In a previous post, I detailed why a major problem with the ’09 Cowboys was their inability to come out of the gates on fire (whether it was to start the game or the second half). The Cowboys averaged significantly less yards-per-play and points-per-drive to start the game and second half than on “non-initial” drives.
I believe initial drives are a tremendous indicator of the strength of an offensive coordinator. It is during these drives that he has more control and influence over the game than any others. On the opening drive, his plays are scripted, meaning he had all week to determine which ones were most suitable to attack the defense. The opening drive in the second half is the first during which an offense can implement its halftime adjustments.
Jason Garrett does a lot of things well, but I think adaptability is his biggest weakness. We’ve certainly seen him improve with his abundance of weak side runs, play-calling alterations with particular personnel, and 3rd down runs this season. However, I’ve always felt he has such confidence in himself and his players that he believes the 11 men on offense will always execute. But being an offensive coordinator is about maximizing the likelihood of success for an offense, not stubbornly calling the same plays until they work.
Below are the results of the Cowboys’ initial drives this season. Note that, at only three games into the season, the sample size is far from ideal. It’s small enough that one big play could throw off the results, so we need to take these particular statistics in with a grain of salt. Still, the Cowboys had a bye. . .what else are we going to talk about?
As you can see, the Cowboys aren’t really finding much success on initial drives (at least in terms of points). They’re averaging 0.5 points-per-drive on the drives to start the game and second half–significantly down from last year’s rates. Dallas is also managing just 4.22 yards-per-play to open the game.
However, despite managing just a field goal on the three drives to open the second half, the offense is tallying 7.33 yards-per-play. The yards-per-play number is more significant than the points at this time because it is less susceptible to fluctuations. For example, if David Buehler made an extra field goal on one initial second half drive, the points-per-drive would double. Thus, yards-per-play is a better indicator of the team’s success.
So while the Cowboys could certainly benefit from coming out firing to start the football game, it does appear as though Garrett may have found a way to become a bit more adaptable this season. Further evidence of that comes in the Cowboys’ second drive of each second half this season. Halftime adjustments aren’t applied to just the first drive of the second half, so those second drive numbers can be of help to us as well.
On the second drive of the second half this season, the Cowboys are averaging a robust 7.65 yards-per-play and have scored two touchdowns. When combined with the aforementioned second half initial drive statistics, Dallas is averaging an incredible 7.52 yards-per-play (on 38 plays) on the two drives coming out of halftime. Quite an improvement from last season. The 17 total points scored also represents an impressive 2.83 points-per-drive.
Thus, I feel confident in saying Garrett is improving in his halftime adjustments. If he and the offense can find a way to start the game in the same manner in which they begin the second half, the Cowboys should find a much easier time winning football games in the future.