The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

A Look at Jason Garrett’s Use of Playaction Passes in 2010

Jonathan Bales

Last season, I conducted an in-depth study of the Cowboys’ 2009 playaction passes.  Here are a few points of interest from that study:

  • Of the 83 playaction passes, only FOUR were attempts of 20 yards or more That is 4.8 percent of all pass plays attempted.  The Cowboys threw the ball downfield 20 yards or more on 46 of the other 467 attempts, or 9.9 percent of all passes.
  • Dallas ran screen passes on 33 of their 467 non-playaction passes (7.1 percent).  That screen rate more than tripled on playaction passes to 22.9 percent (19 of 83 passes).
  • Of the 83 playaction passes, 53, or 63.9 percent, were to the right side of the field (compared to just 37.0 percent on other passes).
  • The Cowboys ran only four (FOUR!) playaction passes all season with 1-4 yards-to-go.  The number of plays on the season in that range: 132.  Thus, Dallas ran playaction on just 3.03 percent of plays in situations with just 1-4 yards to go for a first down (situations with a legitimate threat of a run).
  • With 10 yards remaining, however, the Cowboys dialed up 54 play-action passes (59.3 percent of all playaction passes came on this ‘distance-to-go’).
  • The Cowboys actually ran one more playaction pass (five total) with 20+ yards-to-go than with 1, 2, 3 or 4 yards-to-go.
  • They also ran just 18 play-action passes with less than 10 yards left for a 1st down.  Thus, just 19.8 percent of playaction passes came with less than 10 yards-to-go.

So, has Jason Garrett’s use of playaction passes improved in 2010?  Kind of, but not enough.  Here are some comparable notes from the 2010 season:

  • Of the 98 playaction passes, 13 have been thrown 20+ yards downfield (13.3 percent).  This is certainly better than last year, but it is also one of the only areas in which Garrett has significantly improved.
  • Dallas has run screen passes on 48 of their 462 non-playaction passes (10.4 percent).  That screen rate nearly doubled on playaction passes to 19.4 percent.
  • Of the 98 playaction passes attempted, just 38 (38.8 percent) were to the right side of the field.  I think last year’s rate of 63.9 may have been an aberration.
  • The Cowboys still ran just FOUR playaction passes with 1-4 yards-to-go.  That is only 3.2 percent of the 124 overall plays in that range.
  • 59 of the 103 total playaction passes (five were sacks) have been with exactly 10 yards-to-go.  That rate of 56.3 percent is comparable to that in 2009.
  • The Cowboys again ran more playaction passes with 20+ yards-to-go (five) than with 1-4 yards-to-go (four).  Stunning.
  • Only 22 of the 103 total playaction passes came with less than 10 yards-to-go.  That’s just 21.4 percent.

Overall, it’s shocking to me how incredibly similar these stats are from year to year.  What are the odds the Cowboys would run the EXACT same number of playaction passes with 1-4 yards-to-go AND 20+ yards to go from 2009 to 2010?  The rate of playaction looks from other ranges and the number that result in screen passes are eerily similar as well.

Garrett’s play-calling has certainly improved in a bunch of areas, but in the realm of playaction passes, the man needs an intervention.

By Jonathan Bales

The Sportstradamus: Week 17 NFL Game Picks

The majority of sports picks you find online are basically useless.  They’re slapped together in minutes and have no real connection to the actual outcome of the games.

So I figured I’d give you some more useless projections.

In all seriousness, I will pick the games and totals each week and compare my results to those of other writers and sports types around the internet.  They’ll be listed in the “Game Picks” tab under the “Gameday” category.  I just want to show you guys how a real statistician does work. . .

Notes before reading

  • An’@’ symbol is listed in front of the home team.
  • Game lines alter slightly based on the source.
  • The winner versus the spread is listed in bold.
  • I don’t advocate gambling.  These picks are simply for fun (and to prove I’m better than 95 percent of “experts” at picking games).

