The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: Deep Passing Stats

Jonathan Bales

My latest submission to DallasCowboys.com deals with the Cowboys’ deep passing stats over the past three seasons. In it, I discuss when I think possessing an efficient running game is important. Regulars here know I often dismiss the idea that offenses need to be balanced (they don’t), but a strong running game is important in short-yardage situations and to set up big plays in the passing game. As I write in the article:

The biggest reason a formidable ground attack can be valuable, however, is that it sets up big plays via the passing game. It’s a whole lot easier for an offense to move downfield from a single deep pass than from a handful of successful runs, but those six- and eight-yard rushes can alter a defense’s strategy and leave them susceptible to a deep passing play. Thus, although rushing frequently is unnecessary, running efficiently can have positive offensive effects that often manifest themselves in passing statistics.

And the Cowboys have had quite a bit of success throwing deep lately. Last season, Romo turned in a ridiculous 125.4 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards.

One of the reasons I think we see this is (and one I didn’t discuss in the article) is that Romo buys time in the pocket to allow receivers to get wide open, making a lot of his deep throws “easy.” Jason Garrett really dials up a low percentage of deep passes (well below the league average in every season he’s been offensive coordinator), so there’s a bit of a selection bias at work toward these “easy” deep passes. More designed deep throws would result in a lower passer rating, I think.

Nonetheless, the ‘Boys really could benefit from more throws down the field. Dez Bryant has unbelievable ball skills, and I’d sure be throwing it up to him anytime he doesn’t have a safety over top.

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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

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: 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

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.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints Film Study Observations: What We Learned About Dallas

Jonathan Bales

If you haven’t read my initial post-game notes/observations, please do.  I uncovered a lot of interesting information after reviewing the Cowboys-Saints film this week, so enjoy. . .

  • Marion Barber is out for at least a week or two.  I never want players to get injured, but this is one of the best things that could happen to the Cowboys.  Barber looked awful again on Thanksgiving, stumbling on an incredible three handoffs before even getting touched.  He tries to run around defenders now instead of through them, but he doesn’t possess the agility to do that effectively.  His only above-average quality is his pass protection ability.
  • Tashard Choice will be the recipient of an increased workload during Barber’s absence.  I can say with full confidence that you’ll observe a noticeable difference between Choice’s explosion, balance, and vision and that of Barber.  Choice may not be “incredible” at anything, but he’s really solid at everything. This is his chance to prove he deserves a larger role in 2011, and I expect him to perform well.
  • The Cowboys lined up with an unbalanced offensive line on three plays against the Saints.

  • As you can see, the “Unbalanced Right Strong Right” formation above employs Martellus Bennett as the left tackle and Doug Free as the tight end.  Bennett is obviously not an eligible receiver on the play, but I still love the look.  For one, Bennett is one of the team’s best blockers, regardless of position.  Any drop in blocking ability from Free to Bennett is made up for by the fact that the look is confusing to the defense.  It can cause alignment problems and just gives a defense more to think about pre-snap.
  • One knock on this formation is that it gives away too much information before the snap.  Bennett must stay in to block, and it’s unlikely the Cowboys would ask him to protect Jon Kitna’s blind side by himself.  Thus, whatever play the ‘Boys call will almost certainly be a run.  Secondly, do you think the team is more likely to run behind Bennett and Kyle Kosier, or Leonard Davis, Marc Colombo, Doug Free, and Jason Witten?
  • So how did the Cowboys overcome these issues?  Jason Garrett did an excellent job of using the first two plays from the formation as “set up plays” early in the game.  On these plays, the Cowboys ran just where you’d think they would–in the “4 hole” behind all of the big boys.  On the third and final play, however, the Cowboys faked the lead to Felix Jones and handed the ball off to Miles Austin on an end-around.  The result?  A 60-yard touchdown run.  Tremendous design and execution.
  • The illegal shift penalty called on Dez Bryant (the one over which he was fuming) was the correct call.  He mistakenly lined up off of the line of scrimmage, leaving the right tackle uncovered.  When he noticed it and moved up, Sam Hurd was already in motion and never came to a stop (if he had, Bryant’s movement would have been a legal shift).
  • The Cowboys ran a season-high 74 offensive plays on Thanksgiving.
  • Dallas had 14 plays in the red zone–five passes for 26 yards and nine runs for 12 yards and two touchdowns.
  • 33 of the Cowboys’ plays came out of Shotgun, although many of those were out of necessity (the team’s final 11 plays were from Shotgun).
  • Garrett obviously tried to confuse the Saints before the snap.  The Cowboys motioned on exactly half (37) of their offensive plays–a rate much higher than the 30.3 percent clip at which they came into the game.  That included 21 of the first 31 plays.
  • Kitna again showed he can recognize a defense’s weaknesses and check into the proper play.  He did so four times–two runs for eight yards and two passes for 27 yards.
  • The Cowboys got lucky with Reggie Bush.  Even though his production was nil, he was open a few times and either didn’t get targeted or dropped the ball.  Perhaps Dallas knew something I didn’t, but placing Sean Lee on Bush never seems like a good idea.
  • Dallas attacked the middle of the Saints’ defense on the ground.  One of the guards (either Kosier or Davis) was at the point-of-attack on 22 of the team’s 26 designed runs (84.6 percent).  It isn’t uncommon for a guard to be at the point-of-attack, but that rate is unusually high.
  • In my pre-game notes, I predicted the Cowboys would run a lot of draws, counters, playaction passes, and screens to take advantage of the aggressiveness of New Orleans’ defense.  They did all four quite often.  They dialed up eight draws for 24 yards and four counters for 67 yards.  Kitna also faked a handoff on an incredible 11 passes (for 90 yards) and threw a screen eight times for 42 yards.  All in all, 29 of the Cowboys’ offensive plays (39.2 percent) were either a draw, counter, playaction pass, or screen.
  • We saw the return of the dreaded “Double Tight Right Strong Right” formation (or a variation of it, such as “Double Tight Left Strong Left” or “Double Tight Right I”).  Garrett called it 12 times, and all but three were strong side dives.  Those nine plays went for 12 total yards.  Meanwhile, the three non-strong side dives from the formation (two passes and a toss) went for 23 total yards.  Unfortunately, the toss play was the early 4th down attempt to Barber that went for no gain.

