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Running the Numbers: Should Cowboys actually use more Shotgun?

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At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down why the Cowboys’ stats from Shotgun can be misleading.

Just for fun, I sorted all of the Shotgun dropbacks by quarter.

First Quarter

  • 74 dropbacks, 1 scramble for 15 yards, 3 sacks for -23 yards, 46-for-70 (65.7 percent) for 521 yards (6.82 net-YPA)

Second Quarter

  • 124 dropbacks, 1 scramble for 10 yards, 7 sacks for -56 yards, 73-for-116 (62.9 percent) for 897 yards (6.84 net-YPA)

Third Quarter

  • 107 dropbacks, 2 scrambles for 4 yards, 6 sacks for -49 yards, 67-for-99 (68.0 percent) for 734 yards (6.52 net-YPA)

Fourth Quarter

  • 184 dropbacks, 3 scrambles for 13 yards, 9 sacks for -66 yards, 115-for-172 for (66.9 percent) for 1,316 yards (6.91 net-YPA)

The abundance of Shotgun passes in the fourth quarter isn’t really surprising since the team was losing late in so many games, and thus forced to throw. That got me to thinking: Could the Cowboys’ Shotgun inefficiencies be due more to game situations than anything inherent to the formation itself?

Let’s go back to Romo’s interceptions. Although 13 of the 19 picks came from Shotgun looks, it might surprise you to know that 70.2 percent of Romo’s 2012 passes were out of Shotgun. That means that Romo actually had a slightly lower interception rate when throwing out of Shotgun as compared to when he was under center. That’s especially relevant since many of the Shotgun formations came in low-upside situations – such as down big in the fourth quarter – when Romo would be more inclined to take chances. Actually, all four of Romo’s fourth quarter interceptions came from a Shotgun formation.

When we examine the Shotgun plays according to down, the difference in game situations becomes clearer.

While the Cowboys’ plays from Shotgun were pretty much evenly distributed across each down, the offense ran way more plays under center on early downs; 58.0 percent of their under-center plays came on first down, 34.3 percent on second down, and 7.7 percent on third down.

That’s a really big deal because, as you might imagine, quarterbacks have far more success passing the ball on first down, when it might be unexpected, than on later downs. Actually, quarterbacks across the league generated 7.35 YPA on first down passes in 2012, compared to 6.90 on second down and 6.93 on third down.

After accounting for game situations, it turns out that Shotgun was actually slightly more efficient than under-center formations when the Cowboys passed the ball last season. Romo’s Shotgun adjusted YPA (accounting for down) was higher, he recorded a lower interception rate, and even the sack rate was slightly lower than when he lined up under center. That fits well with past data for the team and across the league, which suggests that Shotgun is actually underutilized.

Head to the team site for the full article.

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