Week 16 Results/Overall Results

8-8 straight up/153-87 on season

8-8 against spread/130-102-8 on season

9-7 on over-under/120-113-7 on season

Week 17 Game Picks

@Kansas City 30 (-3) Oakland 20

@New England 27 (-4) Miami 20

@Indianapolis 30 (-9.5) Tennessee 17

@Houston 21 Jacksonville 20 (+3.5)

Pittsburgh 24 (-5.5) @Cleveland 17

@Baltimore 27 Cincinnati 24 (+10)

Minnesota 24 (+3) @Detroit 21

New York Giants 23 (-4) @Washington 17

@Green Bay 34 Chicago 27 (+10.5)

@Philadelphia 31 (-6) Dallas 24

@New York Jets 21 (-1.5) Buffalo 17

@Atlanta 28 Carolina 14 (+14.5)

@New Orleans 27 Tampa Bay 20 (+7.5)

St. Louis 20 @Seattle 17 (+3.5)

@San Francisco 24 Arizona 20 (+6)

San Diego 28 (-3) @Denver 21

Over/Under

Kansas City/Oakland OVER 43.5

New England/Miami OVER 43.5

Indianapolis/Tennessee UNDER 48.5

Houston/Jacksonville UNDER 46

Pittsburgh/Cleveland OVER 37.5

Baltimore/Cincinnati OVER 43

Detroit/Minnesota OVER 42

New York Giants/Washington UNDER 44.5

Green Bay/Chicago OVER 41.5

Philadelphia/Dallas OVER 45.5

New York Jets/Buffalo UNDER 40

Atlanta/Carolina OVER 41

New Orleans/Tampa Bay OVER 46

St. Louis/Seattle UNDER 41.5

San Fran/Arizona OVER 38

San Diego/Denver OVER 47

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft: Five Potential First Round Picks

Jonathan Bales

With the Cowboys heading into Week 17 of the 2010 season, they are in position to acquire somewhere between (about) the sixth pick and 12th selection in the 2011 Draft.  In that area, they will undoubtedly be able to obtain a true impact player–someone who should start immediately.  Picking toward the latter portion of that range may actually be optimal for Dallas, as the requisite contract funds take a steep drop from the top of the round.

Predicting the Cowboys’ pick in 2011 will be far easier than it was this past draft due to their draft spot.  Further, the team’s primary needs (defensive end, inside linebacker, cornerback, safety, offensive line) weed out some of the prospects.

Without further ado, here are my initial picks for the Cowboys’ five most likely potential first round draft picks. . .

5.  Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal

Jordan is a bit smaller than the “prototypical” Cowboys defensive end (he’s 280 pounds), but the massive ends haven’t been working in Dallas anyway.  It’s time to acquire smaller, quicker playmakers across the board on defense, and that starts on the line.

Jordan has an incredible frame and strength, yet carries it well.  He is good in pursuit, able to shed blocks rather easily.  His experience in a 3-4 defense is always a plus.

With literally all of the team’s current defensive ends possibly on the way out (I predict they’ll retain only Jason Hatcher), Jordan would be an immediate starter for Dallas.

4.  Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Clayborn is a 4-3 defensive end in college, but he possess enough size (6’4”, 285 pounds) that he could stay at that spot in the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense.  He’s a high-motor player with great athleticism for his size.  He actually appears to have a frame which could add some bulk, meaning he could transition into a run-stuffing 3-4 end or even eventually kick inside to nose tackle.

3.  Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

Peterson has it all.  He’s big (6’1”, 211 pounds), fast (probably a low 4.4 guy), and intelligent.  He has the skill set to fit into any system, excelling in both man and zone coverages.  He plays big in big games and possesses excellent ball skills–characteristics Dallas needs in a cornerback.

With Terence Newman getting old quickly and Mike Jenkins regressing in 2010, cornerback is a huge need for Dallas.  Orlando Scandrick played really well in the slot during the second half of the season, but it’s unclear if he could hold up outside as a starter.  Peterson’s presence would allow the Cowboys to possibly move Newman to free safety, giving the secondary a much-needed makeover.

