The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft Trade Scenarios: Your Ultimate Guide

Jonathan Bales

Despite a much earlier draft slot than usual in 2011, the fluidity of this particular draft class and the multitude of needs for Dallas has made predicting their draft choice a difficult task.  The “consensus” seems to be that they will end up with USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith, but that is far from certain.  I actually think there is a solid chance that Smith gets selected before the ‘Boys are on the clock, either by a team currently ahead of them or another looking to move up (Washington, perhaps).

Either way, Smith is far from a sure thing.  I do think he’s the most likely of all the prospects to come to Big D (as evidenced by my last 32-team mock draft and Cowboys-only mock draft), but the abundance of targets and draft scenarios shifts Smith’s potential arrival from ‘likely’ to ‘most likely.’

So what are the Cowboys’ true plans?  I really think it depends on how the top of the draft plays out.  I wouldn’t rule out a trade up, a move down, or remaining at No. 9.  Each situation could present the best value depending on how the prior picks pan out.  Listed below are potential targets for the Cowboys if they do decide to make a move, along with suitable trading partners.

Moving Up

  • Possible Trade Partners

Cleveland Browns No. 6

To move up three spots, the NFL’s draft value chart suggests the Cowboys would need to relinquish their third-round pick.  Is it worth it?  Perhaps for P-Squared.

San Francisco 49ers No. 7

If you have not deciphered it yet, I am writing the team names in their uniform colors.  Why?  I honestly don’t know, but enjoy it while it lasts.

The Cowboys would probably need to relinquish their third-rounder to move up to San Fran’s spot, but they would receive a pick in return (likely a fourth).  Not a bad exchange if the right guy is still on the board.  The problem is that the Niners will likely have interest in the same sort of prospects as Dallas.  Why would they move back if Peterson or Dareus fell, for example?

  • Possible Targets

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

The Cowboys are rumored to have Peterson at the top of their board.  I don’t think he will fall, but if he drops to Cleveland, look for Dallas to at least inquire about a trade.  The Browns could very well have interest themselves, but it is highly unlikely the Niners would move back if Peterson drops to them.

Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

This is a tough call for me.  I have Dareus rated as the No. 2 overall player on my board, but I don’t think the Cowboys should trade up for him.  My reasoning for this is lengthy, but I previously wrote an in-depth article on why selecting the best player available is a myth.  In short, it deals with position scarcity.  There aren’t any elite offensive tackles likely to be around in the second round, so grabbing one in the first (with such a huge need at right tackle) makes more sense.

Is Dareus’ value too much to overlook?  It depends on how highly the Cowboys have him rated, but I am hearing they like Smith just as much, if not more.  Thus, moving up even two spots for Dareus doesn’t seem that likely to me.

Tyron Smith, OT, USC

No one is talking about this, but I don’t think Smith’s presence when the Cowboys select at No. 9 is a foregone conclusion.  With all of the Smith/Dallas connections floating around, why is it implausible to think a team will look to jump the ‘Boys for the USC tackle?  The most likely candidate to do that, in my mind, is Washington.  They could easily move up two or three spots to secure Smith.  If the ‘Boys catch wind of this and truly covet Smith, they will need to make a move themselves.

Moving Down

  • Possible Trade Partners

Minnesota Vikings No. 12

According to the chart, the Cowboys could swap their current fourth-rounder for Minnesota’s third if they elect to move back in the first round.  The Vikings haven’t been mentioned as a potential trade partner for Dallas, but it could happen if either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert shockingly falls.

In my opinion, any move down all but eliminates Smith from contention, so the Cowboys will need a backup plan.

Detroit Lions No. 13

The difference in compensation between Minnesota and Detroit highlights a flaw in the NFL’s draft value system, in my opinion.  Instead of swapping third and fourth-round selections, the Cowboys would simply acquire the Lions’ third-round pick if they alternated first-round selections.  With the Lions possibly interested in Prince Amukamara or even Robert Quinn, they appear to be a more likely trade partner for Dallas than Minny.

St. Louis Rams No. 14

Can you even read the yellow font?  Oh well.  The Rams are known to have interest in Alabama receiver Julio Jones and may want to jump Washington to secure him.  They are the most likely partner for the Cowboys, in my view, and would need to relinquish their third and fifth-round round picks to make the move.

New England Patriots No. 17

Am I even choosing team’s true colors at this point?  In any event, the Patriots are known to stockpile draft picks, but they already have a bunch, including two first-round selections.  To swap first-rounders with Dallas, they would need to yield their second-round pick.  Like St. Louis, a possible target for New England in this scenario is Julio Jones.

  • Possible Targets

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Carimi is listed first for a reason–if the Cowboys move down, it is Carimi who I think they will target.  I have heard this “rumor” from a number of sources.  I would personally rather have Anthony Castonzo or even Ben Ijalana, but Carimi is no slouch–he’s still No. 14 overall on my latest board.

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

I find it hard to believe the Cowboys have divulged as much information (about their views on Smith, for example) as they have without a reason behind it.  I have heard very little linking Castonzo to Dallas, however.  Of course this shouldn’t be used as evidence that the ‘Boys are definitely interested in him, but he will certainly be on their radar if they have him rated as I do.

J.J. Watt, DT/DE, Wisconsin

Watt is considered a prototypical 3-4 defensive end, and only one team (Washington) between the Cowboys and Miami at pick No. 15 runs a 3-4 defense.  The ‘Skins have a bunch of holes, so Watt may not be a priority for them.  I don’t personally want Watt in the first round, but if he is the player the ‘Boys covet, I think he will still be around at St. Louis’ 14th overall selection.

Cameron Jordan, DT/DE, Cal

See Watt, J.J.

Conclusions

Overall, I think the Cowboys need to be flexible in their draft plans.  They should have a list of players for whom they would be willing to trade up, a group they would select at their current spot, and a list of prospects to target if they slide back.  Those lists need not be long.

I wouldn’t consider trading up unless one of two scenarios plays out.  The first is if Peterson drops to Cleveland.  If the Browns are willing to deal, I would sacrifice a first and a third for the top player on my board.

More likely, Peterson won’t drop, and the Cowboys will target Smith.  If he is truly the No. 2 rated player on their board, I would actually trade up for him (if possible).  I think the depth of this draft class is solid enough that yielding a third for an early fourth is worth the ability to acquire an elite offensive tackle with the ability to play either side of the line.  Here are four other reasons to target Tyron Smith.

