The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys 2010 Initial Drive Statistics

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Jonathan Bales

In a previous post, I detailed why a major problem with the ’09 Cowboys was their inability to come out of the gates on fire (whether it was to start the game or the second half).  The Cowboys averaged significantly less yards-per-play and points-per-drive to start the game and second half than on “non-initial” drives.

I believe initial drives are a tremendous indicator of the strength of an offensive coordinator.  It is during these drives that he has more control and influence over the game than any others.  On the opening drive, his plays are scripted, meaning he had all week to determine which ones were most suitable to attack the defense.  The opening drive in the second half is the first during which an offense can implement its halftime adjustments.

Jason Garrett does a lot of things well, but I think he sometimes struggles with adaptability.  We’ve certainly seen him improve with his abundance of weak side runsplay-calling alterations with particular personnel, and 3rd down runs this season.  However, I’ve always felt he has such confidence in himself and his players that he believes the 11 men on offense will always execute.  But being an offensive coordinator is about maximizing the likelihood of success for an offense, not stubbornly calling the same plays until they work.

Below are the Cowboys’ 2010 stats on initial and “non-initial” drives.

A few points of interest. . .

  • You can see Garrett improved in his initial drive play-calling, at least statistically.  Overall, the Cowboys averaged 5.42 yards-per-play on all initial drives (both first and second half) in 2009.  That number jumped to 5.78 this season.
  • More importantly, the points-per-drive increased.  In 2009, the points-per-drive on initial drives was significantly lower than the overall points-per-drive rate.  In 2010, however, the Cowboys scored more points-per-drive on both first and second half initial drives (2.13) than on all other drives (1.90).
  • It’s still possible the sample size is too small to draw meaningful conclusions.  This season alone, the ‘Boys had a three-play 75-yard drive, a three-play 71-yard drive, and a two-play 68-yard drive coming out of the half that skewed results.  Overall in 2009 and 2010, Dallas averaged 5.60 yards-per-play on initial drives–lower than the 6.02 yards-per-play on all other drives.

Do you think Garrett has improved in his adjustments and his overall ability as a play-caller?

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15 Responses to Cowboys 2010 Initial Drive Statistics

  1. Michael says:

    Jonathan,

    If possible, I’d love for you to compile a list of the qualities that you think good playcallers possess, and rate Jason Garrett accordingly. I’m interested in where you think his strengths lie and where you think he can improve on a broader scale. It’d also be cool to see where you rank him among the other top playcallers in the league.

  2. Michael says:

    And to answer your question: “Do you think Garrett has improved in his adjustments and his overall ability as a play-caller?”

    I think where Garrett’s succeeded is in implementing a system that he knows and that has had success. The principles that he learned from Norv Turner, Ernie Zampese, and even Sean Payton when he was a backup QB for the Giants and Payton was OC have armed him with enough of a foundation to install an offense that can be productive.

    But, there isn’t much excitement and unpredictability with the Cowboys offense, save for a few plays here and there. Defenses don’t have to fear every receiver on any given play like, say, New Orleans, New England or San Diego. I don’t think the Cowboys stretch the field as much (which could be due to Romo’s injury) and overall Garrett seemed all too often to be safe than sorry which isn’t the approach I want my play caller to always take.

    Now in Garrett’s defense, you’re only as good as the talent at your disposal. The O-line was subpar most, if not all, of the season; injuries were a factor and game situations impacted his calls, but overall I’d like him to loosen the reigns in ’11 and err on side of aggression in all three phases of the game.

  3. Scott says:

    maybe those three quick-strike drives to start the second half skewed the results, but on the other hand that’s exactly what we love to see, he made the adjustments that made the drives happen.

