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felix jones counters | The DC Times

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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.


Four Ways to Get Felix Jones Rolling for the Cowboys

Jonathan Bales

With the Cowboys’ matchup with the Tennessee Titans looming, it is hard to not imagine what Dallas might look like on offense if Chris Johnson was their starting running back.  Remember, the Cowboys bypassed Johnson (and Rashard Mendenhall) for Felix Jones in the 2008 Draft.  Now, Johnson is widely considered one of the top players in the entire NFL, while Jones has failed to live up to expectations.

Jones does enough to thrill Cowboys fans and keep them wanting more–a big run here, a nice block there.  But overall, Jones hasn’t shown the adequate health or durability (even when healthy) to handle the sort of load for which many fans yearn.

Some claim that Jones isn’t built for a heavy workload, but why not?  Is it due solely to his injury history?  Because his build is that of a workhorse back, not a 10-15 touch player.  Plus, let’s not forget that Johnson–the league’s leading rusher last year–weighs just 191 pounds.

In 2010, Jones has been supremely disappointing.  But all is not lost.  Jones’ talent and unique skill set make it imperative that the ‘Boys find a way to get him on a roll.  Here’s how they can do that. . .

1.  Run more counters and tosses.

I don’t want to make it seem as though I think Jones is only an outside runner, because I don’t.  I do think he’s capable of running between the tackles with great effectiveness (I actually think his one-cut style would make him a great fit for a zone blocking scheme).

The numbers, however, say that Jones needs to run more counters.  Last year, Jones averaged 10.0 yards-per-carry on 22 counters.  Take a look at my in-depth study on Cowboys counters.

In 2010, Dallas has run just four counters (only three to Jones).  For a team that averaged 7.9 yards-per-carry on all counters last year, that needs to change.  Counters have the potential to become big plays, and we all know who the Cowboys’ home run hitter is in the backfield.

The same can be said of toss plays, which the Cowboys run infrequently.  Yes, counters and tosses are “risky” run plays that can sometimes go for losses, but the potential reward is worth the risk in most situations.  A 1st and 10 counter or toss is quite different than the same play on 3rd and 1.

And if you need visual proof of Jones’ effectiveness on counters and tosses, watch the first two plays below. . .

2.  Forget using Jones as a wide receiver.

Analysts claim the Cowboys need to use Jones out wide or in the slot to find ways to get the ball in his hands.  Maybe I’m missing something, but Jones’ is not a polished receiver.  He runs poor routes, doesn’t have particularly soft hands, and isn’t an upgrade over any of the Cowboys’ receivers.

Why replace Dez Bryant, or even Kevin Ogletree, with Jones?  Contrary to popular belief, Jones has never been a Reggie Bush-type player.  There is a way to get the ball in Jones’ hands through the air, however. . .

3.  Design more traditional screen passes for Jones.

The Cowboys don’t run a ton of screens, which is actually reason alone to run more: defenses aren’t generally anticipating them.

This season, the Cowboys have run 11 screens, but only six of those were to running backs.  Further, the ‘Boys have run only three total screens in the past two games.

Jones has been targeted on just three screens (one of which was a quick screen with Jones lined up as the ‘X’ receiver).  Of the two traditional screens, the Cowboys have gained 24 yards.  By the way, Jones was targeted on only eight screen passes all of last year.

Even though Jones isn’t a natural receiver, running screen passes is a totally different skill than lining up out wide.  There’s no real route-running involved, and he doesn’t need to have strong, receiver-like hands: he just needs to catch the ball and use his vision and speed to get downfield.  Actually, you saw the big-play potential of a screen to Jones in Houston when he scampered down the field for a huge gain (which was called back due to a needless block in the back).

4.  Add a new wrinkle to the Wildcat.

I know many readers of DCT don’t like the Wildcat (or “Razorback,” if you prefer), but I love it.  Even with the inherent predictability of the formation, it was the second-most efficient running formation for Dallas in 2009 (in terms of yards-per-carry).  That’s quite impressive considering 31.3 percent of all Wildcat plays came inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.  Here is a detailed article on why the ‘Boys should run more Wildcat this year.

The Wildcat can be even more effective if Jones is a legitimate option to receive the ball.  With him sweeping across the field pre-snap (which the Cowboys worked on in training camp), Tashard Choice will have the option to either hand it off to Jones or keep it for himself.  Even if the call is designated before the snap, the defense will have to stay honest.  Not only is the Wildcat a great opportunity for Jones to take one to the house, but his presence will also open up more running lanes for Choice.

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