If the Cowboys miss out on Peterson and Smith, I would desperately seek a trade down (assuming Dareus does not fall).  Castonzo would be the player I target, but the ‘Boys will probably seek Carimi.  The largest positive from a trade back is the possibility of moving up into the very top of the second of even the back of the first to acquire another instant impact player, such as Baylor NT Phil Taylor, Temple DT/DE Muhammad Wilkerson or Texas CB/FS Aaron Williams.

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By Jonathan Bales

Should the Cowboys Throw More Deep Passes? A Follow-Up Analysis

Jonathan Bales

Around the midway point of the 2010, I published an article detailing why teams that throw deep more often generally find more success in the passing game.  As I pointed out, there was a somewhat strong correlation between deep pass percentage and yards-per-attempt.  I detailed why I think this is the case in that article:

Over the years, defenses have adjusted as to not allow big plays–you see it in Tampa 2 schemes and even Coach Phillips’ defense. Make teams beat you again and again underneath.

If you’ve noticed, more and more teams have transitioned to spread offenses (like the Patriots, Saints, etc.) to combat Cover 2 schemes.  The high-percentage passes that are a staple of spread offenses work because of the defenses’ philosophy–don’t give up the big play.  Spread offenses are an answer to the Cover 2 scheme.

In recent years, however, I think we’ve started to see defenses adapt.  Less and less teams are playing Cover 2, instead emphasizing aggressive play and forcing turnovers.  The Saints are again the perfect example, as their scheme is one that will yield the occasional big play, but it creates big play opportunities for their defenders as well.

So, how does all of this relate to how often offenses should throw the ball downfield?  I raised the previous points to exemplify that game theory dictates that there is no inherently optimal strategy, simply one that is best at any particular time against your opponent’s specific strategy.  Thus, there is no “X” percentage of plays at which it is optimal to go deep, or run the ball, or anything else.

Think of it as a giant game of rock, paper, scissors.  When the majority of the league is throwing a rock, it’s pretty obvious that you can take advantage of that by throwing paper.  But as the league transitions, so must you.  When Cover 2 defenses were in vogue (which is still the case with many teams), the spread offense exposed weaknesses.  As more and more teams abandon that scheme, though, offenses must change.  The first team to recognize trends and adapt will win.  The NFL is really like a huge stock market.

At that point in the season, we saw quarterbacks with a deep ball percentage (defined as throws 15+ yards downfield) of 23+ checking in with 5.17 yards-per-attempt.  Of quarterbacks in the 20-23 percent range, the average YPA was slightly lower–5.00.  Finally, of quarterbacks with less than one deep throw in every five passes, the YPA plummeted to 4.31.

2010 Quarterback Efficiency by Pass Depth

Of course, there were certainly limitations to this data.  First, YPA isn’t the only stat that matters in deciphering a quarterback’s value.  We might expect the YPA of quarterbacks with few downfield throws to be slightly lower than other quarterbacks, but those passers also have fewer negative plays.  One might hypothesize that the sack rates and interception rates would be greater for quarterbacks who throw it deep more often.  Thus, the short-throwing passers might make up for a decrease in YPA by completing more passes and putting their teams in more manageable down-and-distances.

When we analyze the data, however, we see this isn’t the case.  The success rate and AYPA (adjusted yards-per-attempt) for quarterbacks with less than 20 percent deep throws is lower than that for passers with 23+ percent deep throws.  Note: Success rate is the percentage of throws that lead to an increase in expected points, while AYPA takes into account sacks and interceptions.  One of the reasons the AYPA for deep passers is greater than that for quarterbacks who throw short more often is that, as you can see, the short passers actually throw more picks.

So is this data enough to conclude the Cowboys should air it out more frequently?  The key, in my view, is personnel.  With a starting quarterback who lacks elite “traditional” accuracy (Romo’s completion percentage is tremendous because he’s able to buy time to allow receivers to become wide open, but I wouldn’t describe him as having top-notch accuracy) and receivers who excel at getting deep and attacking the football (Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and even Roy Williams all possess outstanding body control and ball skills, but none are incredible route-runners), it’s clear to me that a higher percentage of big play opportunities would benefit this team.

By Jonathan Bales

2010 Weak Side Runs: Using Game Theory to Call Plays

Jonathan Bales

Throughout my film study articles, I have chronicled the trends of the Cowboys in specific situations, attempting to isolate the cause of their success or failure.   Some statistics are subjective, such as missed tackles, but I strive to obtain statistics that are objective as possible.

In this study, I will analyze the Cowboys’ weak side runs.  Like prior pieces, there is some “gray area” here.  What is a weak side run?  Is the weak side always opposite the tight end?

For this analysis, I have designated the weak side of the formation as that which is opposite the tight end and has less than three skill position players.  Thus, in “Twins Left,” the right side is the strong side. In “Twins Left, Weak Left” (below), however, the left side is strong.

If a formation has no tight end, the strong side is simply the side with the most skill position players.  Also, a multitude of formations have no strong or weak side, such as “Ace” (below).

The findings I gathered are listed below.   The Cowboys averaged 4.72 yards-per-carry on weak side runs, compared to just 3.67 yards-per-carry on strong side runs, and 4.23 yards-per-rush on runs from balanced formations.

Why did the Cowboys have more success running weak side than strong?   One possibility is that it surprises the defense.  Dallas ran weak side on just 22.8 percent of all run plays (up from 19.5 percent in 2009). Thus, with the defense generally anticipating a strong side run, the success rate of running weak side increases despite a lesser number of blockers.

The lack of blockers to the weak side can also be a good thing because defenses generally line up according to the formation.   Less blockers, then, means less people to block, and less chance for mistake.

If this theory is correct, we might expect the Cowboys percentage of big plays to increase significantly when running weak side.  This is exactly what we saw in 2010 (although not in my 2009 results).  The Cowboys ran for a play of 10+ yards on 13.8 percent of all weak side run plays in 2010, compared to only 6.5 percent on all strong side runs.

Further, the yards-per-carry, big play percentage, and negative play rate of runs from balanced formations (such as “Ace”) all fall between the corresponding numbers for weak and strong side runs.  This is evidence that weak side runs are generally superior to strong side runs because hybrid formations (balanced formations are a sort of “hybrid” of strong and weak ones) create hybrid results.

How should this information affect the Cowboys and Jason Garrett’s play-calling?  Well, as I detailed in my 2009 Witten blocking study, the play-calling should shift until it reaches the “Nash Equilibrium.”   Simply put, this is the point when the overall yards-per-rush will peak.