Read my full analysis on the formation here.

  • With the abundance of screens and playaction passes came few downfield throws.  Remember, the Cowboys rarely throw the ball downfield following a play-fake–of their 83 playaction passes last year, only FOUR were thrown 20+ yards.  Of Kitna’s 42 passes against the Saints, only FIVE traveled 10+ yards, and only one went 20+ yards.  Meanwhile, 26 of the passes traveled five yards or less.  I’m by no means an expert on NFL offenses, but I think the Cowboys should probably throw the ball 10+ yards more than 11.9 percent of their passes (and 6.8 percent of all plays).
  • Kitna really had an up-and-down game.  He only had 12 incompletions, but nine of those were the result of off-target passes.  Nine off-target passes is way too many when you’re asked to throw the ball downfield only five times all game.  He also failed to throw a touchdown.
  • Of the team’s 47 called passes, Witten was in a route on 34 of them (72.3 percent), which is about average for him.  Dallas gained only 53 total yards on the 13 plays he stayed in to block, and 24 of those yards came on one play.
  • Garrett obviously made a conscious effort to “protect” struggling right tackle Marc Colombo.  Of the 66 plays with a tight end lined up next to one of the offensive tackles, 44 of them (66.7 percent) were “right-handed,” i.e. the tight end(s) was next to Colombo.  I realize Dallas is a right-handed team, but it’s clear an effort is being made to “hide” Colombo.
  • A reader pointed out that, after the game, Drew Brees stated he was able to beat Terence Newman deep because the Cowboys played the same coverage a bunch of times in a row and he knew it was coming.  His claim seems truthful since the Saints had the courage to throw the ball deep on a crucial 3rd and 1 play.  Although Paul Pasqualoni has done a nice job of employing some unique looks and more zone coverage to help the secondary, I thought his play-calling on Thursday was unoriginal and predictable.  The Saints obviously agree.
  • I was shocked that the Saints didn’t blitz Dallas early in the game.  Of the Cowboys’ first 64 offensive plays, New Orleans blitzed only eight times.  I was even more stunned by their strategy late in the game, as they blitzed on the final 10 plays.  They weren’t just simple A-gap blitzes either, but unique, exotic blitzes in which defenders came from unexpected places.  I’m positive the Saints had a “two-minute defense” installed for this game that was radically different from their approach in the first 58 minutes of the game, as they weren’t running the same play, even as Dallas was in a no-huddle offense.  What an incredibly innovative and unexpected move.
  • Despite the blitzes, I thought Garrett’s play-calling on the final three plays was horrible.  Bryant was targeted on all three passes despite not recording a reception all game.  Further, the Cowboys had just burned the Saints over and over by slipping Witten into the flat.  With the offense needing only five yards or so to give David Buehler a realistic field goal look, why not go to Witten again?  I watched Buehler’s missed field goal again and again, and I think it would have been good if it was from 54 yards instead of 59.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints Week 12 Thanksgiving Game: DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

Jonathan Bales

Thanksgiving games always have a different feel to them.  In all honesty, they’re a big advantage for the Cowboys.  Not only do they get an extra day of preparation compared to their opponent (due to travel), but they also get 10 days of preparation for the next game.

I think the Cowboys will play well tomorrow, but here are some DOs and DON’Ts which should allow a win to come easier. . .

DO focus on stopping Reggie Bush–with more than one defender.

