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Cowboys vs. Redskins Week 15 Film Study Observations

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Jonathan Bales

If you haven’t read my initial post-game observations, check them out here.

This film was fun to watch because, not only was it a great game, but there were also a lot of cool little plays, formations, and stats that I noticed after reviewing the game.  Let’s start with the strangest stat of all. . .

  • 23 of the Cowboys’ first 24 offensive plays were in Redskins territory.  23 of 24!  Dallas also ran 39 of their first 47 plays on Washington’s side of the field.
  • Overall, the Cowboys ran a ridiculous 68.6 percent of their plays on the opponent’s side of the field.  In comparison, their second-highest total all year was 53.7 percent against Detroit.  Meanwhile, they recorded as low as 10 plays in opponent territory (20.8 percent) against Green Bay.
  • Kitna was sacked twice, and both times it was difficult to judge who was responsible.  On the first, it appeared as though Tashard Choice snuck out of the backfield early when he should have slid over to help Doug Free (who had to try to block two guys).  The play by Choice was particularly poor because Kitna screamed “37 is the Mike!” a few times before the play.  That means Kitna spotted Reed Doughty (No. 37) as a blitzer.  It was Choice’s job to block him.
  • On the other sack, Felix Jones was late in stepping up to take on a blitzing safety, forcing Kitna up into the pocket.  Andre Gurode’s man eventually made the sack.  I gave the sack to Gurode because his blocking wasn’t great on the play, and Jones’ did eventually hit his guy out of the pocket.
  • I heard a new pre-snap call from Kitna.  He yelled “Cheater!” just before taking off on the 3rd and Goal draw from the Redskins’ six-yard line.  It was a surprising call, so it isn’t all that shocking that a new audible accompanied it.  Let’s keep our ears open for any more “Cheater” calls in the final two games and see if they too result in a quarterback draw.
  • The final statistics for “Double Tight Strong/I” are in. . .Garrett called it four times–all strong side dives for a total of 15 yards (3.75 yards-per-rush).
  • Although the Cowboys only ran the formation four times, it nearly cost them the game.  The early 4th and Goal play from the one-yard line was a strong side dive from “Double Tight Left I.”  The Redskins flew up to the point-of-attack and stuffed Choice for a loss of a yard and a turnover on downs.
  • The Cowboys ran “Strong” formation quite a bit on Sunday.  They used the formation 10 times, and all but twice they motioned into it.  I’ve drawn up the most popular motion into “Strong” below.

  • Martellus Bennett was the motion man each time, meaning the Cowboys ran plays from the formation quite a bit from “heavy” personnel (2 TE, WR, RB, FB).  As you can see above, the Cowboys lined up in a three-receiver set with Bennett and Witten split out to the right.
  • Other times from “Strong,” the Cowboys would use base personnel and put Miles Austin (who would be in Bennett’s spot above) in short motion (meaning he didn’t cross the formation).  The Cowboys ran a power play a couple times with that look, with Austin “cracking” the outside linebacker.  In my opinion, these were set-up plays for what later became Austin’s touchdown.  On 1st and Goal from the three-yard line, the Cowboys lined up in “Strong Right” with base personnel.  Austin came in short motion and then pretended to crack down on the linebacker.  It had the same look as the previous power plays, but this time, Austin turned his “block” into a smash route.  He found himself wide open in the back of the end zone for an easy score.  Nice design.
  • I’ve been in awe of Kitna’s ability to properly decipher a defense and get the offense in the proper protection.  His “Mike” calls were very clear on Sunday, and I didn’t find one play on which he incorrectly labeled the “Mike.”  Despite Washington showing blitz four times and then backing out, and blitzing six times without showing it, Kitna always seemed to know what the ‘Skins were trying to do.
  • Felix Jones’ adjustment on the Wildcat pass from Kitna was awesome.  I don’t think he would have made that catch a year ago.  Despite some early criticism from me, it’s clear Jones has improved significantly as a pass-catcher, and not just out of the backfield.  Don’t forget these numbers. . .

  • The Cowboys brought back “Gun 5 Wide Tight.”  For whatever reason, they lined up in a different formation before shifting into it all three times they ran it.  Their three passes from the formation netted 20 total yards.