Note that Garrett cannot simply call all weak side runs because football is a game of opposing minds.   A drastic increase in weak side runs would obviously be met by a large percentage of defensive weak side blitzes.

Instead, game theory suggests Garrett should slowly increase the number of weak side runs until the average yards-per-carry is maximized.

But how will we know when that number is reached?  The answer would be simple if we assumed those people drawing up plays to try to stop the Cowboys offense–the opposing defensive coordinators–were perfectly rational.   In that scenario, the defense would call an increasing number of weak side blitzes until they minimized the overall yards-per-carry.   They would in effect create their own Nash equilibrium.

Of course, defensive coordinators do not always call plays in a rational manner. Their knowledge is not unlimited, and so sometimes they may call too many weak side blitzes or not enough.  Perhaps sometimes the number of weak side blitzes they dial up has no correlation at all with the offenses’s weak side running rates or successes.

Garrett’s job, then, must be to take into account the thoughts and tendencies of defensive coordinators (perhaps easier said than done), and then adjust his play-calling accordingly.   If Team X calls an inordinate amount of weak side blitzes, for example, then the Cowboys own Nash equilibrium will be shifted to include more strong side runs (and vice versa).

Thus, play-calling (or effective play-calling anyway) is not simply about knowing your own players.   It is about successfully predicting the calls of defensive coordinators by knowing their tendencies.   This may sound extremely difficult (and it is from the standpoint of one individual play), but aberrations tend to flatten out over the course of a game in such a way that, despite not knowing individual play calls, a team can assume a “regression to the mean” of sorts where a team’s overall tendencies will always eventually shine through.

For Garrett, this means being one step ahead of the game.  Instead of simply knowing what you want to do, you have to know what your opponent thinks you are going to do, then adjust accordingly.  When playing against a really stealthy coach, you may have to know what he thinks that you think that he thinks about what play you are going to call.

If you are an offensive coordinator and have called three straight weak side runs in a row, for example, your natural inclination may be to deviate from this tendency.  You might do this in an effort to “mix it up.”   But game theory suggests you should take into account the opposition’s thoughts before making a decision.

Perhaps you know that he is thinking that you are thinking that he will call a weak side blitz to combat your recent success. Knowing this, you would assume he may call a strong side blitz (or none at all), and you would be correct.   Thus, despite three straight weak side runs, the best play call is yet another weak side run.

Being “unpredictable” isn’t about changing play calls just for the sake of changing the play, but about adjusting your tendencies according to your opposition’s tendencies to create an environment where potential success will be maximized.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2010 Motion Statistics

Jonathan Bales

Last offseason, I argued that the Cowboys should use pre-snap motion less often.  In my 2009 study on Cowboys motions, I found the offense was generally less successful on motion plays, averaging 0.7 less yards-per-pass and a full yard less per run.  As a result of those findings, I wrote:

Garrett should steadily decrease the motion rate until the defense compensates enough that the Cowboys’ yards-per-play reaches its peak.  My guess is that this is around 25.0 percent. At this point, it is likely the rate of big plays and negative plays will also be maximized and minimized, respectively, creating situations of generally optimal efficiency for the Cowboys’ offense.

Garrett used motion on 42.5 percent of snaps in 2009.  As I suggested, that rate dipped this past season.  Here are the Cowboys’ 2010 motion numbers. . .

Right off the bat, you can see the Cowboys’ motion rate dropped to 34.4 percent–not quite the 25.0 percent I suggested, but still an improvement.  With that fall came an increase in efficiency, at least in the passing game.  The Cowboys averaged over 0.8 “extra” yards-per-pass on motion plays and garnered a higher rate of big plays (10+ yards)–31.3 percent versus 22.3 percent on non-motion plays.

Once again, the Cowboys motioned on a higher rate of run plays than pass plays.  The 175:176 ratio is incredible, and those 175 runs represent 45.8 percent of all Cowboys’ runs–very similar to the team’s 48.9 percent rate from 2009.  Note that the “actual” run totals are slightly skewed because I count only “called” runs, not quarterback scrambles, kneel downs, etc.

The reason for the increased motion rate on run plays seems simple enough; the Cowboys frequently remain static pre-snap in situations where the defense knows they are going to pass.  For example, Dallas motioned on only 12 of the 197 plays they lined up in “Gun TE Spread” (left)–that’s a rate of just 6.1 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2009.

Thus, while the run/pass ratio after motions is a bit “off,” it creates no real competitive advantage for the defense.

So we know the Cowboys motion more on run plays, but is there any causation behind this correlation?  My initial thought was that the the drop in yards-per-rush was caused by a possible tendency to motion on short-yardage plays.  Thus, the upside would be limited and the averages would suffer.

However, on short-yardage plays (which I defined as three yards-to-go or less), the Cowboys motioned just 12 times out of a possible 97–only 12.4 percent of the time.  That’s far below the overall rate of 34.4 percent.  Thus, while it is good that Garrett effectively spreads out motions among various downs and distances, the low yards-per-rush on motions cannot be attributed to an abundance of short-yardage plays.

Another possibility for the lack of success on motion runs is predictability.  After watching as much film as I do, there are times when I can predict with great precision what play the Cowboys are going to run.  How and where they motion is a big factor in my ability to do this.  Dallas will frequently motion the fullback to the play-side just before the snap, for example.  Only rarely does the fullback motion to the side of the formation opposite the play-call.

If I can read these tendencies, NFL defenses can do it.

Of course, the Cowboys simply need to run the ball more effectively on all types of plays.  They weren’t particularly dominant on non-motion runs either.

Conclusions

I love that I saw a decrease in motions from Garrett and the ‘Boys in 2010.  The Cowboys found much more success via the pass on plays which invoked a pre-snap motion, and, although the team’s run efficiency plummeted, the relationship between motion and non-motion runs actually converged.

We also saw a greater rate of big pass plays and a lower sack rate (by far) on motion plays as compared to 2009.  The rate of total negative plays remained steady at 11.1 percent.

Ultimately, I still think 25 percent is the magic number.  If the Cowboys can motion around one-in-four plays in 2011, I think they’ll see an increase in overall offensive efficiency.

Of course, regression to the mean tells us we’ll probably see that anyway.

