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dallas cowboys counters | The DC Times

The DC Times

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

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Why aren’t the Cowboys running more counters in 2010?

Jonathan Bales

In the preseason, I placed a point of emphasis on running more counters this season.  In many of my game plan articles, I suggested (over and over) that Dallas run more counters.

The reason was the success with which the Cowboys ran counters in 2009.  As you can see below, the ‘Boys averaged a ridiculous 7.9 yards-per-carry on their 36 counters last year.  Felix Jones alone tallied 220 yards on 22 counters.

While the rate of negative runs was a bit higher (as is to be expected with a slower-developing play), the percentage of 10, 20 and 40+ yard runs was all significantly higher on counters as compared to non-counter runs.

This season, the disparity between counters and non-counters is even greater.  The ‘Boys are averaging 8.71 yards-per-rush on their counter attempts in 2010.  That number is even more impressive when you consider the overall failures of the team’s running game this season.  While the Cowboys averaged 5.0 yards-per-carry on non-counters last season, that number has dropped to 3.2 in 2010.

What’s most incredible to me is the similarities in the counter stats from last year to this one.  Compare the chart above with the one below.  The counter average, negative play rate, and big play percentages are all remarkably similar from one year to the next.

Note: Only designed runs were included. Quarterback scrambles and fumbled snaps were disregarded.

Despite the continued success and overall consistency on counters, however, Jason Garrett is not calling them as frequently as he should.  While the team averaged 2.25 counters-per-game in ’09, that number has dropped to just 1.55 this season.

The struggles of the offensive line are certainly a factor in Garrett’s decision.  Counters are generally more “dangerous” than other run plays that take less time to develop and necessitate fewer moving parts.  With the inconsistencies the offensive line has displayed this year, Garrett might be scared to risk a negative run and put the offense in long-yardage situations.

With a negative run rate that is only three percent higher on counters, though, that potential fear appears unjustified.  Certainly the slightly higher risk of a negative run is offset by the gigantic increase in big play probability.  Take this stat for example:  of the Cowboys’ four 20+ yard runs this season, three have come on counters, despite only 7.4 percent of all runs being counters.  75 percent of big runs from 7.4 percent of run plays?  Something isn’t right there.

And with Doug Free replacing Flozell Adams at left tackle, the athleticism of the offensive line is even greater than in 2009–a trait that is suited for counter runs.  At least Garrett recognizes that the left side of the offensive line is the place to run, as 13 of the 17 counters in 2010 have been on the left side behind Free.  The ‘Boys are averaging 9.85 yards-per-rush on those 13 runs.

So Coach Garrett. . .please, please call more counters moving forward.  They will surely increase the offense’s rushing efficiency, which will make it easier to do the thing you love most–throw the football.

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Cowboys 2009 Film Study: Counters

We recently studied the Cowboys’ success in 2009 running draw plays. We discovered that, although Dallas is a superb draw-running team, the frequency with which the team ran the play caused their draw efficiency to decline as the season progressed.

In fact, the Cowboys actually averaged over a full yard less per carry on draws than on all other runs. To regain the effectiveness of the draw, we concluded that the Cowboys must run less of them in 2010. In doing so, defenses will be less prepared to defend them and the Cowboys can then reach the Nash equilibrium (the point where the average yards-per-carry will be maximized).

We decided to conduct a similar study on counter plays, with the results shown above. Counter runs utilize misdirection–a running back either hesitates or starts one way before changing direction and receiving the hand-off. Offenses will sometimes even pull linemen to the backside of the play to really confuse a defense.

Notice the incredible success the Cowboys had on counters last season, particularly Felix Jones. Since counters are finesse type runs, it is logical that Jones received the most carries on counter plays and also gained the most yards. His 10.0 yards-per-carry is absolutely ridiculous, particularly with a sample size as large as 22 runs.

Barber also performed fairly well on counters, perhaps because defenses were less inclined to expect a misdirection play with him in the game as opposed to Jones. Thus, Barber’s counter average was higher than his yards-per-carry on other runs.

Tashard Choice’s low average means nothing because the sample size of just three runs is much too small to draw meaningful conclusions.

When comparing the overall counter stats with the numbers from the other types of runs (shown to the right), you can see just how effective the Cowboys were running counters in 2009. They averaged 2.9 yards-per-carry more on counters than other runs, particularly because the opportunity for a big play is so much greater.

Notice the Cowboys had a significantly higher percentage of big plays on counters as well. In fact, when running counters Dallas was 1.5 times as likely to run for 10+ yards, 3.5 times as likely to run for 20+ yards, and an incredible 6.9 times as likely to run for 40+ yards as compared to all non-counter runs.

It is worth noting that the percentage of negative plays on counters was higher than on non-counters, but this is to be expected from a finesse, misdirection sort of play. Counters are generally run in situations when an offense is less likely to be debilitated from a negative play (such as 2nd and 5 as compared to, say, 3rd and 2).

Still, the Cowboys were only 1.5 times as likely to lose yardage on a counter as compared to a non-counter, so the risk was well worth the reward.

Ultimately, Dallas would be well-suited to significantly increase the number of counters they run in 2010, especially with Jones. It may also be smart to replace some of the draw plays with counters, particularly because the two types of run plays are generally called in similar situations.