  • I didn’t recognize this during the game, but the Cowboys didn’t punt until their ninth possession, which came in the fourth quarter.
  • 37.1 percent of Dallas’ offensive snaps came from Shotgun, which is a bit higher than normal during Kitna’s reign as quarterback.  The Cowboys were in Shotgun on their last 11 snaps before halftime, however, as they were in a bit of a hurry-up mode.  Excluding those plays, the offense used a Shotgun formation a more normal 21.7 percent of snaps.
  • The Cowboys motioned a lot more than usual on Sunday (54.3 percent of snaps).  Some of that has to do with the aforementioned plays from “Strong” formation.  However, the Cowboys also motioned on nine of their final 13 plays, which is a rarity for them.  Normally, about 80 percent of the motions come in the first quarter.
  • Kitna checked out of six plays–four passes for 16 yards and two runs for eight yards and a touchdown.
  • Dallas ran five draws and they were rather effective, netting 33 total yards.
  • Garrett called 10 playaction passes for 95 yards and a score, and five screens for 30 yards.
  • FINALLY. . .the Cowboys threw the ball downfield!  14 of Kitna’s passes traveled 10+ yards in the air.  That’s 37.8 percent of the passes he attempted.  You can see below that less than one-quarter of Kitna’s passes entering this game traveled that distance.  And don’t worry about the statistics that accompany his deep throws. . .I’ve explained why the Cowboys should throw deep more often here.

  • I counted five of Kitna’s passes as being off-target.  I will complete a study this week detailing his accuracy versus Romo’s.
  • If there are any other stats/film bits you want me to look at, feel free to mention them below.
  • There are a lot of times when I predict the Cowboys will do certain things and I’m just completely off-base.  Sometimes, though, I get lucky and get a few things correct.  One prediction I had earlier this week (on how the Cowboys could effectively block Brian Orakpo) is below:

DO use unique alignments, motions, and shifts to make blocking Orakpo easier.

Utilizing double-tight sets is advantageous for Dallas because it doesn’t allow the Redskins to make a strength call–that is, they can’t set their defense based on the Cowboys’ alignment.  If that’s the case, Orakpo will probably line up on the right side of the defense (the quarterback’s blind side) where most weak side linebackers are most comfortable.  Thus, Dallas can run double-tight sets (such as “Ace”) with Bennett on the left side of the formation so he’s already in position.  If Orakpo chooses to line up on the left side of the defense in “neutral” offensive formations, the ‘Boys can simply switch Bennett’s alignment.

If all of that doesn’t work, the Cowboys can utilize motions and shifts to put themselves in optimal situations.  For example, suppose the offense comes out in “Double Tight Right Ace” (below).

In that case, Orakpo will line up over Doug Free on the right side of the Redskins’ defense.  A simple motion of Bennett to that side, however, would put the Cowboys in a perfect situation to block Orakpo.  The ‘Skins wouldn’t switch their strength call, and Dallas would have their best-blocking lineman and tight end on Washington’s top rusher.

Actually, the Cowboys might then want to take some shots down the field in that particular situation.  They’d be in “Ace” formation (below).

This formation was Dallas’ second-most productive passing alignment in all of 2009.  Actually, I published a preseason article on why the Cowboys should pass more out of “Ace” in 2010.

The team ran only 29 plays out of “Ace” in 2009, and 24 were passes (82.8 percent).  They averaged 11.46 yards-per-attempt on passes from the formation, but even more impressively, they threw the ball downfield.  12 of the 24 passes went for 10+ yards, while five went for 20 or more.

Despite the success, Dallas is running the formation about as often this year (25 times–1.92 per game) as they did in ’09.  Look for “Ace” and more balanced formations like it on Sunday.

  • On Sunday, the Cowboys did line up in double-tight sets quite often.  Actually, over half of the Cowboys’ offensive plays implemented two or more tight ends.  I already talked about the team’s motions, and I think many of these were done to obtain optimal blocking match-ups.  For example, the Cowboys motioned from “Double Tight Left/Right I” (meaning two tight ends to one side) to regular “Double Tight I” (a tight end on each side of the line) six times.  In my view, this was a clear attempt to force Orakpo to line up on a certain side (where they knew he would be), then motion a blocker to him to more effectively neutralize his pass rush.
  • One particular formation I urged you to anticipate was “Ace”–a formation that, as I noted above, the Cowboys have run less than two times per game in 2010.  On Sunday, the offense utilized the formation a season-high seven times.  Jon-1 Redskins-0.