2.  Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

The only reason I have Amukamara ranked ahead of Peterson is draftability:  I don’t see Peterson being available for Dallas no matter where they pick–he’s that good.  Amukamara is still an outstanding cornerback, excelling in press and zone coverages.  Despite being six pounds lighter than Peterson, he’s far more physical.  With the Cowboys likely to transition to more zone coverages in 2011, Amukamara could make sense.

1.  Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

Dareus is an absolute stud.  At 6’3”, 306 pounds, he possesses incredible athleticism.  His size is tremendous, yet he carries it very well–so well, in fact, that when you look at him, you see “oversized linebacker.”

Dareus is versatile enough to play all three defensive line positions for Dallas.  That sort of versatility would be extremely valuable.  Because of his size, I think Dareus’ primary position would be nose tackle.  If that’s the case, current Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff could move back to defensive end–a position that seems more suitable for him at this point in his career.

So how could Dareus fall to the Cowboys’ pick?  Well, there are some off-field concerns.  If Dallas is willing to overlook them, they could secure incredible value in the first round.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Eagles Week 17 Manifesto: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

Jonathan Bales

With the Cowboys forced to start third-string quarterback Stephen McGee and the Eagles already locked into the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, this Sunday’s matchup between the teams doesn’t possess the normal magical feel.  Philly is likely to sit some of their starters, particularly quarterback Michael Vick.

Still, it always feels good to beat the Eagles, no matter the situation.  For Dallas to not let a second game against Philly slip away from them this season, this is what they need to do. . .

DO open up the playbook for Stephen McGee.

Normally you would want to protect a young quarterback on the road, but what’s the point?  While winning is always important, there are times when performing sub-optimal tasks in a football game are acceptable.  This is one of them, as placing McGee in unique situations so the coaches can properly analyze his performance is more valuable, in my view, than forcing him to continually throw screens and dump-offs.  What can you really learn about McGee from that?

DO run some designed rollouts.

In the beginning of the season, I thought we’d see more designed rollouts from the Cowboys.  That hasn’t been the case, particularly since Jon Kitna took over as the starting quarterback (and rightfully so).

McGee has shown tremendous mobility, however, and seems to throw pretty well on the run.  He appears to have a skill set that more closely resembles that of Tony Romo as compared to Kitna.  Plus, designed rollouts could aid a struggling offensive line, i.e. a struggling Marc Colombo.

DO blitz more often than in the first matchup.

A few weeks ago, it was difficult for the Cowboys to blitz much because playing man coverage against Michael Vick can be deadly.  With the defenders’ backs turned to the quarterback, he can run wild.

Vick is unlikely to play in this game, however, and Kevin Kolb is nowhere near as nimble as Vick.  He can beat you with his legs, but not to such a degree that it makes man coverage impossible.

As always, blitzing the defensive backs could create problems for Philly.  Last night, they had tons of problems blocking the Vikings’ nickel back.  Orlando Scandrick has found a lot of success on blitzes this season, so Paul Pasqualoni should dial up those exotic blitzes even more often than usual (which wasn’t near enough in the first place).

DON’T place Alan Ball anywhere except over top of DeSean Jackson.

It’s unknown how long Jackson will play or if he will even suit up at all, but if he does, he’s got to be the defense’s top priority.  Jackson single-handedly beat Dallas a few weeks ago, even when the ‘Boys were in rather safe coverages.  There’s not much else you can do other than place a cornerback on him and a safety over top, so the secondary needs to mentally rise to the challenge this week in Philly.

DO double-team Eagles defensive end Trent Cole with tight ends and running backs.

From my Cowboys-Eagles Week 14 Preview:

In my view, Cole is far and away the Eagles’ top defensive player.  He creates havoc in the opposition’s backfield whether defending the run or the pass.  He’s consistently one of the most underrated players in the NFL.  I place him on par with guys like Dwight Freeney and even Ware (but no, I wouldn’t prefer Cole to Ware).