  4. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Ya know, I’m still a lil disappointed…

    Garrett came in at an ideal time and situation – he had no where to go but up. If the Boys had continued to stink it up w/ their play, their lack of success would be blamed on them (the players) and not the coach as TWO coaches would have had their shot and it would be presumed that NO coach could have come in at that point and made a turnaround. Hence, Garrett gets by pretty much unscathed. If the Boys played better, like they did, then he’s the hero, like he’s veiwed now. Garrett was concerned about getting the interim tag removed and had to do what he had to do.

    But, during the whole process, I think he had EVERY opportunity to open up the playbook and try different things. That trip backfield w/ Barber, Choice and F Jones that we all saw in the preseason – what happened to that? Marty B as primary pass catching TE for a couple of quarters/games – why not? Brent at NT and Ratliff at DE – sure. Ball at CB and Sensabaugh/Church/Newmann at FS – I wonder how effective that would be. Basically, all the things we’ve been discussing the past 6-8 weeks could have beeen attempted.

    Thereby, his playcalling (and more importantly, his use of personnel) on O and D gets a “C” in my book. I knew the Boys could execute the playbook they already have – they just lacked the proper motivation from Wade. All Garrett proved is that he’s a good motivator…

    We still don’t know who’s better than who (in real game time situations) at some positions nor did we try anything new. If Jerry has anything to say about it, expect another 2 or 3 city training camp where not a lot of evaluation gets accomplished. Factor in an influx of free agents that are obviously needed on the O line, a top 10 draft pick and losses at WR and RB and you’ve got quite a bit of turnover to evaluate.

    Simply put, I dont’ think the Cowboys do enough looking forward. Given that, they are poor at doing the things now that will help them when it counts (when they have a CHANCE at makign the playoffs).

  5. starred4life says:

    Thanks for the article. I always come here when I want to read some revealing interpretation of stats, and interesting commentary/analysis on the breakdown of game tape, which I can’t do myself (or find elsewhere). And you never disappoint. I also like Bryan Broadus’ take on the Cowboys (I’d love to hear you guys do a radio show, or podcast about the boys). The two of you go deep on the analysis that guys like me care about. Unlike the fluff-laden boiler-plate they come up with elsewhere (I’m looking at you Matt Mosley).

    You asked for any ideas on things that we’d like for you to break down for us, or check into. It seems like a lot to ask, but if it’s not too tedious a task, I’d love to see how our players measure up when compared to their counterparts in the NFC East. For example: how did Doug Free compare to the other left tackles in the division. Using the same metrics. Really it’s primarily about the O-line, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a comparison of our secondary players as well or any other positions you might like to do.

    If you hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have mentioned this. But I’d love to hear your analysis.

    I have other ideas too, but feel like I just asked someone I hardly know to help me move or something. I don’t want to put you out or anything.

  6. Mark Watkins says:

    It does seem like Garrett has improved somewhat in his play calling Jonathan. However, it’s also obvious that there is room for improvement. One encouraging factor is that he had Kitna and McGee starting for the second half of this season, although I would guess that the second half numbers were better anyway. This is interesting though, because in Mickey Spagnola’s latest article on DC.com he writes the following about Garrett “He can be stubborn, as Troy Aikman once said, to a fault. That means he has convictions, which is good when dealing with Jerry Jones.” So it seems that Garrett is one who can keep trying the same thing over and over and expecting his players to execute it better, rather than trying to add new wrinkles. I also wonder how innovative Garrett can be. Do you see that in him Jonathan? Thanks again for your efforts.

  7. willis says:

    Jonathan B, now that JJ Watt has said he’s going to declare for the draft, what would you think about taking him ahead of Dareus. He is statistically better in every category, even though he plays in an overrated bug ten (IMO).

  8. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Nnamdi Asomugha a FREE AGENT?

    He was targeted only 33 times this past year and allowed 13 catches for 205 yards and NO touchdowns.

    Can you say – Dallas Cowboys Asomugha?

  9. Michael says:

    Tyrone, I thought the same thing when I read the story last night. But in other news, how unfortunate is it that Ray Sherman isn’t coming back?