By Jonathan Bales

A Look at Jason Garrett’s Use of Playaction Passes in 2010

Jonathan Bales

Last season, I conducted an in-depth study of the Cowboys’ 2009 playaction passes.  Here are a few points of interest from that study:

  • Of the 83 playaction passes, only FOUR were attempts of 20 yards or more That is 4.8 percent of all pass plays attempted.  The Cowboys threw the ball downfield 20 yards or more on 46 of the other 467 attempts, or 9.9 percent of all passes.
  • Dallas ran screen passes on 33 of their 467 non-playaction passes (7.1 percent).  That screen rate more than tripled on playaction passes to 22.9 percent (19 of 83 passes).
  • Of the 83 playaction passes, 53, or 63.9 percent, were to the right side of the field (compared to just 37.0 percent on other passes).
  • The Cowboys ran only four (FOUR!) playaction passes all season with 1-4 yards-to-go.  The number of plays on the season in that range: 132.  Thus, Dallas ran playaction on just 3.03 percent of plays in situations with just 1-4 yards to go for a first down (situations with a legitimate threat of a run).
  • With 10 yards remaining, however, the Cowboys dialed up 54 play-action passes (59.3 percent of all playaction passes came on this ‘distance-to-go’).
  • The Cowboys actually ran one more playaction pass (five total) with 20+ yards-to-go than with 1, 2, 3 or 4 yards-to-go.
  • They also ran just 18 play-action passes with less than 10 yards left for a 1st down.  Thus, just 19.8 percent of playaction passes came with less than 10 yards-to-go.

So, has Jason Garrett’s use of playaction passes improved in 2010?  Kind of, but not enough.  Here are some comparable notes from the 2010 season:

  • Of the 98 playaction passes, 13 have been thrown 20+ yards downfield (13.3 percent).  This is certainly better than last year, but it is also one of the only areas in which Garrett has significantly improved.
  • Dallas has run screen passes on 48 of their 462 non-playaction passes (10.4 percent).  That screen rate nearly doubled on playaction passes to 19.4 percent.
  • Of the 98 playaction passes attempted, just 38 (38.8 percent) were to the right side of the field.  I think last year’s rate of 63.9 may have been an aberration.
  • The Cowboys still ran just FOUR playaction passes with 1-4 yards-to-go.  That is only 3.2 percent of the 124 overall plays in that range.
  • 59 of the 103 total playaction passes (five were sacks) have been with exactly 10 yards-to-go.  That rate of 56.3 percent is comparable to that in 2009.
  • The Cowboys again ran more playaction passes with 20+ yards-to-go (five) than with 1-4 yards-to-go (four).  Stunning.
  • Only 22 of the 103 total playaction passes came with less than 10 yards-to-go.  That’s just 21.4 percent.

Overall, it’s shocking to me how incredibly similar these stats are from year to year.  What are the odds the Cowboys would run the EXACT same number of playaction passes with 1-4 yards-to-go AND 20+ yards to go from 2009 to 2010?  The rate of playaction looks from other ranges and the number that result in screen passes are eerily similar as well.

Garrett’s play-calling has certainly improved in a bunch of areas, but in the realm of playaction passes, the man needs an intervention.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft: Five Potential First Round Picks

Jonathan Bales

With the Cowboys heading into Week 17 of the 2010 season, they are in position to acquire somewhere between (about) the sixth pick and 12th selection in the 2011 Draft.  In that area, they will undoubtedly be able to obtain a true impact player–someone who should start immediately.  Picking toward the latter portion of that range may actually be optimal for Dallas, as the requisite contract funds take a steep drop from the top of the round.

Predicting the Cowboys’ pick in 2011 will be far easier than it was this past draft due to their draft spot.  Further, the team’s primary needs (defensive end, inside linebacker, cornerback, safety, offensive line) weed out some of the prospects.

Without further ado, here are my initial picks for the Cowboys’ five most likely potential first round draft picks. . .

5.  Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal

Jordan is a bit smaller than the “prototypical” Cowboys defensive end (he’s 280 pounds), but the massive ends haven’t been working in Dallas anyway.  It’s time to acquire smaller, quicker playmakers across the board on defense, and that starts on the line.

Jordan has an incredible frame and strength, yet carries it well.  He is good in pursuit, able to shed blocks rather easily.  His experience in a 3-4 defense is always a plus.

With literally all of the team’s current defensive ends possibly on the way out (I predict they’ll retain only Jason Hatcher), Jordan would be an immediate starter for Dallas.

4.  Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Clayborn is a 4-3 defensive end in college, but he possess enough size (6’4”, 285 pounds) that he could stay at that spot in the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense.  He’s a high-motor player with great athleticism for his size.  He actually appears to have a frame which could add some bulk, meaning he could transition into a run-stuffing 3-4 end or even eventually kick inside to nose tackle.

3.  Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

Peterson has it all.  He’s big (6’1”, 211 pounds), fast (probably a low 4.4 guy), and intelligent.  He has the skill set to fit into any system, excelling in both man and zone coverages.  He plays big in big games and possesses excellent ball skills–characteristics Dallas needs in a cornerback.

With Terence Newman getting old quickly and Mike Jenkins regressing in 2010, cornerback is a huge need for Dallas.  Orlando Scandrick played really well in the slot during the second half of the season, but it’s unclear if he could hold up outside as a starter.  Peterson’s presence would allow the Cowboys to possibly move Newman to free safety, giving the secondary a much-needed makeover.

2.  Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

The only reason I have Amukamara ranked ahead of Peterson is draftability:  I don’t see Peterson being available for Dallas no matter where they pick–he’s that good.  Amukamara is still an outstanding cornerback, excelling in press and zone coverages.  Despite being six pounds lighter than Peterson, he’s far more physical.  With the Cowboys likely to transition to more zone coverages in 2011, Amukamara could make sense.

1.  Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

Dareus is an absolute stud.  At 6’3”, 306 pounds, he possesses incredible athleticism.  His size is tremendous, yet he carries it very well–so well, in fact, that when you look at him, you see “oversized linebacker.”

Dareus is versatile enough to play all three defensive line positions for Dallas.  That sort of versatility would be extremely valuable.  Because of his size, I think Dareus’ primary position would be nose tackle.  If that’s the case, current Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff could move back to defensive end–a position that seems more suitable for him at this point in his career.

So how could Dareus fall to the Cowboys’ pick?  Well, there are some off-field concerns.  If Dallas is willing to overlook them, they could secure incredible value in the first round.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles Week 14 Initial Post-Game Observations

Jonathan Bales

Let’s get right into it…

  • As I anticipated, DeMarcus Ware lined up on the left side of the defense more often than usual.  He made a lot of plays while over there, including putting a lot of pressure on Michael Vick from his blind side and forcing Vick’s second interception while in the alignment.