If the Cowboys leave Doug Free on an island against Cole, he will get abused.  Free has been the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman all season, but I don’t think he’s up for that sort of challenge just yet.  Look for the Cowboys to run the same “Gun 5 Wide Tight” formation they created for last week’s game in Indy to help Free and the always helpless Marc Colombo.

DON’T start Marc Colombo.

Last week, Colombo played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen an offensive lineman play.  I attributed four sacks to him, but he got beat on virtually every snap.  Starting Colombo would signal to the team that awful play is acceptable.

DON’T leave Colombo on an island (assuming he does start), unless you want McGee to die.

I’m guessing Colombo will still start, even though he shouldn’t.  If he’s left on an island, Trent Cole and Juqua Parker will absolutely dominate him.  It’s getting to the point where the Cowboys need to be concerned about the health of their quarterbacks.  Look for a lot of “right-handed” formations with Martellus Bennett helping Colombo.

DO place Colombo at quarterback and let him see how it feels.

Last one.  I swear.

DON’T call two plays in the huddle as often as normal.

As you probably know, Jason Garrett loves to call two plays at a time.  The offense plans to run the first one called unless the quarterback sees something from the defense he doesn’t like and issues a “Kill” call.  The offense then switches into the second play.

This week, the Cowboys should back off from that approach a bit.  In Week 14, the Eagles really confused Jon Kitna and the Dallas offensive line with their defensive looks.  They often blitzed without showing it and dropped out of alignments that appeared to be blitzes.

Actually, Philly blitzed only 12 times, yet disguised them so well that the Cowboys mustered only 38 yards on those plays (all passes).  Kitna generated just a 60.4 passer rating on Eagles blitzes.  Meanwhile, Philly showed blitz five times but then backed out, and Dallas gained only 17 total yards on those plays.

To counter the Eagles’ unique pre-snap alignments, the Cowboys could benefit from implementing a “dummy” snap count.  This would force the Eagles to show their intentions prematurely, providing McGee with a better idea of where to go with the football.  To use a “dummy” snap count, however, the offense needs time on the play-clock.  That time is severely limited if the Cowboys call two plays in the huddle.

Plus, I don’t trust McGee’s ability to correctly check into the correct play as much as that of Romo or Kitna, so a “dummy” count cold provide more value to Dallas than “Kill” calls.

DO throw plenty of screens.

In the first contest, the Cowboys found some success on screen passes against the Eagles, running five of them for 44 yards.  I think you could see more than 12 blitzes this week from Philly, so the screen pass (specifically to Felix Jones) could be of use.

DO run more counters.

In general, the Cowboys should run far more counters.  Thus far this season, they have run only 24 of them, yet gained an astounding 202 yards (8.42 yards-per-carry).

Counters are particularly useful against ultra-aggressive defenses, which is exactly how I would describe the Eagles’ defense.

DON’T be so nonchalant at the end of the half.

The Cowboys’ lack of urgency in hurry-up situations is a product of coaching.  It all starts in practice, and it is clear the ‘Boys need to dedicate quite a bit of practice time to their two-minute drill.  Sometimes, it appears as though Garrett is content just getting into field goal range instead of pressing the issue and getting the offense in position to take some shots at the end zone.

DON’T keep making poor decisions on fourth down–be aggressive!

In recent weeks, the Cowboys have punted the ball on fourth down in opponent’s territory far too often.  When at the opponent’s 40-yard line, for example, an offense should statistically go for it all the way up until 4th and 15.  The Cowboys have been punting in situations such as 4th and 3 in that area, however.

DO play with pride.

In my opinion, this game will be an excellent test for Garrett.  It’s easy to get a team with playoff hopes to play hard, but how about a team that underachieved incredibly all season and is on the road with “nothing” to play for in Week 17?  If Garrett can get the team to fight on Sunday, it will go a long way in letting Jerry Jones know Garrett has what it takes to properly motivate a football team.

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By Jonathan Bales

More on Gun Trips Play-Calling

Earlier today I published an analysis of Jason Garrett’s play-calling from Gun Trips Left/Right and noted he’s called a pass play all 50 times the Cowboys have lined up in the formation this season.  Dating back to last season, that’s 113 passes out of 114 plays.

