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Cowboys’ Third Downs in 2010: Felix Jones vs Tashard Choice vs Marion Barber

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Jonathan Bales

A reader recently asked me to analyze the Cowboys’ third downs in 2010.  Specifically, he was interested in the efficiency of the offense with Felix Jones in the game versus Tashard Choice.  I took a look at the numbers for all three backs this morning, and the results are below. . .

Felix Jones

  • 37 snaps: Four runs, 33 passes
  • Three runs by Jones for seven yards (2.33 yards-per-rush)
  • 33 passes for 280 yards (8.49 yards-per-pass)
  • Targeted five times: Four receptions for 79 yards (15.8 yards-per-attempt)
  • One sack yielded by Jones

Tashard Choice

  • 80 snaps: 18 runs, 62 passes
  • 15 runs by Choice for 46 yards (3.07 yards-per-rush)
  • 62 passes for 459 yards (7.40 yards-per-pass)
  • Targeted six times: Five receptions for 38 yards (6.33 yards-per-attempt)
  • One sack yielded by Choice

Marion Barber

  • 71 snaps: 30 runs, 41 passes
  • 23 runs by Barber for 92 yards (4.00 yards-per-rush)
  • 41 passes for 270 yards (6.59 yards-per-pass)
  • Targeted four times: Four receptions for 37 yards (9.25 yards-per-attempt)
  • Zero sacks yielded by Barber

So what are we to make of these numbers?  Jones’ sample size is a bit limited, but it’s clear from both the stats and game observations that he’s the most explosive option of the three backs.  His receiving yards are skewed by a 71-yard touchdown, but that’s the entire point: Jones possesses the explosiveness to go to the house on any particular play.

That isn’t to say that Choice and Barber are poor option on third down.  Choice struggled with blitz pickup early in the season, but that was an aberration.  In general, he’s quite sound in pass protection.  I think most fans know that Barber has consistently been the Cowboys’ most willing and able blocking running back.

In my opinion, Jones and Choice should be rotated on third downs based on specific game situations (I’m assuming Barber will be gone in 2011, although that’s not a certainty).  On 3rd and short to medium, Jones should get more reps because he’s a better runner and a larger threat to take either a run or pass the distance.  On 3rd and long (eight or more yards, perhaps), I would play Choice (or Barber if he’s still around).  His pass protection skills are better than those of Jones, and that ability is more important than explosiveness when the running back isn’t very likely to touch the football.

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4 Responses to Cowboys’ Third Downs in 2010: Felix Jones vs Tashard Choice vs Marion Barber

  1. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    This is exactly the kind of data I was looking for – EXCELLENT work Mr. Bales.

    One thing I did notice from your data – Barber is a full yard better than Choice per rush (and 2 yards better then Jones). That’s pretty significant if you take into account that most defenses would tend to expect run on 3rd down w/ Barber in the game. All of us are speculating that he’ll be gone next year, but this data doesn’t really support that (keeping in mind that this is JUST 3rd down data, I’d agree that he still needs to go)…

    Another noteworthy stat; any time passes were made to a back (regardless of who was in the game at the time w/ the exception of Choice), the average yards gained is more than if the pass had gone to another receiver. That too, is fairly significant given the (few) number of times a RB was targeted.

    Jonathan, do you have the # of drops/incomplete passes that occurred and the distance to 1st down as well? I’m speculating but I would think that even though Choice’s average receiving yards was a full yard shorter than when he wasn’t targeted, his 6.33 average would seem like it’d be good enough for the 1st down on most 3rd down plays.

  2. Tyrone–I really think Barber’s numbers are an aberration. I think if we checked a larger sample size of plays, Barber’s struggles would become evident.

    And I checked the avg yards-to-go on 3rd down..it was 7.18.

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    c – thx

  4. john coleman says:

    It will be interesting to see what the perceptions are in Dallas with the new staff. Will JG actually cut Barber? Clearly the “Barbarian” is a thing of the past, only making one appearance this year. He also is always trying to bounce outside. Problem is he is a road grader, not a bouncer.

    I keep hearing JG is/was not sold on Choice. Hopefully, he gets rid of leftovers and is objective in keeping the right guy.

    With the CBA being what it is I’m not sure we don’t start the season with all three again. I’m talking preseason. Also that is excluding trades and Choice would be the most likely to get traded.

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