  • The Cowboys are running way too many draws following “kill” calls (when Jon Kitna checks out of the first play he called in the huddle and gets the offense into the second play).  If I was an opposing defensive coordinator, I would tell my players that if we line up in a safe-looking coverage and a “kill” call comes, a draw is following.
  • That’s why the 3rd and Goal touchdown pass on the Cowboys’ initial drive worked so well.  Kitna “killed” the first play and the Eagles, who weren’t initially showing blitz, immediately moved into position to defend the draw.  Still, the rate of draws following “kill” calls doesn’t need to be so high, even considering the big plays that can come from Kitna’s checks when the team doesn’t run a draw.
  • The Cowboys are running a lot of screens to Felix Jones, which is good, but why are nearly all of them swing passes?  I realize Garrett wants to get Jones on the edge, but the “swing screens” are coming from the same formations and becoming too predictable, as I twice forecasted screens to Jones before the snap in tonight’s game alone.
  • With an early 4th and 4 at the Eagles’ 39-yard line, why did the Cowboys punt?  I’m not going to bring up the 4th down chart again, but at 4-8, what is there to lose?  Plus, like it or not, punting is the risky play in that situation.
  • Sean Lee looks better at the point-of-attack lately.  He did get lost a couple times tonight, but he’s taking on blocks much better and just looks more comfortable flowing to the football.
  • Bryan McCann now has three fumbles despite a limited number of touches.
  • I thought the roughing the passer penalty on Anthony Spencer was bogus.  Yeah, his helmet grazed the bottom of Vick’s, but come on.  Spencer should have been called for a late hit a little earlier, though, so I guess order was restored.
  • With well over a minute left in the first half and the Cowboys at their own 40-yard line, the team showed absolutely no urgency.  They huddled up instead of going into a hurry-up offense, and when Kevin Ogletree later converted a third down, there was only 25 seconds left in the half.  Garrett still needs a lot of work on his clock management.
  • I’m not sure why the Cowboys kicked a 50-yard field goal with a first down and 13 seconds left before halftime.  They didn’t have any timeouts, but I think attempting a quick-hitting out route (with Kitna rolling out) is worth the risk.  There’s a big difference between a 45-yard field goal and a 50-yarder, and rolling Kitna out of the pocket would allow him to throw the ball away with worrying about intentional grounding.
  • David Buehler was impressive on his two field goal attempts, though.  His kickoffs were sub-par (for him, anyway).
  • I absolutely loathed Garrett’s overall play-calling in this game.  Where were the shots downfield?  I will get you the numbers tomorrow, but I’d be shocked if Kitna attempted more than five passes of 15+ yards all night.  And although I haven’t watched the film yet, big plays appeared available for the taking.
  • I thought the Cowboys should have attempted a two-point conversion after going up 19-14 in the third quarter.  Uninformed fans (and analysts, unfortunately) will tell you “it’s too early to go for two,” but that makes no sense.  No literally–the sentence is meaningless.  What does it even mean “it’s too early?”  Since two-point conversions and extra point attempts hold roughly the same expected point value, it is never too early to go for two.  Actually, anytime you score a touchdown and are up five points, you should go for two.  At that point, the chances of your opponent scoring a touchdown is far more likely than them kicking two field goals.  And even if they do kick two field goals, you’d only be tied if you kicked an extra point.  A two-point conversion would put you up one point.
  • Here’s the math. . .suppose the chances of converting the two-point conversion were only 45 percent (which is an extremely modest estimation, since the league-wide conversion rate is closer to 50 percent).  Also presume the extra point conversion rate is 100 percent (which is clearly not the case, especially with Buehler kicking it).  The expected points of the two-point try is 0.9, while the expected points of the extra point is obviously 1.0.  Now the question is how likely it will be that the Cowboys, winning 19-14, will need the “extra” point that comes from a two-point conversion.
  • Let’s suppose there was only 20 seconds left.  Clearly the Cowboys would go for two since the Eagles would only try to score a touchdown–a five-point lead is the same as a six-point lead, for all practical purposes.  Since the expected points of a two-point conversion is nearly the same as an extra point, there’s also no practical difference between 30 seconds left in the game and 30 minutes remaining.  Any minuscule difference in expected points is overruled by the chances of Dallas losing by one point if they choose to go up by six points instead of attempting to go up by seven.  Either way, it’s never too early to go for two.
  • When Orlando Scandrick blitzes, good things tend to happen.  It isn’t that blitzing Scandrick is inherently optimal, but rather it contains an element of surprise for the offense.
  • Terence Newman had a really poor game.  Other than one nice tackle in the open-field, he just looked like he lacked all confidence.
  • I loved the decision to go for it on 4th and 8 at midfield late in the game.  The Cowboys were down 10 points with under six minutes left, and there was no way they could give the ball back to Vick.  Before that, however, the offense should have been in hurry-up mode.  Considering the Cowboys’ new up-tempo practices under Garrett, they sure do lack a sense of urgency in crucial times.
  • At the end of the game, the Cowboys’ defense needed to stop LeSean McCoy on the ground.  They knew runs were coming, and they still got gashed.  That was really disheartening.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles Week 14: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas and How to Stop Vick

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys’ win over the Indianapolis Colts was a tremendous boost to the team’s confidence, but this week’s matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles contains almost no similarities to that game.  While the Colts can’t run the ball to save their lives, the Eagles are one of the league’s top rushing squads, thanks in large part to Michael Vick.  While the Colts rarely blitzed Dallas, you can bet Philly will be pinning their ears back to reach Jon Kitna.

It will take another magnificent effort from the ‘Boys to take down a hungry Eagles team.  Here’s how they can do it. . .

No. 1-7:  How to Stop Michael Vick

DON’T let Vick roll out to his left.

I saw a stat a week or two ago noting that Vick has a passer rating of over 122 when he rolls left, but under 60 when he rolls to his right.  That’s quite a difference, so Dallas needs to do everything possible to make sure they contain Vick when he attempts to move to his left.

When he does roll right, the southpaw loves to run the football.  While you never want to force the league’s most talented athlete to run the ball, it’s a better option than having him roll left with a run/pass option.  Dallas will need to be extra cautious about Vick’s legs if they force him right (and his arm if he does escape left).

DO blitz from the right side of the defense.

One way to make sure Vick doesn’t roll left is to blitz him on that side.  If he senses pressure in front of him, he’ll be more likely to spin out the backside–to his right.  Of course, the Cowboys can’t blitz too much, as Vick will kill you–either through the air or on the ground–if you send extra rushers and then whiff.

