At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down the Cowboys’ 28-18 loss to the Redskins.
The rate of deep passes (traveling 20-plus yards) to Dez Bryant increased dramatically over the second half of the season. It’s probably not a coincidence that there’s a positive correlation between Bryant’s deep targets and his success.
In the Cowboys’ last two games, both losses, Bryant saw only three deep targets, including only one against Washington. He caught all three passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. In 2013, the Cowboys will need to continue to get the ball deep to one of the league’s premiere play-making wideouts.
On a second-and-10 play in the third quarter, the Cowboys ran a unique direct snap to Murray that gained seven yards. The play will probably be forgotten by most, but it was actually extremely unique in that it was the Cowboys’ first run from “Shotgun Trips” all year. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that Dallas ran 131 plays from the bunch formation in 2012.
Many of the plays from “Gun Trips” were in pass-only situations (such as third-and-long or in hurry-up scenarios), but some were not. Actually, 39 of the snaps from “Gun Trips” (29.8 percent) came on first down. It’s difficult to tell if the strategy has backfired, but it’s one Garrett has employed for years; the Murray run was only the second out of hundreds of plays from the formation since 2009.
Go to the team site for the full article.
At NBC, I posted a few notes from my initial Cowboys-Redskins film study.
Playing in Opponent Territory
Despite scoring just 18 points, the ‘Boys actually played in Washington territory quite a bit, running 47.5 percent of their offensive plays on the Redskins’ side of the field. That’s substantially larger than the 39.6 percent of plays Dallas ran in opponent territory on the year. Romo’s first two interceptions came in Washington territory, explaining much of the low scoring.
Romo threw 37 passes on the night, but only three—8.1 percent—traveled over 20 yards. One was the interception intended for Austin, another fell incomplete, and the final was a 23-yard completion to Dez Bryant.
Check out the whole post.
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.
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.
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.
At Dallas News, I took a look at the four biggest plays for the Cowboys on Sunday night. . .
Not every play is created equally. In any game, there are a handful of plays that dictate the outcome of the contest. The Cowboys were on the right side of a few game-changing plays in their first matchup with the Eagles. Using a win probability graph, I showed how those plays changed the Cowboys’ fortunes in Week 10.
Well, the Cowboys were again able to secure the big plays they needed to take down the Eagles on Sunday night—something they’ve been unable to accomplish in most of their other contests. Let’s take a look at four plays that shaped the landscape of the Cowboys’ five-point Week 13 victory. . .
1: 23-Yard Touchdown to Dez Bryant
On a crucial 3rd and 2 at the Eagles’ 23-yard line, Tony Romo bought time to find Bryant across the field, allowing the receiver to dodge defenders on his way to a score. The play tied the game at 17 and increased the Cowboys’ chances of winning from 35 percent to 49 percent.
Read the entire analysis at DMN.
At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down my Cowboys-Eagles film study.
- Head coach Jason Garrett called four play-action passes on the night, two of which went for touchdowns: the 23-yard scramble pass to Dez Bryant and the 28-yard strike to Miles Austin. The first was really all Tony Romo, but the latter play-action touchdown was set up beautifully by Garrett. Just before that play, the Cowboys had run the ball on five straight occasions. Four of those runs came from a Double Tight I/Strong formation, the same formation Garrett called on the play-action score to Austin. Dallas gained only nine yards on those four carries, but they showed the same look multiple times. The last of the runs from the formation was on first-and-10, suggesting Garrett knew he wanted to take a shot off of the look a few plays before it even happened.
- Another way Garrett set up the play-action pass to Austin was keeping Witten in to block. Witten stayed in to block on only two other passes all night, both of which were screens. The Eagles surely understood that Witten has been in a route on more passes than ever this year, so when they saw him stay in to block, it really confirmed what the formation suggested – that a run was on the way. But, they were wrong.
- Overall, Romo was 3-for-4 for 51 yards and two touchdowns on his play-action passes, good for a passer rating of 156.3. Romo owns a 99.9 rating on play-action this year.
- The Cowboys were really able to gash the middle of the Eagles’ defense through the air. I track the location of every pass, and 54.1 percent of Romo’s passing yards actually came on throws between the hashes. That included a 28-yarder to Witten down the seam, a 36-yarder to the tight end on a post, and of course, the 28-yard Austin touchdown.
Check out the rest at the team site.
I took another look at the Cowboys’ big Thanksgiving loss in my Running the Numbers column.
If you recall, Garrett has shied away from calling play-action passes this year in a big way, and the most obvious reason for that is the lack of a rushing game. It certainly seems like play-action passes would be useless without some rushing efficiency, but I’m not sure that’s the case. Of the 10 worst rushing teams in the NFL in terms of yards per carry (YPC), only one has a lower yards per attempt (YPA) on play-action passes as compared to straight dropbacks. The Dolphins have totaled 3.6 YPC, only 0.1 more than Dallas, but Ryan Tannehill has passed for nearly five full yards more on play-action passes as compared to all other attempts. The Jets have averaged only 3.8 YPC, but Mark Sanchez has 2.1 more YPA on play-action passes, and the list goes on. While it sure seems like you’d need an effective running game to “set up” play-action, the numbers don’t bear it out. The Cowboys can and should run play-action in normal game situations moving forward, regardless of how well they’re running the ball. Of course, the majority of the loss to the Redskins was far from normal situations, so the lack of play-action looks yesterday isn’t a concern.
Read the rest at DallasCowboys.com.
At DallasCowboys.com, I broke down the Cowboys-Browns film in more depth.
