In my study on the Cowboys’ 2009 usage of ‘Double Tight Strong’ (left), I noted that the Cowboys ran a strong side dive 71.6 percent of the time they lined up in the formation (83 of 116 plays), including 85.7 percent of the time when they motioned into it (42 of 29 plays).
Defensive coordinators clearly caught on to this trend, as the Cowboys’ yards-per-rush on the strong side dives decreased from 7.8 over the first five weeks of the season to just 4.4 over the rest of the year (including only 3.2 against all teams but the Raiders). Thus, the opposition was fully aware of this trend of Garrett’s coming into the 2010 season. The Cowboys’ efficiency on “Double Tight Strong/I” plays is representative of that.
The Cowboys lined up in the formation 81 times in 2010 (35 fewer than 2009, at least), running the ball 82.7 percent of the time. Of those runs, 52 (77.6 percent) were strong side dives. The overall strong side dive rate (including passes) was 64.2 percent–down from 71.6 in 2009–but still way, way too high. Once again, when Dallas motioned into the formation, the rate of strong side dives increased (to 72.7 percent of all plays).
Unlike 2009, however, the Cowboys did not find success on these strong side dives at any point during the season. The ‘Boys averaged just 2.15 yards-per-carry on the 52 strong side dives in 2010. On all other runs (almost all to the weak side), the Cowboys averaged 4.87 yards-per-rush. In 2009, Dallas also found far more success when running weak side out of “Double Tight Strong”–averaging 6.7 yards-per-rush–indicating that defenders truly have been keying in on the strong side dive.
Of course, Garrett loves to use this formation in short-yardage situations, so could this be the culprit for the lack of yardage? Not really, as the average yards-to-go on “Double Tight Strong” plays was 5.94–lower than the overall rate, but not by an incredibly large margin. Actually, 37 of the plays from the formation came with exactly 10 yards-to-go. That’s 45.7 percent. An additional 15 of the plays came with 5+ yards-to-go, meaning 64.2 percent of the plays came in situations that were clearly not short-yardage.
And it wasn’t as if the Cowboys were thriving on the short-yardage plays either. Of the 29 plays from “Double Tight Strong” with four or less yards-to-go (and nearly all of them were with exactly one yard-to-go), the Cowboys converted a first down or touchdown just 13 times. That’s only a 44.8 percent conversion rate on very short-yardage plays. Kind of sick.
One might argue that some predictability can be good if utilized correctly. The 64.2 percent strong side dive rate might be less detrimental to an offense, for example, if they use playaction passes to take some shots downfield on the other plays. Thus, an offense could “concede” a strong side dive or two (or 52, apparently) to set up big plays in the passing game.
That sounds great in theory, but Garrett didn’t call many “high-upside” plays out of the formation at all. Actually, the average distance of the Cowboys’ passes from “Double Tight Strong” was just nine yards.
Ultimately, this formation will continue to haunt Dallas until 1) the strong side dive rate decreases dramatically or 2) Garrett utilizes the predictability from the formation to set up big pass plays. Garrett has improved in a number of areas as a play-caller over the past few years, but focusing on improving “Double Tight Strong” calls (or scrapping it from the playbook altogether) should be high on his list of priorities.