The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Why the Cowboys’ Play-Caller Matters

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I just published my take on the Cowboys’ play-calling situation.

Romo’s Audibles

While Romo has been provided more pre-snap freedom in recent years, he still doesn’t audible all that often. I track his checks each year, and he’s never called an audible on more than 10 percent of the Cowboys’ snaps in a single season.

More important, the majority of Romo’s audibles—traditionally around two-third of his checks—are “Kill” calls. Jason Garrett frequently calls two plays into Romo, who then says both of those plays in the huddle. The offense lines up and plans to run the first play called, but if Romo doesn’t like what he sees in the defense for that particular play, he has the freedom to “kill” the first play, alerting the offense to run the second. That’s what the quarterback is doing when you hear him yell “Kill, Kill, Kill” on television. So while Romo might check out of more plays in 2013, chances are most will still be “Kill” calls, meaning the new play will still be one given to him by the play-caller.

Shifting Odds Through Play-Calling

The goal for any play-caller is to maximize the offense’s chances for success in any given situation. While it’s always important for the offense to execute, sometimes it simply isn’t probable; if a play-caller dials up the worst possible play against a particular defense, it almost assuredly won’t work no matter how well the offense executes. Similarly, the perfect call in a certain situation decreases the number of things that need to go right for the play to be successful, ultimately leading to a higher expected success rate.

As a side note, that’s why it’s silly to automatically label a play that didn’t work as a poor call or one that did work as a great decision. If a play-caller puts his offense in an optimal situation in which they’ll convert a first down 99 percent of the time but it just happens to fail on one particular play, the call was still a good one, regardless of the outcome.

The idea that play-calling matters is based on the assumption that small advantages can add up over large sample sizes. If one play-caller dials up a play that has a 75 percent chance of working and another calls a play with an expected 65 percent success rate, that difference might not show up over one play, two, or even 10. Over the course of a season, however, that’s a massive advantage that can lead to a big jump in offensive production.

Read more of why I think the play-caller matters at Dallas News.

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