However, I decided to look at the specific types of plays being called from Gun Trips.  Specifically, I wanted to see if Garrett was dialing up any playaction looks from the formation, as that would indicate that he isn’t content letting the defense know a pass is coming.  Playaction passes would be a direct attempt to make the defense believe a run is on the way, meaning he doesn’t think his 50-for-50 pass attempts has done the trick.

The Cowboys have run only one playaction pass all season out of the formation, though.  So, while the extreme predictability of play-calling from Gun Trips certainly is a negative, at least it appears as though Garrett is aware of the trend.

Perhaps his unwillingness to alter his calls despite knowledge of a potential weakness makes that a negative too.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Playbook: A Reanalysis of Gun Trips Left/Right in 2010

Jonathan Bales

Last season, I published a study detailing Jason Garrett’s play-calling out of a formation called “Gun Trips.”  I noted that the Cowboys passed the ball on an astounding 63 of 64 plays from the formation in 2009.  Even more incredibly, 38 of those 64 plays (59.4 percent) came in situations during which the Cowboys could have easily run the ball (which I defined as 1st or 2nd and 10 or less or 3rd and 5 or less).

As you might imagine, opposing defensive coordinators caught on to this trend, evidenced by the Cowboys’ ever-decreasing production from the formation as the season progressed.  Below, you can see the Cowboys went from averaging nearly 15 yards-per-attempt during the first four games of the season down to below five yards-per-attempt in the final quarter of the season.

So, has Garrett learned from his mistakes?  Not even close.  Through Week 16 of the 2010 season, Dallas has lined up in the formation 50 times, and passed the ball ALL 50 TIMES!  24 of those 50 plays have come in situations which match the “run possibility” criteria listed above, meaning the ‘Boys have needlessly given away their play-call 24 times on the year from just one formation.

Overall, the team is averaging 7.14 yards-per-attempt on passes from “Gun Trips” this season–about the same efficiency as all passes in general.  If opposing defenses haven’t been aware of Garrett’s play-calling trend from the formation, however, their future knowledge should affect the Cowboys’ productivity from it.

By Jonathan Bales

Protected: The Future of the Dallas Cowboys’ Head Coaching Position

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By Jonathan Bales

Jason Garrett’s reasoning for not attempting two-point conversion

According to Jason Garrett, he didn’t go for two points when down 21-19 in the third quarter of Saturday night’s game because “What happens when you start making those decisions is sometimes you get a little hasty and say, ‘OK, if we get two here that will tie us up.’ But typically, what happens when you have another quarter to play, there are a couple more scores and the whole thing kind of plays itself out a little bit.”

Although I’d wager that the majority of NFL coaches agree with Garrett’s assessment, it is the wrong one.  I hate to be so blunt about it (secretly I love it), but he’s just dead wrong.  Garrett points out that there will typically be more points scored after the third quarter, which is correct, but somewhat irrelevant.

First of all, as I’ve already pointed out, two-point conversions may not even yield less expected points than extra points.  If that’s the case (which would be a virtual certainty if teams ran the ball more on two-point attempts), then going for two points should be the status quo, with an extra point only being attempted in specific game situations (such as tied late in the contest).

Even if extra points are generally statistically superior to two-point tries, however, Garrett still made the wrong decision.  While I agree with his notion that more points were likely to be scored, that fact is far from certain.  Actually, for an extra point to be the right decision in that scenario, we would have to assume that the chances of neither team scoring again was small enough that it wouldn’t account for the disparity between the expected points of an extra point (about .98) and a two-point attempt (.96 at worst).

As it turns out, Garrett would have to assume either that the chances of neither team scoring again were below one percent or that the offense’s chances of converting on their two-point try were closer to 25 percent than 50 percent.  Anyone believe either scenario to be the case?

