The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs Steelers: Film Study Observations

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At DallasCowboys.com, I posted my film study observations from the Cowboys’ Week 15 overtime victory.

  • It’s tough to sell a negative play being a good call, but Garrett’s decision to call a naked bootleg on third-and-1 at midfield wasn’t necessarily a poor one. It isn’t like the Cowboys call that play often; it was just the second naked bootleg for Romo all year, and the other one was a 1-yard touchdown. The play was there to be had, but the ’Boys simply didn’t execute one block. Nonetheless, if the job of an offensive coordinator is to maximize his team’s chances of succeeding, Garrett did his job with that call. The fact that it didn’t work out shouldn’t be used to retroactively grade the decision.
  • So how can you judge the merits of a particular call if you can’t use the result? That’s one reason it’s beneficial to understand advanced stats. Sure, a punt on fourth-and-1 at the opponent’s 35-yard line might work out in favor of the punting team from time to time, but historic game data tells us that punting is generally a poor choice in that situation no matter how it turns out. Over large sample sizes, the percentages always win out. Sure, stats can be misleading, but that’s really an error on the part of how we interpret them, not something inherent to the numbers. The ultimate goal of any stat is to be predictive, and some stats are more predictive of future success than others. That’s why I often cite numbers like net-YPA and run success rate; they’re highly predictive and thus far more useful than things like bulk stats. It’s also why I told you before the game that the Cowboys were going to be able to run on the Steelers; Pittsburgh was ranked fourth in the NFL in YPC allowed, but 22nd in run success rate, a stat that accounts for game situations and is thus far more reflective of a defense’s true ability to stop the run than YPC. The Cowboys’ running backs ended up averaging 5.35 YPC.

Check it out at the team site.

At Dallas News, I broke down how Jason Garrett’s passing offense has changed over the last few weeks, especially against the Steelers.

Thanks to the Cowboys’ 27-24 overtime win against the Steelers in Week 15, the team may very well be the favorite to win the NFC East. I broke down the Cowboys’ playoff scenarios yesterday—an article that may not have been written had Brandon Carr not picked off Ben Roethlisberger in overtime. While the Dallas pass defense came up big down the stretch, it was a few of Jason Garrett’s alterations to the passing offense that really sealed the win for the Cowboys.

Playing Around

The Cowboys came into Week 15 with the lowest play-action pass rate in the NFL (by far), averaging only four play-action passes per game. Play-action passes are more efficient than straight dropbacks on a league-wide basis; of the 28 quarterbacks who have taken at least half of their team’s offensive snaps, 23 have posted higher YPA on play-action passes than all other pass types.

A few weeks ago, I explained how Garrett has begun using some of his past predictability to his advantage, especially in regards to play-action looks. Garrett utilized play-action passes in a big way against the Steelers, calling 10 on the day. Romo got off eight passes from those calls (one resulted in a sack and the other was the failed bootleg attempt), connecting on seven (87.5 percent) for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

Protect Yourself

Last week, I argued that the Cowboys could benefit from using tight end Jason Witten in pass protectionmore often. Prior to the Steelers game, Witten had been used as a blocker on only 10.6 percent of the Cowboys’ passes, including only seven times in the previous three weeks. Well, Garrett used Witten in pass protection early and often on Sunday; actually, Witten blocked on the Cowboys’ very first play and 11 total passes throughout the day. One of them resulted in a sack, but Romo completed seven of the other 10 for 122 yards and a score. Again, it’s not inherently optimal to use Witten as a blocker, but it’s necessary from time to time in order to give Romo time to get the ball downfield and so that defenses can’t use Witten’s whereabouts as a conclusive key to the Cowboys’ play-calls.

Read it all at DMN.

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