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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions Week 11 Post-Film Study Observations: What We Learned About Dallas

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Jonathan Bales

I posted a lot of interesting notes on the Cowboys-Lions game last night, and below are some observations and statistics I gathered after reviewing the game film. . .

  • Dallas ran 12 red zone plays: seven runs for 27 yards and five passes for four yards (including a sack for -8 yards) and two touchdowns.  I’ve loved Jason Garrett’s red zone play-calling thus far in 2010.  Awhile back, I suggested that he call more passes between the opponent’s 10 and 20-yard lines, and more runs inside the 10-yard line (particularly on 1st down).  He’s doing just that this season, and it’s working well.

  • You may have noticed the Cowboys have run a lot less three-receiver sets of late.  Last week, they implemented only 14, and this week it was only 16.  This decrease is due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is an attempt to provide protection for Jon Kitna.  Martellus Bennett is a tremendous blocker (better than even Marc Colombo, I’d say), and his receiving skills force defenses to honor him in the passing game.
  • Part of the decrease in three (and four) receiver formations is also due to Dez Bryant’s presence in base personnel packages.  He’s earned the right to be on the field for the majority of snaps, and now Garrett isn’t forced to put three receivers on the field to get Bryant involved.  I’m not afraid to admit I have a bit of a man-crush on him.
  • The lack of receivers has also resulted in less Shotgun snaps (or perhaps vice versa).  Through Week 10, the Cowboys were in Shotgun on a ridiculous 47.3 percent of all snaps.  This week, however, Dallas used Shotgun on only 13 of 54 offensive plays (24.1 percent).  This comes just a week after using Shotgun at the same rate in their win over the Giants.  Garrett must have recently realized how much more successful Kitna is under center as opposed to in Shotgun.
  • The Cowboys motioned 16 times, including on 10 of the first 18 plays.  They gained only 85 total yards on the 16 plays (5.31 yards-per-play).
  • Kitna checked out of three plays on Sunday.  All of them were passes and they totaled four yards.  That sounds poor, but two of them were touchdowns (Bryant’s touchdown and Austin’s first touchdown).
  • In my notes from yesterday, I mentioned I liked a play that didn’t work for Dallas.  They had lined Marion Barber up at fullback and motioned Felix Jones to tailback from the slot (in my notes I mistakingly said it was Bryant).  When they’ve done this in the past, they’ve usually handed the ball to Barber on a dive.  When that doesn’t happen, they’ll pitch it out to Jones.  Well, they faked both this week, and may have found themselves another touchdown had Jason Witten and Marc Colombo blocked better.  Both guys whiffed on their defender (the same guy, I might add).
  • Speaking of Colombo–he was absolutely horrible.  I knew he was bad, but after I reviewed the film, I realized he was even worse than I thought.  I credited him with yielding 1.5 sacks, and he also got nailed for a false start and a holding penalty.  I think it is time for Sam Young.
  • Kitna has spread the ball around quite well since becoming the starter (in terms of placement of passes).  Take a look at the distribution below:

  • You can see that the distribution of throws for Kitna has been nearly identical to the left, middle, and right portions of the field.  You can also see that he’s been incredibly accurate over the middle of the field, while the highest percentage of his ‘off-target’ passes have come when throwing to the right side of the field.  Compare these numbers to those of Romo in 2009:

  • Kitna has obviously been more erratic this season than Romo was in 2009, but not bad for a backup.  By the way, Kitna threw a season-low four off-target passes on Sunday against the Lions.
  • The Cowboys ran four draws for 44 yards, but they all came late in the contest.
  • The ‘Boys ran quite a few playaction passes throughout the game (eight), and I’m happy to report they threw the ball downfield following those looks.  Five of the eight passes traveled over 10 yards, and three of them went 15+.
  • It was a big screen game for Dallas as well.  They attempted six of them for 46 yards.  The targets were Jones (three times), Choice (twice), and Bryant (once).
  • Roy Williams got into the action early, hauling in two passes for 20 yards on the first drive.  He wasn’t even targeted the rest of the game, though.  Meanwhile, Chris Gronkowski was targeted three times.
  • Of the 28 times Dallas dropped back to pass, Witten was in a route on 18 of them (64.3 percent).  That’s a good rate.
  • Bryant did a really nice job of blocking on run plays.  He’s a complete player and his effort on each play is phenomenal.
  • On the 4th quarter screen pass to Jones that went for 25 yards, Kyle Kosier got away with a blatant block-in-the-back.  He missed his guy and pushed him in the back right in front of the ball, so I’m not sure how it was overlooked.
  • The naked bootleg 4th down play on which Kitna ran for a 29-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty, but I think Garrett should have saved it.  Clearly no one expects Kitna to keep the ball, particularly from a formation (Double Tight I) in which the Cowboys nearly always hand the ball off to the running back.  Perhaps Garrett didn’t have as much confidence in it at the time, but it sure would be nice to have that play in your back pocket for a crucial 4th down play in the future.
  • I’m not understanding why the last two teams the ‘Boys have played have decided not to blitz them much.  The Giants sat back and let Kitna pick them apart last week, and the Lions did basically the same today.  I counted only 12 blitzes all day from Detroit.  They did disguise them well, showing blitz pre-snap on only three of those 12 plays, but you’d think teams would recognize the Cowboys’ offensive line has trouble against blitzes, stunts, and twists and react accordingly.