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10 Responses to Cowboys vs. Redskins Week 15 Film Study Observations

  1. Brian says:

    I’d like to know:
    1) how Barry Church looked
    2) Butler vs Spencer
    3) Martellus Bennett – do they never send him for a pass longer than 5 yards or does he just not get open? This isn’t a one-game question but rather a whole season question.

  2. john says:

    thanks again for such wonderful info..what happened on the redskin goal line again..>>?? poor execution>??woeful blocking..??

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    My man Johnny Bales,

    You are all OVER this analysis. Truly an Operations Researcher’s dream – thanks.

    I gotta be honest – I await your discussion of accuracy between Kitna and Romo. I’d be surprised if Kitna isn’t at least one standard deviation more (yes, more) accurate than Romo. I like Tony, just don’t think he’s all that good at putting the ball in the receivers hand while in stride or throwing it where only the receiver can get it (low, back shoulder, high when needed) as compared to the vet Kitna.

    Kitna was shaky in his 1st couple of games replacing Tony, but look at him now. I credit Jason Garrett for some of their recent success, but I also think Kitna (moreso than Romo) is what the team needed to get back on track. IMO, whenever you’re doing poorly, you need to return to the basics. Kitna has provided in the pocket accuracy which isn’t Romo’s strongpoint.

  4. Brian–Church didn’t receive as many reps as usual, but he looked more like a rookie than usual. I still think he’s the best nickel LB on the roster right now, but he struggled some on Sunday.

    I would grade Butler ahead of Spencer on the season in terms of efficiency. Butler is a natural playmaker, IMO, and his improvement against the run has made him an all-around player. If the coaches give everyone a fair shot at starting next year, Butler can overtake Spencer.

    Bennett is simply the victim of being low-man on the totem pole. You have Austin, Williams, Bryant (when healthy), Witten, and the running game as options ahead of him. Until Witten is gone, Bennett won’t get many looks.

    John–Predictability. The Cowboys ran a strong side dive from a formation from which they run that same play nearly 90 percent of the time. Washington knew it was coming, which makes it awfully hard to block.

  5. Thanks Tyrone. I think you’ll see Kitna’s numbers come out on top as well. He certainly passes the eye test in terms of accuracy, and his mobility is also quite surprising to me.

  6. Mark Watkins says:

    Uh-oh, do I sense a budding QB controversy? I’m sure that Romo will begin as the starter next year, but if they get off to another slow start, I can foresee a lot of pressure on Romo. Great analysis Jonathan! Can you actually hear those calls from the TV broadcast?

  7. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    No controversy. Romo is a better overall QB. His QB rating is better, his completion percentage is higher and his yards/game is greater. He’s also more mobile (although as JB pointed out, Kitna is surprisingly more mobile than once thought) and he runs the offense better. Can’t comment on his audible calling but I would think that is directly associated w/ the amount of time on the field actually playing.

    Make no mistake – Romo is a better QB. I was hoping Kitna would actually teach Romo how to throw more accurately when it comes to specific dynamic situations; especially when “throwing the receiver open.”

  8. Roy says:

    What is it with our defense in the 4th Q? Is our defense just not conditioned well and tires by the 4th, or is it due to injuries?

  9. Mark–Do you mean the audibles? It depends. I specfically heard the “Cheater” call, but I think it was because the offense was down by the goal line (likely easier to capture sound). Almost all checks are ‘Kill” calls, though, which are easy to designate from the “throat-slit” motion.

    Tyrone–I’d agree totally with your last assessment. Kitna and Romo are similar in some ways, but I thought Kitna could teach Romo a lot of new stuff. I think you saw that start to take place this offseason with Romo’s emphasis on back-shoulder throws, but it never really came to fruition in the regular season. You’ll see more of that in 2011, I believe.

  10. Roy–No idea. The line is getting proper rotation, so I can’t imagine they’re that tired. I would like to see Butler in for Spencer more often, or at least on the field together (with a three-man line and Spencer at that Mike sort of spot).

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