The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ Playaction Pass Rate Lowest in NFL

The Cowboys’ rate of playaction passes, as I suspected, is the lowest in the NFL.

While I noticed Garrett’s playaction pass usage dropping over the years, I never really had a basis from which I could compare the Cowboys’ playaction passing game to that of other teams around the league—until now. Pro Football Focus recently published stats on playaction passes for quarterbacks around the NFL, and their results fit with what we’ve seen from the Cowboys—Romo is asked to throw fewer playaction passes than any quarterback in the NFL.

Read it all at Dallas News.

By Jonathan Bales

Why aren’t Cowboys throwing more screens?

Through seven games, the Cowboys have thrown only six screen passes to running backs. I examined this odd trend at NBC.

The Cowboys have never been a big screen team under Garrett—the most they’ve ever run in a season is just under four per game. Still, to attempt just over a single screen pass per game—and not even one screen per game to a running back—is mind-boggling. Sure, the Cowboys have managed only 33 total yards on those six screens to backs, but that’s a pretty limited sample size.

Plus, the 5.5 YPA the Cowboys have totaled on screens this year actually isn’t all that bad. Remember, since screen passes rarely fall incomplete, they can be seen as an extension of the running game. For example, DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones have combined to catch 136 of their 163 (83.4 percent) targets on all types of passes, not just screens, since 2010. The downside of an incompletion isn’t nearly as great on a screen pass as with other pass attempts.

Read the entire post at NBC.

By Jonathan Bales

Should kick returners bring the ball out of the end zone?

At DallasCowboys.com, I examined whether or not NFL kick returners should bring the ball out of the end zone, especially from deep. The numbers might surprise you.

Ultimately, the 2012 kickoff return results are a great example of how stats can be useful. Our memories seem impeccable to us, but the truth is that they’re often flawed. We remember Jones fumbling the opening kickoff in Seattle and the instances that he has failed to reach the 20-yard line, but we forget plays like Dunbar’s 44-yard return against the Giants on Sunday because, well, that’s what he’s “supposed to do.”

The truth is that, outside of deep directional kicks near the back corner of the end zone, returners can probably help their teams by not taking a knee. And maybe instead of exclaiming “What is he doing?” when the Cowboys bring the ball out from deep in the end zone, I’ll instead be wondering, “How could he take a knee!?”

Read the entire article.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ Offense Lacks Creativity and Deception

The biggest issue with the Cowboys’ offense, in my view, is that little attempt is made to deceive the defense. I explained why at Dallas Morning News.

Playaction

From 2009 to 2011, the Cowboys averaged 97 playaction passes per season. Amazingly, those passes almost always came on 1st and 10 and almost never in short-yardage situations. Actually, over the past three years, the Cowboys have run more playaction passes with 20-plus yards-to-go for a first down than with between one and four yards-to-go. In 2012, we’re seeing more of the same—66.7 percent of the Cowboys’ 23 playaction passes have come on 1st and 10. The team is on pace to run just 55 total play-action passes on the season.

Screens

The Cowboys have never been a big screen team, but their near-total abandonment of screens in 2012 is puzzling. They’ve run only 10 screens all season, four of which were to wide receivers. While a case could be made that playaction passes require superior pass protection than traditional passes, screens are designed to slow down the pass-rush. If Garrett believes his offensive line is weak enough that he can’t throw the ball downfield or run playaction, you’d think screen usage would increase, but it’s done the opposite.

Head to DMN for the full story.

By Jonathan Bales

Breaking Down Cowboys’ Late-Game Play-Calling vs Giants

At NBC, I broke down the three passes the Cowboys ran with one yard to go for a first down on their second-to-last drive against the Giants.

The typical upside on a regular 2nd and 1 play wasn’t there. And since 2009, the Cowboys have run for a first down 83.6 percent of the time on 2nd and 1, compared to converting a first down on just 46.2 percent of their passes. Nonetheless, the Cowboys lined up in “Shotgun Spread” and Tony Romo was unable to connect with Jason Witten on an out route, setting up 3rd and 1. Although the numbers suggested the ‘Boys should have run on the play, I wouldn’t fault that particular call too much.

Read the entire post.

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: Interesting Stats From Cowboys-Giants Film

At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down my Cowboys-Giants film study.

  • In the season opener, the Giants defense disguised their intentions, – meaning they either blitzed after not showing it or showed a blitz and then sat back in coverage – on only 7.1 percent of the Cowboys’ snaps. In Week 8, they did it on 14.5 percent of snaps, often showing a blitz but backing out. Dallas passed on all 14 plays, with Tony Romo getting sacked on one of them. He completed nine of the 13 passes he attempted for 71 yards (5.46 YPA), no touchdowns, and one interception. I think the Giants made a serious effort to try to confuse Romo with their alignments, and it appeared to work.
  • One of the plays on which the Giants may have baited Romo was his first interception. On a first-and-10 at their own 45-yard line, the Cowboys lined up with “12” personnel, which is one running back, two tight ends and two receivers. Jason Garrett called for a play-action pass. By my count, the Cowboys had run 20 play-action passes on the season up until that point, and nine of them (45 percent) resulted in the same post pattern to Dez Bryant. The Giants showed blitz on the play but backed out. I’m not sure whether or not it confused Romo, but either way, the Giants seemed to know what was coming and safety Stevie Brown jumped the post to Bryant for the interception.