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6 Responses to Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions Week 11 Post-Film Study Observations: What We Learned About Dallas

  1. J says:

    Two questions enter my mind after this game. A recurring one: Why does it seem Jason is evoloving his offense even more as a head coach than as the Coordinator?

    Also, just can’t help but wonder what games we could have won without Wade. I realize it’s futile but the Redskins, Bears and Titans seem to be games we could have had and that ties you with the GMen right now. It also suggests that we may have been smoked by Green Bay who knew how to exploit our ragged Offensive Line and our weakness at Safety on D.

  2. J–I’m really not sure why Garrett’s play-calling his changed since becoming HC, but let’s see if it continues. After all, it is only two games, although he does seem to be utilizing players’ strengths more as opposed to stubbornly calling the same plays.

  3. john coleman says:

    I just wonder if the reduced blitzes could be because teams feel Kitna will burn them. Also Dez’s continued emergence could be a factor. The two teams we just played also have strong defensive fronts and suspect secondaries. We certainly have looked much better overall, with all phases contributing. I said from the beginning of the Garrett era, that good effort would be enough for me. So far I’d give an A grade for effort. The wins are a bonus. We still need to see more players like Young. Look at the McCann example. He has proved he has value and seems to be a playmaker. Playmaking is something that you almost seem to be born with. It’s like an instinct.

  4. I don’t think teams think Kitna can burn them anymore than Romo could, but I do think the Saints will blitz a lot on Thurs. and will be a very difficult matchup.

  5. Vince Grey says:

    Out of town and couldn’t actually watch the game until last night. Here’s what I came away with:

    - The O-line didn’t stink, but clearly theyt didn’t play as well as they had against the Giants a week ago. A few dumb penalties (But nothing in number like they used to have on a weekly basis) and some badly missed blocks, especially on running plays. Of course, the Lions have a couple of real studs in their D-line and that may have had something to do with it. That Suh kid is a force. Wish we had him. Imagine Suh with Ratliff inside and Ware off the edge. Yowza.

    - Poor game for the zebras. The horse collar thing was just wrong, and Suh lined up a couple of times so off-sides a blind man couldn’t have missed it. But they did.

    - JJ Taylor over at Dallas News, (Who’s opinions I often disagree with) gave Garrett a hard time over his decision to run Felix down deep near the Cowboy goal line with little time left on the clock. It was the play he fumbled on. While of course no one wanted a turnover there, I had absolutely no problem with the call. First of all, with the ball on the 3-4 yard line, I don’t think I’d have my QB kneeling down, because you have to step back a yard or so in order to do that, and there was very little room for that maneuver. Second, a RB SHOULD have the better ball security skills and a simple hand-off SHOULD be a safe call 99% of the time. Third, with FJ’s speed, he could have busted one for the distance. Good play call, lousy result. It happens.

    - Speaking of second guessing, which generally I dislike, how often does a freakin’ draw play on 3rd and 15 work for 24 yards? One out of never? 99% of the time, that’s a give up and let’s take the field goal play, but this time it worked. Lousy play call, good result. It happens.

    - First half, PP has the D playing pretty passively, with lots of 3 man rushes and 8 in coverage. I really dislike that kind of defense and was thinking this was a bad sign of things to come, but in the second half they started rushing more guys and good things began to happen.

    - Hey, Mike Jenkins made a tackle! Actually stuck his shoulder into the gut of a Detroit RB and brought the guy down. Give sweet Mike a standing O. (Please insert dripping sarcasm here)

    - Kitna continues to impress me with his accuracy and poise in the pocket. Be very interesting to see if that holds up when facing hard blitzing teams like the Saints and Eagles. I think this might be a good thing for Romo. I’ve seen more than one starting QB get injured, have to sit for several games, and come back better than ever. Not so much physically as mentally.

    - I feel bad for Choice. All the guy does when he’s in there is produce and yet the coaching staff hardly lets him see the field. Has to be some sort of personality conflict here. Only thing I can figure.

    - Welcome back Jay Ratliff. Kind of missed ya buddy.

    - Our safeties don’t cover all that well, or hit hard, or tackle all that great, or force any turnovers. Other than that though, they rock.

    - Man, do we need more players like Dez or what? Not so much for their talent, but their enthusiasm and fire.

    - Overall, adjusting for the opponent, the location, and the injuries, I’d give this game a C+.

  6. A few thoughts Vince. . .

    Agree there was nothing wrong with the call to run Felix. JJ Taylor bitches at anything he can. What else would you want Garrett to do in that situation? A lot of writers (almost all) take results as the sole determiner of the merit of a call. DC Times readers know just because a play doesn’t work doesn’t mean it was a poor call. It’s easy to see a sack and say “terrible call.” It’s more difficult to see it and realize it may have been the highest percentage call at the time but simply didn’t work. The media’s understanding (or lack thereof) of statistics is mind-boggling to me.

    I was going to point out that Jenkins tackle just for you! Glad you noticed (insert only semi-dripping sarcasm here). haha

    I’d give the game a little better grade–a B-. Poor start, but the second half was awesome.

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