DO place DeMarcus Ware on the left side of the defense.

If you don’t want Vick to roll left, why place the team’s best player on the opposite side of the field?  Here are five reasons it will work:

  • Anthony Spencer isn’t creating much pressure lately anyway, so why not ask him to employ a “cautious rush” in which he makes certain that Vick doesn’t get outside of him?
  • Ware will be free to utilize his entire repertoire of moves instead of trying to contain Vick.
  • Ware will be matched up on right tackle Winston Justice–a huge mismatch.
  • The Cowboys will be blitzing from the right side of their defense to force Vick right–into the waiting arms of Ware.
  • Ware will be coming from Vick’s blind side.

DON’T place a spy on Vick.

To me, spying Vick is wasting a defender.  If that’s the only method you employ to corral Vick, you’re going to get burnt.  A single defender isn’t going to be able to tackle Vick in the open-field.  The Cowboys need to work as a unit to stop him.

DON’T play nearly as much man coverage as usual.

Imagine this scenario: the Eagles run their usual deep routes–DeSean Jackson on a 20-yard dig, Jeremy Maclin on a skinny post, and Brent Celek up the seam.  The Cowboys play Cover 1–man coverage with a single-high safety.  Dallas fails to reach Vick with the rush and he steps up into a sea of green, all defenders 20+ yards downfield.  Uh oh.

You can’t consistently play man coverage and expect Vick to never successfully run, so Dallas needs to implement a lot of zone coverages–something they’ve been doing more anyway since Paul Pasqualoni took over as defensive coordinator.

DO zone blitz often.

“But Jonathan, you said the Cowboys should blitz from the right side of their defense.  Won’t that put them in a lot of man coverage?”

Not if they zone blitz.  I’ve previously talked about why the Cowboys should zone blitz more in general, but this is a game in which I think you’ll actually see them do it fairly often.  The zone blitz can be confusing to the offensive line and quarterback because, often times, there aren’t any “extra” rushers coming.  The defense simply gives the illusion of a blitz, meaning zone blitzes have great upside without much risk.  At worst, they’ll be a tremendous way to force Vick to roll to his right without giving him an entire field to juke defenders.

DO play nickel more than usual.

While the Eagles are one of the league’s top rushing teams, they don’t have a power running game.  Instead, most of their yards come from a combination of Vick’s scrambles and the “fancy” runs–draws, counters, and so on–from LeSean McCoy.  And make no mistake about it. . .a gigantic portion of the running back’s yardage is a direct result of the “Vick effect.”  Backside defenders can’t crash down on handoffs because they have to honor Vick’s arm/legs in the event of a play-fake.

Thus, I don’t think implementing nickel personnel will hurt Dallas in their effort to contain the Eagles’ running game.  In fact, more speed on the field can only help against Philly’s finesse players.  Who would you rather have chasing down Vick–Keith Brooking or Orlando Scandrick?  Mark my words: Brooking will struggle mightily in this game if he’s given too much playing time.

No. 8-14:  How to Beat the Rest

DO place Terence Newman on DeSean Jackson and jam him early.

Newman has struggled lately, but he’s traditionally played well against Jackson and other small receivers like him.  Last year, he caught only seven passes for 79 yards in the three games he played against the Cowboys.

Jackson will surely want to redeem himself this Sunday, so Newman should get in Jackson’s face early.  If Jackson struggles to start the game, it will affect his effort later in the contest.

I think the Cowboys should play a lot of Cover 2 early in the game as well.  That will put the cornerbacks in a great position to get their hands on Philly’s receivers and disrupt their routes. That’s a must when receivers are attempting to get 20+ yards downfield.

With the two safeties deep, Cover 2 is also a safe enough coverage to limit the Eagles’ big plays early.  Plus, with up to nine defenders underneath, it’s about as good of a coverage as exists for halting Vick on the ground.

DO attack the Eagles with downfield throws–especially double-moves on Asante Samuel (if he plays).

I found more evidence this week that Dallas should throw the ball downfield more often.  It hurts that Dez Bryant is gone for the season, but Miles Austin and Roy Williams (yes, Roy Williams–just look here) are big play threats themselves.  Quick scores can change games in a hurry.

On top of that, the Eagles’ cornerbacks are susceptible to double-moves, particularly Samuel.  If he is active, the Cowboys can surely beat him deep on a hitch-and-go or sluggo route.  The key, as always, will be proper protection, so perhaps the Cowboys should implement max protection from a double-tight set when they plan to attack deep.  That look will be most successful if used on 1st down or 2nd and short, as the Eagles will be anticipating a run.

DO throw a lot of screens.

When not taking shots down the field, the Cowboys need to throw a lot of screens.  Last season, Garrett called screens at the perfect times to take advantage of the Eagles’ sometimes overaggressive defense.  Timing is everything, and the Cowboys will gain a big advantage of Garrett can continue to dial up screen passes when Philly decides to blitz (particularly on 3rd down).

So, almost paradoxically, I think the Cowboys can succeed by throwing the ball deep on 1st down or 2nd and short, but throwing short on 3rd and medium to long.

DON’T keep punting/kicking field goals on 4th down.

Last week, the Cowboys made mistakes by punting on 4th and 1 at midfield and  kicking a field goal on 4th and 1 at the Colts’ 12-yard line.  They also decided to kick a field goal on 4th and goal inside the Colts’ two-yard line before the end of regulation, but were bailed out by an Indianapolis penalty.

If Garrett wants to put his team in high-percentage situations, he needs to stop giving the ball away on 4th and short-to-medium.  I know it seems risky to go for it on, say, 4th and 7 at the opponent’s 40-yard line, but the real risky play is punting away the football.

DON’T run a strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong.”

From my Cowboys-Colts post-game article:

Nine strong side dives from the 10 times they lined up in the formation?  Only three of those in short-yardage situations?  Five strong side dives from “Double Tight Left/Right I” on 1st and 10?  A 2.44 yards-per-attempt average on the nine runs?  Gigantic fail.

I’m not sure why this play has returned, but it needs to leave ASAP.

DO increase Tashard Choice’s workload just a bit.

Choice received 29 offensive snaps on Sunday and capitalized big-time on his first significant playing time this season.  The Cowboys need to continue to feed Choice because:

  1. Felix Jones can’t consistently handle nearly 50 snaps a game.
  2. Marion Barber should be gone in 2011.
  3. Choice is superior to Jones in pass protection, which will be vital this week.

DO double-team Eagles defensive end Trent Cole with tight ends and running backs.