Read the entire article.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs Giants: Initial Reactions

For those who are unaware, I live in New York City. The fact that I’m fighting through this hurricane to bring you Cowboys analysis proves just how mentally tough I am as a blogger. Seriously though, they’re saying my power is going to go out any minute now, so if I don’t post anything for a day or two, that’s why. Here are my initial thoughts on yesterday’s game:

Let’s start with the good; Rob Ryan’s defense is playing magnificent football. As I predicted before the game, the Cowboys sat back in Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man-Under for the majority of the contest, daring the Giants to run the football. New York could never get anything started on the ground, rushing for 3.68 YPC. Through the air, the Cowboys held Eli Manning to just 192 yards, 6.62 YPA, no touchdowns, and an interception. Neither Hakeem Nicks nor Victor Cruz totaled more than 46 yards.

Read the entire article at NBC.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs Giants: Week 1 film study shows insights for Week 8

At Dallas News, I posted some film study of the Cowboys’ defensive looks in Week 1. Specifically, I analyzed their use of Cover 2 and Cover 1.

The Good: Giants’ First Play

The Cowboys played Cover 2 on the very first play of their season-opening matchup with the Giants. The Giants used “12” personnel—one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers—on a 1st and 10 from their own 16-yard line. As they did for the majority of the night, the Giants motioned Martellus Bennett to the side of DeMarcus Ware so that the tight end could chip the outside linebacker on his way into his route.

Both Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr played press coverage on the play, with Claiborne forcing Nicks (circled above) inside. The Giants showed run action, but linebacker Sean Lee diagnosed it quickly. Lee was already backing into his drop before Manning even turned after the playaction fake.

Read the rest at DMN.

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football: Are wide receivers with poor quarterbacks overvalued?

At RotoWire, I took a look at the relationship between quarterbacks and wide receivers in fantasy football.

Thinking of fantasy football as a stock market, I’ve long questioned whether players with well-known weaknesses, such as receivers without competent quarterbacks, actually drop too much in preseason rankings. In the same way it’s often smart to bet the under in Saints-Patriots games despite the fact that they’re going to put a ton of points on the board, perhaps the wisdom of the fantasy football crowds unnecessarily deflates the value of players with question marks; that is, maybe we’re all overvaluing the importance of an elite quarterback, at least in regard to wide receiver fantasy value.

To figure this out, I researched every quarterback with a passer rating of at least 92.0 (elite) and every one with a passer rating below 85.0 (poor) from 2007 to 2010. Then, I looked up the ADP of his top receiver in the following season. Tom Brady turned in a league-best 111.0 passer rating in 2010, for example. His top receiver, Wes Welker, was drafted 15th among wide receivers in 2011 but finished third in standard scoring leagues. I chose to compare the passer rating of a quarterback in Year X to the ADP and final fantasy rank of his top receiver in Year X+1 so the rating wouldn’t be influenced by the performance of the receiver (and vice versa).

At first glance, it appeared as though receivers with poor quarterbacks (those who had a passer rating of 85.0 or lower in the previous season) finished higher than those with elite quarterbacks, at least relative to their ADP. The bad-quarterback receivers dropped an average of eight spots in the rankings as compared to their preseason ADPs, while the elite-quarterback receivers actually drop an average of 10 spots in comparison to their ADP. (Note: The majority of receivers didn’t live up to their ADPs because, as No. 1 options on their respective teams, their ADPs didn’t allow much room for improvement. The No. 1 overall receiver can’t possibly improve upon his ranking, for example).

Check out the entire article.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Continue to Win By Passing Early and Often

At DMN, I took a look at how the Cowboys are winning in 2012.

In Week 1, the Cowboys were said to have won on the back of a fairly balanced 24-to-31 run-to-pass ratio from Jason Garrett. The only problem with that theory is that the Cowboys actually passed the ball on 28 of 42 plays through three quarters (66.7 percent), running on 10 of 15 plays in the fourth quarter to create an appearance of balance that was never really there.

And it happened again last week against the Panthers. The final box score showed just seven more passes than runs for Dallas, but they maintained an even run-to-pass ratio in the fourth quarter while attempting to milk the clock. Late runs again helped to shape the illusion of balance when the ‘Boys really passed the ball on 57.8 percent of their plays through three quarters.

All in all, the Cowboys have thrown the ball at least 57 percent of the time through three quarters in all but one of their games in 2012—the loss to the Ravens. That game sort of exposed the weaknesses of rushing the ball too often; the Cowboys absolutely dominated Baltimore all day, but a lack of big plays through the air kept the game close when it shouldn’t have been. The goal for NFL coaches isn’t to keep games close. It’s to win them.

Read the entire article.