic that it is a pass. Furthermore if it is a run the back is 2-3 yards deeper when he gets the ball. Which IMO, increases the likelihood of a negative play.

  7. I like Shotgun in certain situations (and I do like Pistol much more), but I think Dallas is correct in using it less, esp. with Kitna taking snaps.

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