Me neither.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Cardinals Week 16 Film Study Observations

Jonathan Bales

This game was extremely difficult to watch again (and again, and again).  It’s always particularly hard to take when the team thoroughly outplays an opponent with the exception of a few plays, and those plays determine the outcome of the game.  That was clearly the case on Christmas night, as Dallas dominated Arizona on basically all but three plays (two interception returns and the long touchdown to Andre Roberts).

Still, there are a lot of other things the Cowboys could have done to win the game even after the Cardinals’ three quick scores.  Here are a few of them, along with some of my other observations. . .

  • I discussed Jason Garrett’s decision to kick a third quarter extra point when down 21-19 at length in my initial post-game review.  I won’t repeat all of that here, but you can tell just how poor of a choice I found that to be.
  • Marc Colombo, somehow, was even worse than it initially appeared.  I can count on one hand the number of snaps he adequately performed his job.  I watched him intently on every play, and I have no idea how he wasn’t pulled.  I don’t care how poorly Robert Brewster or Sam Young have performed in practice–one of them must be better than Colombo.
  • I attributed four sacks to Colombo.  Three were obvious, and the last was a play on which I’m certain Colombo missed his assignment.  He decided to stay inside and double-team Darnell Dockett instead of kicking out to pick up Clark Haggans.  Chris Gronkowski was left on an island to block Haggans, which clearly didn’t work.
  • The Cowboys did an incredible job of shutting down Larry Fitzgerald up until the Cardinals’ final drive.  On a crucial fourth down near the end of the game, Fitzgerald caught a 26-yard pass to get Arizona near midfield.  The two closest Cowboys? Keith Brooking and Gerald Sensabaugh.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  After effectively placing Alan Ball over top of Fitzgerald in Cover 1 all night, you allow Fitzgerald to find an opening in a poorly-played zone coverage?  How in the hell do you have Brooking on the field in that situation?
  • The Cowboys utilized pretty many two-tight end sets on Saturday night.  Of their 76 offensive snaps, there were two or more tight ends on the field on 37 of them (48.7 percent).  That rate would have been higher but Martellus Bennett was on the sideline for the final 10 plays.
  • The Cowboys motioned on 33 plays (44.1 percent), including 24 of their first 43.  They gained 153 total yards on those plays (4.64 per play), as opposed to 5.32 yards-per-play on the non-motion snaps.
  • Dallas lined up in Double Tight Left/Right Strong/I seven times, running a strong side dive on four of those plays.  They averaged 4.75 yards-per-rush on those plays, but 12.33 yards-per-play on the non-strong side dives, including the 24-yard touchdown run from Marion Barber.  On that play, the Cardinals were clearly anticipating a run up the middle but the Cowboys ran outside to the weak side.
  • That Barber run is an example of how Garrett can use his predictability in a positive manner.  If he properly sets up future plays from “Double Tight Strong/I,” the strong side dives won’t be so disadvantageous.  Still, I think he can garner the positive effects of the strong side dive without running it at such a high rate.
  • I previously told you the Cowboys lined up in “Double Tight Right I” and then motioned out of it in a unique way.  I’ve drawn up the play below.

  • You can see that Bennett lined up at fullback (something he does almost never) before motioning into the slot.  I think he and Austin were decoys on the play, as they both ran ‘go’ routes and McGee never looked their way.  It appeared as though Witten was the primary option on the play, running a crossing route, but McGee checked down to Jones over the middle.
  • I’m not really sure why Garrett designed this play.  It’s possible the motion was used to simply gain a mismatch of some sort, but you’d have to ask Garrett (and please do–I’d love to know).
  • Two counters, 20 yards.  When the hell will Garrett call more of these?
  • The Cowboys ran nine playaction passes, but had next to zero success on them.  They gained just 17 total yards on those nine plays.
  • With Jon Kitna in the game, the Cowboys attempted only six passes of 10+ yards (30.0 percent of all pass attempts).  With Stephen McGee in the game, that rate dipped to just 17.7 percent.
  • According to my count, Felix Jones received 37 snaps, Tashard Choice garnered 25, and Barber got 13.  Nice usage by Garrett, but I’d still like to see Choice get more touches.  He received one less than Barber despite nearly twice as many snaps.
  • The Cardinals were much more aggressive than I anticipated, particularly early in the game.  They blitzed on 11 of the Cowboys’ first 23 plays and 23 snaps overall.  On those 23 plays, the Cowboys gained 104 yards (4.52 yards-per-play), although 94 of those yards came on four plays, meaning Dallas gained only 10 yards on the other 19 Arizona blitzes.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Cardinals Week 16 Review: How Jason Garrett Cost Dallas a Win