In my view, Cole is far and away the Eagles’ top defensive player.  He creates havoc in the opposition’s backfield whether defending the run or the pass.  He’s consistently one of the most underrated players in the NFL.  I place him on par with guys like Dwight Freeney and even Ware (but no, I wouldn’t prefer Cole to Ware).

If the Cowboys leave Doug Free on an island against Cole, he will get abused.  Free has been the Cowboys’ best offensive lineman all season, but I don’t think he’s up for that sort of challenge just yet.  Look for the Cowboys to run the same “Gun 5 Wide Tight” formation they created for last week’s game in Indy to help Free and the always helpless Marc Colombo.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Colts Week 13: What We Learned About Dallas

Jonathan Bales

DO stay in a nickel defense (or even dime) at all times.

Result: Pass, kind of

The Cowboys came out with their nickel defensive line (a forty front), using DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer as defensive ends and Jay Ratliff and Igor Olshansky/Jason Hatcher/Stephen Bowen/Josh Brent as defensive tackles.  The plan seemed to confuse Indy a bit early, as they likely anticipated the Cowboys’ usual three-man front.

Sean Lee also got a lot more playing time than usual, which clearly paid off.  If I said there’s zero chance Keith Brooking would have made the interceptions Lee did, it would be too much.

DON’T respect the running game or playaction fakes.

Result: Pass

The Colts showed the Cowboys a playaction fake quite a few times, but there was really no reason for the linebackers to respect the run.  Indy ran the ball 17 times for only 40 yards.  I specifically watched the Dallas linebackers’ pass drops late in the game, and for the most part, they remained steady even while Peyton Manning was faking handoffs.

DO focus attention on Reggie Wayne.

Result: Pass

Alan Ball’s early interception was a clue that Dallas was rolling coverage to Wayne’s side of the field.  The Cowboys were in Cover 1 on the play, meaning Ball didn’t have a specific responsibility–he was free to read Manning’s eyes and roam the field.  While Ball made a hell of a play, I doubt he would have made it without shading Wayne’s side before the snap.

Ball was placed over top of Wayne for much of the game, and Dallas seemed content to let him catch balls underneath (specifically on quick screens and ‘in’ routes), but made sure to limit his big-play potential.

DON’T blitz too often early, but do disguise your intentions.

Result: Pass

Like I said, the Cowboys gave the Colts a look they weren’t expecting with their frequent four-man defensive line.  When they did implement only three down-linemen, one of the outside linebackers moved to a middle linebacker spot and either rushed from there or dropped into coverage.

Manning and the Colts eventually figured out how to move the ball on Dallas, but the early confusion Dallas instilled in Indy was enough for the ‘Boys to come out with the win.

Still, I want to see more unique looks out of the Cowboys defense.  Did you see the Steelers and their “Amoeba” defense on Sunday night?  Why can’t the Cowboys be innovators instead of followers?

DO hit Peyton Manning whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Result: Fail

Dallas got almost zero pressure on Manning for much of the contest.  He rarely went to the ground and generally had plenty of time to throw.  The lack of pressure speaks to the incredible play from the linebackers and secondary.  If you told me the Cowboys would intercept Manning four times (and twice return it for a touchdown) without getting in his face, I would have told you that you were nuts.

DON’T place Keith Brooking on Colts tight end Jacob Tamme.

Result: Mostly Fail

Although Sean Lee got a ton of playing time and Gerald Sensabaugh covered Tamme from time to time, Brooking also covered the tight end quite frequently.  Although strong early, Brooking eventually displayed poor hips and zero ability to break down in space.  It’s time to start Lee.

DO twist the defensive ends to create some sort of pressure.

Result: Fail, sort of

I didn’t see any twists from Dallas, but they did something similar in their three-man fronts.  As I said before, one of the outside linebackers lined up in the middle of the defense and would sort of roam around over the center and guards.  Since the offensive line couldn’t be sure from where the backer would rush (or if he would at all), the alignment sort of had the effect of a twist or stunt in that it forced the offensive linemen to respect the potential rush of more than one defender.

DO realize the Colts love to run behind tight end Brody Eldridge, not Tamme.

Result: Pass

I can’t be sure of this, of course, but the Colts’ 2.35 yards-per-rush showed that Dallas was able to sufficiently stop the running game, allowing the linebackers and safeties to focus solely on defending the pass.

DO run a lot of double-tight sets to aid Doug Free and Marc Colombo (specifically the latter) against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Result: Pass

The Cowboys ran a lot of double-tight sets (25) and packages with two tight ends (50).  However, nine of the double-tight plays were runs from “Double Tight Left/Right I.”

Garrett made up for that by using both Witten and Bennett to chip the defensive ends out of a variety of formations, including the new “Gun 5 Wide Tight.”

DO take some shots deep.

Result: Fail

As I mentioned in my film study observations:

Of Kitna’s 26 pass attempts, only nine traveled 10+ yards, and four went 20 yards or more.  Of the former, Kitna completed only three for 34 total yards.  The Colts played much more of their usual Cover 2 scheme than I expected, particularly early, so Kitna simply took what the defense was giving him.

DON’T punt on 4th down in Indianapolis territory unless it is 4th and 10+.

Result:  Fail

The Cowboys made mistakes by punting on 4th and 1 at midfield and  kicking a field goal on 4th and 1 at the Colts’ 12-yard line.  They also decided to kick a field goal on 4th and goal inside the Colts’ two-yard line before the end of regulation, but were bailed out by an Indianapolis penalty.

DO duplicate the Chargers’ game plan from last week.

Result: Pass

In my pre-game article, I wrote:

Last week, you saw a lot of different looks from the Chargers defense.  They did the unthinkable:  confuse Peyton Manning.  A staple of their game plan was the zone blitz–something I think Dallas needs to utilize a lot more.  Zone blitzes this week could trick Manning into thinking more defenders are rushing than is actually the case, forcing him to mistakenly “throw hot” into the waiting arms of a Cowboy.

On offense, San Diego ran the ball a lot more than usual.  It’s no secret that Indy loves to draft “undersized” defensive players who can defend the pass.  This leaves them susceptible to getting overpowered in the run game.  If Dallas can run the ball effectively early (and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to), it will set up big play opportunities later in the contest.

The ‘Boys didn’t zone blitz much (which needs to change), but they did throw some different looks at Manning.  They also ran the ball much more often than usual, and it clearly paid off.

DO be physical early and often–this team doesn’t respond well to getting punched in the mouth.

