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By Jonathan Bales

Week 13 Cowboys Mailbag: Stopping Peyton Manning & Garrett’s 2nd Down Play-Calls

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Q:  Do you think the Cowboys should use the 2006 game film of when they beat Peyton Manning as a template for their preparation this week?

Greg Ramone, East Brunswick, NJ

A: Perhaps as a confidence-booster, but nothing else.  Only five of the Cowboys’ defensive starters from that season are still on the roster.  On top of that, the only similarity between the 2006 defense and the 2010 version is that they’re both 3-4 alignments.  The philosophies of the two schemes are radically different.

You’ll hear people claim that the Colts’ offense is basically the same as it was then, but that’s not really the case.  Indy does even less running now than before, and Manning has been forced to get the ball out of his hands much quicker due to an inadequate offensive line.  The scheme is similar, but it’s actually rather simplistic.  What makes it deadly is the precision with which Manning & Co. run it.

Instead of focusing on 2006, Dallas needs to worry about how Manning can beat them now.  The Colts’ running game is basically non-existent, so the ‘Boys really need to focus on stopping Reggie Wayne first.  I’ll have more thoughts on the game plan later in the week.

Q:  It seems like Jason Garrett’s 2nd down play-calling has improved this season (in terms of predictability).  Is that the case?

Tyler Guyton via Twitter

A: You better believe it.  Garrett’s 2nd down play-calling last season was atrocious due to its predictability.  Regardless of an offensive coordinator’s run/pass ratio, we’d want to see that rate remain steady in specific situations regardless of the previous play-call.  For example, if a coordinator dials up a run on 80 percent of 2nd and 3-7 plays following a 1st down run, he would benefit most by calling runs at the same rate following a 1st down pass.

Here is a snippet of my 2009 study of Garrett’s 2nd down calls:

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.

In an early-season post, I described in further detail why Garrett’s play-calling was poor:

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.

In 2010, Garrett has been magnificent with his play-calling on 2nd down.  He clearly noticed his prior mistakes and made the necessary adjustments.  Take a look at the new chart below.  Garrett’s 2nd down run rate following a 1st down pass is nearly identical to that following a 1st down run.  Tremendous job of identifying a weakness and acting accordingly.

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7 Responses to Week 13 Cowboys Mailbag: Stopping Peyton Manning & Garrett’s 2nd Down Play-Calls

  1. john coleman says:

    We better cover some people. That’s it! The passrush should get home this week. I say very little blitzing, at least to start with. One thought regarding the Colts front office. They get a ton of credit for being great drafters. Yet, if Manning went down they are perhaps the Panthers minus a running game. The Colts have a QB, a few WRs, two DEs, and a couple of ILBs and that’s it. They have made a GOOD living on the back of Peyton Manning. Question is, when do they draft a serious QB of the future? The second question is a no doubter. I believe they started checking your site. Seriously, I’m much more concerned with Garrett regarding personnel. He needs to make some moves and begin preparing for the future. We will see if he is concerned with winning games or building a winner?

  2. john coleman says:

    Hum? The last line is somewhat ambiguous. I think we all understand though.

  3. Well, I think the Colts are better than the Panthers even w/o Manning. Freeney and Mathis alone are better than anything in Carolina. And I don’t want to be conceited, but I know the coaches use my site and have at least taken some of the info into consideration, as I do talk with Wes Phillips from time to time. And I think Barber still starting (until now) might answer your question on personnel, although you may have noticed we’ve seen a lot more Sean Lee and Victor Butler of late.

  4. Mark Watkins says:

    The points that you make sometimes seem to be so obvious once you state them Jonathan, and you back them up with statistics and logic, so it’s not surprising that they do read this site. I don’t want to sound too pandering, but your site is exactly what I had hoped someone would make and I’m really glad that I found it. There are some interesting articles on dc.com and it’s good for what it is, but there’s a lot of fluff there, material that is just obvious or put out more for marketing purposes. This to me is the meat and potatoes of Cowboys football, so to speak, which I really enjoy.

  5. Thanks Mark…that’s one hell of a compliment and I really appreciate it.

  6. Pingback: Five Reasons the Dallas Cowboys Will Win the NFC East in 2011 | Dallas Cowboys Times

  7. Mont Seventeen says:

    I always thought Jason Garret calls 2 or 3 plays and Romo runs a check-with me at the line based on what he assumes the D is trying to do… Are you insinuating Romo such an idiot that Jason Garrett has removed presnap reads from Romo’s job description? I can’t recall *ny of the Top tier QBs having as many issues with the talent around him as Romo… One year its TO, then its Crayton, the Oline, FLo b4 that, Roy Williams… Seriously? Great QBs don’t have these problems with so many different areas that effect their game… If they do they are still able to overcome them and at least get their team to the playoffs on a consistent basis.

    What happen to the “its only Romo’s 5th year starting/Peyton Manning never won a playoff game…” Argument? That rationale seemed more logical, this “Play-calling has improved on second down” sophistry is almost comical.

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