Jonathan Bales

The majority of fans and football analysts are blaming kicker David Buehler for the Cowboys’ loss to the Cardinals last night in Arizona.  While Buehler is certainly at fault for blowing an extra point, the real goat is Jason Garrett.  Listed below is why, along with additional observations from the contest.

  • Down 21-19 in the third quarter, Garrett decided to kick an extra point.  Huge mistake.  I’ve talked all season about why teams should try way, way more two-point conversions.  Over the course of any given season, kickers make around 98 percent of extra points, while two-point conversions are successful around 48-49 percent of the time.  While the expected points of extra points is higher (.98 x 1 is greater than .48 x 2), the difference isn’t great enough that it should overcome all game situations.  For example, Garrett never would have kicked the extra point in the fourth quarter, as he doesn’t know if the Cowboys will score again.

  • Further, two-point conversions are only statistically inferior to extra points because coaches tend to call the wrong plays down by the goal line.  Over the last 20 seasons, rushing the ball has yielded a successful two-point conversion over 60 percent of the time.  Even if a team went for two points after nearly every score and rushed the ball each time, I doubt the success rate would jump below 50 percent (the break-even level at which two-point tries are statistically equivalent to extra points, assuming a 100 percent success rate on the latter).  Thus, extra points should actually only be attempted in very specific situations, such as a tied game in the fourth quarter.
  • On top of all of that, let’s not forget Buehler is about as erratic as kickers come.  His extra point success rate is nowhere near 98 percent (probably closer to 94 or so), meaning the Cowboys would only need to convert on 47 percent of two-point tries to yield the same expected points.  And if you’re correctly running the ball, what does it matter if Stephen McGee is at quarterback?
  • I assume Garrett attempted the extra point because he figured Dallas would score again anyway.  That’s faulty logic, however.  Even if we assume two-point conversions yield less expected points than extra points, and we take into account McGee’s presence in the lineup, the difference between a two-point try and extra point is still small enough that, for an extra point to be the right call, we’d have to assume there’s less than a one percent chance the Cowboys wouldn’t score again.  While it’s likely the offense was going to put more points on the board, it certainly wasn’t greater than 99 percent.
  • I updated live from the game last night on Twitter, and a few followers claimed that it was “too early to go for two and the chart says the extra point is the right call.”  While I appreciate everyone who took the time on Christmas to read my thoughts, that reasoning is simply incorrect.  What does it even mean to be “too early to go for two”?  While you certainly have less of an idea of the final score in the first quarter as compared to late in the game, you should always side with statistics.  If the numbers say attempting a two-point conversion is the right call (which they did for the Cowboys in the third quarter–and it wasn’t even close), then kicking an extra point is the risky move.  Further, NFL coaches are just tapping the surface of advanced statistics and game theory, meaning most of their “infallible” charts are dead wrong.  It’s Garrett’s job to give the team the highest probability of victory, and whether a decision seems “risky” or not to the public, it needs to be made.  A coach who foregos the numbers to save his job is one who probably doesn’t possess the adequate aggressiveness to win a Championship anyway.
  • On to a new topic. . .I actually think Buehler should keep his job, for now, and continue to kick field goals in the offseason.  The fact that he tends to make the long ones (4-5 from 50+ yards this season) and miss the “easy” ones lends me to believe the problem is his confidence, not his leg.  He’s an athlete, though, and not a regular kicker, so I think he possesses the mindset to overcome his mental demons and eventually be a solid kicker.  If he doesn’t prove that in training camp next year, though, he needs to be replaced.
  • While I’m placing blame on people, let’s not forget Marc Colombo.  Last night was probably his worst game as a professional, which is saying something considering how bad he’s been all year.  He was absolutely manhandled by Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, and anyone else that lined up over top of him.  He needs to be gone next season, and it’s a shame the Cowboys didn’t get to see more of Sam Young or Robert Brewster this year.
  • Sometimes we forget just how dominant DeMarcus Ware is because he’s that way all the time.  With all of the Cowboys’ problems this season, let’s remember how lucky we are to have Ware.
  • The Cowboys love to run screens from a formation called “Double Tight Left/Right Twins Left/Right Ace.”  Last night, I predicted a screen to Martellus Bennett from the formation before it happened.  People thought I was psychic.  Nope, I have just watched Garrett call plays a little too much.
  • Shown below is another play the Cowboys run from the formation, with the ball often going to Felix Jones on a swing pass.  The play isn’t a true screen, but it functions similarly.