Result: Pass

The Cowboys blew the Colts off of the ball early, running the rock on 15 of the first 20 plays.  They gained 86 yards on those plays (5.73 yards-per-carry).

DON’T run a strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong,” unless it is in short-yardage situations.

Result: Fail

Nine strong side dives from the 10 times they lined up in the formation?  Only three of those in short-yardage situations?  Five strong side dives from “Double Tight Left/Right I” on 1st and 10?  A 2.44 yards-per-attempt average on the nine runs?  Gigantic fail.

DON’T use Shotgun much unless in hurry-up mode.

Result: Pass

Dallas lined up in Shotgun on only 19 plays (25.7 percent of all snaps).  Plus, the ‘Boys were lined up in “Gun 5 Wide Tight” on 11 of those plays, meaning the tight ends were still in position to chip the Colts’ defensive ends even in most of the Shotgun snaps.

DO give Tashard Choice all short-yardage and 3rd down snaps, at least.

Result: Pass

Choice received all but one 3rd down snap and all but one short-yardage snap (three yards-to-go or less), and they were the same play.  Altogether, Choice was on the field for 29 snaps, and he certainly capitalized on his first significant activity of the season.

Overall Results

I’ll give the Cowboys 10 passes and 6 fails.  They did a really nice job of fighting back, displaying the heart they didn’t always show during the Phillips era.  That’s particularly impressive considering the team knows they’re out of the playoff hunt.  There is always something for which to play, however, and as long as these players remember that and continue to fight, they’ll be fine moving forward into 2011.

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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts Week 13 Film Study Observations

Jonathan Bales

This week’s film was a joy to review because (aside from the obvious) the Cowboys threw some new looks at the Colts, both offensively and defensively.  Here are some of the most interesting of my observations. . .

  • The Cowboys employed a new formation I will call “Gun 5 Wide Tight.”  It was similar to the normal 3×2 alignment of a five-wide look, but both Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett lined up next to the offensive tackles (in a receiver’s stance).  Before heading out into their routes, both tight ends chipped the Colts’ defensive ends.
  • I drew a diagram of a particular route combination Dallas ran a few times from the formation.  This was the play the Cowboys ran for a 22-yard gain to Roy Williams (the slant route) on 2nd and 19.  As I said, Witten and Bennett both chipped before heading out into the flat.  Dez Bryant ran a backside comeback, while Miles Austin ran an out route from the slot.

  • In my initial post-game notes, I claimed Jason Garrett should have provided more help to Doug Free in blocking Doug Freeney.  After observing the tape, Free actually got a lot more aid than I thought.  The Cowboys ran their new “Gun 5 Wide Tight” formation 11 times–nearly 15 percent of all offensive snaps.  They gained 131 yards on those 11 plays (11.9 yards-per-play), and only one play didn’t gain yardage (the lone incompletion).
  • Garrett also used a new “Tight Spread” formation (below) to help Doug Free and Marc Colombo.  The Cowboys gained 26 total yards on the four plays they ran from the look (6.5 yards-per-play).  Overall, I think Garrett would be wise to implement more new formations into the offense as he has done intermittently thus far in 2010.

  • From my count, the Cowboys wasted 26 seconds on their final drive before halftime.  First, they let 10 seconds run off the clock before using their second timeout.  Later, they decided to spike the ball (inside of 10 seconds) instead of using their final timeout.  It resulted in an illegal shift penalty (which then forced the Cowboys to use that last timeout).  It took 16 seconds to get the offense lined up and (illegally) spike the football.
  • The Cowboys ran 74 offensive plays, tying a season-high.
  • Dallas ran a remarkable 35 plays in Indianapolis territory (46.7 percent of all snaps).
  • Unfortunately, the Cowboys ran the strong side dive from “Double Tight Strong” (read the study here) way, way too often (and one time is already too much).  This week, they ran the majority of the dives from the “I” variation of the formation (which simply places the fullback directly behind the quarterback).
  • Most concerning is that Garrett called the play in a lot of non-short-yardage situations, including five times on 1st and 10 and once on 2nd and 9.  Overall, the Cowboys lined up in “Double Tight Left/Right I” 10 times, running a strong side dive on nine of those plays.  They gained 22 total yards on those runs (2.44 yards-per-attempt), which is simply unacceptable.  Since only three of those runs were in short-yardage situations, there’s no excuse for that kind of predictability.  The six strong side dives in “regular” game situations resulted in only 17 yards–2.83 yards-per-rush.
  • The Cowboys motioned much less than usual–only 18 times.  17 of those plays were runs, and Dallas gained just 38 total yards on those runs.  The one pass went for six yards.  They may have limited their motions, particularly on passes, because they figured they could accurately assess Indy’s intentions without the aid of pre-snap movement.  That seemed to be the case to me, at least.
  • Jon Kitna checked out of four plays–all runs that went for 52 total yards.  I’ve been extremely impressed with Kitna’s ability to recognize defenses and put the offense in high percentage scenarios.
  • Many times this season the Cowboys’ “offensive balance” has resulted from late runs after a lead was already secured.  That wasn’t the case on Sunday, as 15 of the team’s first 20 offensive plays, and 14 of the 18 plays on the final regulation drive, were runs.
  • Six of those runs were draws, and they went for 39 total yards.
  • Kitna was four-for-five on playaction passes for 41 total yards.  He also threw three screen passes for 18 yards.
  • Of Kitna’s 26 pass attempts, only nine traveled 10+ yards, and four went 20 yards or more.  Of the former, Kitna completed only three for 34 total yards.  The Colts played much more of their usual Cover 2 scheme than I expected, particularly early, so Kitna simply took what the defense was giving him.
  • Even with the majority of his throws being short, I’d still characterize Kitna’s day as efficient.  According to my count, he threw only four off-target passes all day–and he barely missed on those.
  • Of the 29 times Dallas dropped backed to pass, Witten was in a route on 23 of them (79.3 percent).  That rate is higher than normal, which means Garrett didn’t regularly double-team either Freeney or Robert Mathis.  Instead, Witten and Bennett generally chipped the defensive ends and headed out into their routes.
  • The Colts didn’t blitz until the Cowboys’ 38th offensive play, but they ended up bring extra pressure eight more times throughout the game.  Dallas gained only 29 total yards on the Colts’ nine total blitzes.  I’m not sure why teams haven’t begun to place more pressure on Kitna.

I am going to take some time to break down the Cowboys’ defense a bit more this week, and I will report back to you tomorrow with my notes and answers to my pre-game DOs and DON’Ts list.

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