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