  • Early in the game, Garrett converted on a 3rd and short by motioning Miles Austin into the backfield, faking a fullback dive to Marion Barber, and pitching to Austin for the first down.  This is an example of how Garrett can use his past predictability to gain an advantage, as the Cowboys have run a fullback dive to Barber over and over this season in short-yardage situations.  Garrett knew it, but more importantly, he knew that Arizona knew it.  Game theory can be quite useful, huh?
  • The Cowboys ran around five or six plays from “Double Tight Strong” (I’ll get the official numbers to you tomorrow).  I can tell you without looking at the film that the offense was highly successful when they ran a play other than the strong side dive from the formation–something they appeared to do about half of the time.
  • The Cowboys motion into “Double Tight Strong” quite a bit, but they never motioned out of it–until last night.  I’ll have more on that particular play after I watch it a few times.
  • Jason Witten has sure hands, but he doesn’t generally make the amazing catches.  He made a few last night, however, and his late-season resurgence has validated the theory of a few DC Times readers that Witten may have been hurt early in the year.
  • I suggested the Cowboys try to beat Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on some double-moves, and they did just that early in the game, but Austin dropped Jon Kitna’s perfect pass.  It’s been an up-and-down year for Austin, but I think he’ll rebound nicely next season as the No. 2 option.
  • The Cowboys missed a few opportunities for more points when Garrett wrongly kicked field goals.  With a 4th and 2 at the Arizona 24-yard line, Dallas should have gone for it.  Ditto on a 4th and 3 from the Cardinals’ 35-yard line.  Buehler made both field goals, but results don’t necessarily justify decisions.  If I bet $100 to make $50 that heads will come up on a coin flip, it’s a poor bet.  That doesn’t change after the fact if heads does come up.
  • Sean Lee has improved, but he still gets overpowered at times inside.  That’s his No. 1 weakness headed into the offseason.
  • What in the hell was Mike Jenkins doing on that Cardinals bomb for a touchdown?  The Cowboys blitzed, and it looked like Jenkins figured John Skelton would have to throw early.  He can’t just go jumping routes when he’s in true man coverage, however.  Although I’ve seen some writers claim Jenkins should have received safety help, that isn’t really the case.  The Cowboys were in Cover 1, meaning man coverage all over the field with Alan Ball deep.  Ball would likely shade the side of Larry Fitzgerald, though, meaning Jenkins should know he’s on an island.
  • I thought Stephen McGee looked pretty good for his first real game action.  He was wild on a few throws, but he showed good mobility and his decision-making wasn’t atrocious.  He still needs to learn when he can sit in the pocket and when to bail, however.  More on him tomorrow.
  • I’ve seen great improvement from Andre Gurode over the second half of the season.  I think he deserves to stay in Dallas for another year.
  • One of Garrett’s largest weaknesses, in my opinion, is his inability to realize that optimal personnel in real game situations may not be inherently optimal.  For example, running the ball from three and four-receiver sets isn’t inherent optimal, but it can be extremely efficient due to defensive substitutions.  Remember, the best coaches don’t always put their best players on the field, but rather the players that create the biggest disparity between their team and the opponent.

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