  10. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Yeah, Michael, I agree.

    What’s more of a shame is how the hole thing looks – he’s interviewed for the head coaching job but isn’t even offered an extension as the WR coach (much less the asst OC or OC)? Is it really reasonable to think that he was a true candidate for the HC job? Stephen Jones bragged about how well Sherman did in a THREE hour interview – then you don’t bring him back at all?

    I wonder how much Garrett really doesn’t like him? Is this all stemming from when TO was here (and now Sherman’s better than average relationship w/ Dez Bryant)? One thing Garrett will soon have to learn is that some WRs – namely the good ones – are drama filled DIVAs. You can’t ignore them and you can’t give them everything. Best thing is to have a WR coach that can talk to them – that’s exactly who Sherman seemed to be.

    I hope he gets picked up by someone else.

  11. Mark Watkins says:

    I agree with you guys on both points. I would love to see them pick up Asomugha but just about every team would like to have him. Also, it’ll be a shame if Sherman doesn’t come back since he had such a great rapport with the receivers.

  12. Michael–I actually just did an article similar to your idea for USA Today..once they publish it I should be able to post it on here for you. Either way, I’ll share my thoughts on JG. I do agree completely with the notions of Garrett being too unpredictable and boring. I personally would love to see more “trick plays,” which to me get a bad rap. First, nearly EVERY play in the NFL is a “trick” play. Counters, draws, playaction–you’re always trying to fool the defense. Second, “trick” plays aren’t necessarily dangerous, they are just unique. They force defenses to think during a play instead of react, and by that time, it’s too late. The Eagles run trick plays all the time, and although I despise their organization, the offense is the most unique–and productive–in the league.

    Scott–Definitely. We want to see more big plays from Garrett’s offense, so no complaining here.

  13. Tyrone–We’ll see how aggressive and willing to change JG is next season when his job is secure. It might not be right, but I think he was reluctant to make big changes in 2010 because he was fighting for a job.

    Starred–Haha love the Mosley comment. And I can definitely do a comparison of players within the NFC East based on OTHERS’ numbers (like from Pro Football Focus or Advanced NFL Stats or something), but I obviously can’t break down the three other teams’ film as well. And please, please suggest ideas…that’s what the site is all about, and you guys often have awesome thoughts from different perspectives that I would never bring to the table by myself.

    Mark–I definitely see that in JG, and it is by far his biggest weakness. The play-calling from certain formations like “Double Tight Strong” or “Gun Trips” is an example. It often appears he thinks execution is all that matters. On paper it is–if all of the players execute, the play will work. In the real world, though, you have to know that not all 11 guys are going to execute perfectly on each play. The notion that “ALL 11 guys must do their job for a play to work” is crap. You need MOST of them to do their job, and play-calling is about putting those guys in situations where that task is made easiest. It’s all about percentages, even if perfect execution equates to a perfect play.

  14. Willis–I haven’t seen enough of Watt (only in the bowl game), but I do know he’s been more productive than Dareus in his career. Do you like potential or past production?

    Michael and Tyrone–The Sherman news shocked me. We don’t see everything that goes on, but I thought he was the one assistant who deserved to be here.

  15. willis says:

    I agree totally on Awesome-ua and coach Sherman. Good points all around. I would also love getting Dom Capers or…… Dick Le beau(In my dreams)

    As for Watt he has the past numbers, but i love his potential. He’d be coming out as a junior, he has good size, really good speed for his size, and his motor is one of the best I’ve seen. Not to mention he seems like one of those “heart” players, which IMO is one of the most important ingredients regarding how far a player can develop. Can’t wait to see the combine.

    And for fun i’ll say my dream offseason – Cut Colombo, Davis, Barber, Roy W for cap space. Sign Awesome-wa, Huff(raiders safety), Jonathan Nicks (free agent guard from Saints). Then draft Dareus/Watt, Crick/ OT(Carimi) and Ohhhhh Boy!

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