- The Cowboys didn’t cross the Browns’ 40-yard line in the entire first half. Interestingly, the Browns rarely blitzed Romo through the first two quarters, sending five or more rushers on just four of the Cowboys’ 28 offensive plays (14.3 percent). For whatever reason, Cleveland changed their strategy at halftime and sent far more pressure in the second half and overtime, blitzing on 27 of the Cowboys final 49 plays (55.1 percent). Such a high-variance strategy, as you might expect, led to big plays for both teams. Cleveland was able to sack Romo four times, but they also allowed completions of 30 and 28 yards to Bryant, the second of which went for a score.
- Romo attempted five deep throws of 20-plus yards on the day. Two of them, the aforementioned completions to Bryant, were successful, while the other three fell incomplete. Of course, the deep passing game paid big dividends late in the fourth quarter when Romo looked deep forDwayne Harris and the Cowboys were able to draw a pass interference penalty. That doesn’t show up in the box score, but it was a smart move by Romo to get the ball deep against man coverage when the offense needed a big play.
Read the entire article.
The biggest problem with the Cowboys’ offense isn’t a lack of play-makers; it’s an inability to evolve and improve. The Cowboys give defenses the same looks every single week, daring teams to beat them. Well, that’s not working. At Dallas Morning News I examined this lack of creativity.
In a game in which I thought Garrett might spread the field and really open up the offense, we saw more of the same old Cowboys offense on Sunday night. Tony Romo threw just two playaction passes—both completed for 19 total yards. On the season, the Cowboys have completed 79.2 percent of their 26 playaction passes. They’ve totaled 11.5 YPA and a 107.8 passer rating on playaction looks, allowing zero sacks in the process.
One of Garrett’s playaction pass calls was a screen to Miles Austin—just the 12th screen pass all season. Only seven screen passes have gone to running backs. When the lack of downfield passing attempts shows Garrett doesn’t have confidence in the pass protection ability of his offense line, you’d expect more than one true screen per game from the offense.
Check out the entire post.
I’ve spent the morning breaking down the game and posting as much content as possible on Jason Garrett’s horrendous coaching in the Cowboys’ Week 6 loss. At NBC, I recapped some of Garrett’s major blunders:
- Early in the game, I loved what I saw from Dallas. Their rushing attack was obviously dominating Baltimore’s front seven, and Jason Garrett took advantage by dialing up a lot of early runs. The problem was that Garrett never utilized that rushing success to acquire big plays through the air. There were very few playaction looks throughout the course of this game, particularly late after the run had already been established.
- I’m all for pounding the rock if it’s working, but the problem is that you need to consistently beat teams with it again and again. In general, it’s suitable to use the running game to garner big chunks of yardage through the air, even if it means an incomplete pass or two. In the third quarter, the Cowboys ran the ball on 16 of 25 plays, yet didn’t do much to attack the Ravens downfield when Tony Romo dropped back to pass. If you’re really that confident in your running game, you’d think you could still convert a first down following an incomplete pass on 1st and 10. So why not take a shot?
Read the entire post at NBC.
At DallasCowboys.com, I questioned why Garrett didn’t go for it on a 4th and 5 at the Ravens’ 35-yard line.
Since Garrett began calling plays in Dallas and I began tracking them, the Cowboys have converted 47.1 percent of their plays on either third-and-5 or fourth-and-5. The league average during that same period is 49 percent. With Dallas moving the ball against Baltimore effectively all day, we’ll label their chances of converting as an even coin flip at 50 percent. Had the ’Boys failed on their fourth down attempt, they would have left the Ravens with a first-and-10 at their own 35-yard line, a starting point that results in an average of 1.76 points per drive. We can again easily deduce the overall expected points of going for a first down with some math: 3.32 (0.5) – 1.76 (0.5) = 0.78.
Check out the entire analysis.
And at Dallas Morning News, I broke down one of the worst clock management errors I can remember.
With the ball just inside the Ravens’ 35-yard line and 26 seconds left to play (sound familiar?), the Cowboys lined up in ‘Gun Tight End Spread Right’—a typical formation for them in passing situations.
The Ravens blitzed, presumably to try to knock the Cowboys out of field goal range. Romo had Jason Witten open on an out in the boundary, but he decided to throw a slant to Dez Bryant.
Bryant caught the pass for a short gain with 24 seconds remaining on the clock. By the time Bryant was wrestled to the ground and the whistle was blown, there were 21 seconds remaining.
Head to DMN for the full breakdown.
At DallasCowboys.com, I took a look at some of the offensive numbers in Week 4 and throughout the season thus far.
- Defenses are going to continue to disguise their blitzes against Romo until he beats them. Over the past three seasons, Romo’s passer rating is 79.4 when teams blitz after lining up conservatively, and just 70.3 when they show blitz but back out. Since the Giants game, all three of the Cowboys’ opponents have frequently disguised their intentions against Dallas, and it has worked.
- I’ve tracked opponents as disguising their defensive look on 33.8 percent of snaps, a much higher rate than in previous years. On plays on which the defense has shown a blitz but then backed out, Romo has completed 26 of 37 passes for 305 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions – good for a passer rating of 81.5. When the defense has not shown a blitz but then rushed five or more players, Romo’s 2012 passer rating is only 48.8. He has posted 4.54 yards per attempt, no touchdowns, and one interception on those 24 passes.
- On Monday night, the Bears disguised their looks quite a bit. It slowed down once they gained a big lead in the second half, but through two quarters, Chicago attempted to confuse Romo on 51.6 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps. Romo threw the ball on 12 of those plays, completing nine passes for 77 yards and an interception (56.6 passer rating). The Cowboys also allowed a sack to defensive tackle Henry Melton when the Bears showed blitz, but then backed out and twisted their defensive linemen.
Check out the entire article.