Bush will be back for New Orleans, and despite his layoff, he should be the focus of the Cowboys’ defense.  It’s sort of a “Catch 22″ in that placing too much of an emphasis on Bush is what gets defenses in trouble, but not monitoring the former USC star is even more deadly.

There isn’t a single player on the Cowboys who can defend Bush one-on-one, and that includes the cornerbacks.  Instead, the ‘Boys need to use a variety of defenders to stop him.  One way to make that task easier is. . .

DON’T play as much man coverage.

Playing man coverage will make the Saints’ job easy.  They are extremely effective at using motions and shifts to create favorable matchups.  It will be much easier for Sean Payton to do that if the Cowboys are in man coverage.  There’s no easier way for New Orleans to isolate Bush than to recognize man coverage and run defenders off of him.

Another monumental reason the Cowboys need to play a lot more zone coverage than normal is the Saints’ spread offense.  Drew Brees throws short passes (less than 10 yards) more than any quarterback in the NFL.  He’s deadly accurate and will simply pick defenses apart with underneath throws.  There’s no way Dallas can expect to play man coverage the majority of the time and still defend the short crossing routes, rub routes, and so on that the Saints will utilize.  They need to be in a zone, preferably. . .

DO play a lot of Cover 2.

The Cowboys aren’t big on Cover 2, but I think this is the week to run it.  The coverage allows for maximum defenders underneath, but it’s still a safe coverage deep.  There’s no sense in stacking all your defenders near the line-of-scrimmage if you just let Devery Henderson or Lance Moore beat you deep.

The weaknesses of Cover 2 are the deep middle of the field and the area by the sideline between the cornerback and safety.  The best way to cover up these holes is to not let the offense know your coverage before the snap.  The Cowboys have been doing a better job of this lately, but Brees is the master of pre-snap reads.  The Cowboys really need to disguise their coverages if they expect to win.

DON’T think the Saints won’t bring pressure.

For whatever reason, the Giants and Lions haven’t brought much pressure on Jon Kitna.  They’ve sent only five and 12 blitzes, respectfully, over the past two weeks.

That trend won’t continue on Thanksgiving.  The Saints’ primary objective on defense is to force turnovers, and they do that by getting after the quarterback.  The Cowboys must be prepared for a variety of innovative blitz packages, as Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves to send the “unexpected.”

DO continue to be exotic with blitz packages.

The Cowboys should try to beat New Orleans at their own game this week.  As I said above, there’s no way Dallas will win if they let Brees decipher their coverages/blitzes before the snap.  They need to hide their intentions, lining up in base formations and then blitzing from weird angles, or showing blitz and then backing out.

DON’T run any “predictable” plays.

From last week’s Cowboys-Lions Manifesto:

Last week, the Cowboys ran the play below three times.  The formation (“Double Tight Left Ace”) was a completely new one.  If they line up in it again versus the Lions, they better have a new play-call.

The Cowboys did a similar thing in the Vikings game with the play below.  This time, the formation is “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace.”  The Cowboys have since added new plays to the formation’s repertoire, but the one pictured below is still a staple.

And of course we can’t forget about “Double Tight Strong.”  Last season, the Cowboys ran a strong side dive from the formation nearly three-fourths of the 100+ times they lined up in it (including 85.7 percent of the time when motioning into it).  The play basically disappeared early in the season, but it has reemerged since Kitna has taken over (perhaps in an attempt to simplify the playbook).

Well, the Cowboys ended up running all three plays against Detroit.  The last was simply used in garbage time (and the Cowboys do have other plays from the formation), but the other two were used in meaningful situations.  I was able to predict the play before the snap, and if I can do that, the other team should be able to do the same.

DO attack Tracy Porter, especially with double-moves.

Porter made a name for himself in the playoffs last season, but he’s still far from an elite cornerback.  Gregg Williams’ scheme allows him to gamble a lot.  Kitna will have to be prepared for that, but it also means Jason Garrett can call a few double-moves on him to try to secure a quick score.  Plus, the Saints’ other starting cornerback (Jabari Greer) is one of the most underrated players in the entire NFL.

DO run a lot of “right-handed” formations.

This is simple.  The Cowboys need to protect Kitna and Marc Colombo can’t do it.  He needs help from a tight end.  Plus, Dallas usually finds success when running to the weak side of the formation, which would be away from Colombo if the tight end is next to him.

DON’T leave Orlando Scandrick in the slot if Marques Colston bumps inside.

Scandrick has put together two magnificent games in a row, but he’s been the recipient of favorable matchups.  Scandrick vs. Colston is not a favorable matchup for Dallas.  Colston won’t even need to get open against Scandrick, as he can simply post up and use his far superior size to fend off the cornerback and make the catch.  The Cowboys may want to look at moving Terence Newman inside when Colston does the same.

DO continue to throw the ball out of two and three-tight end sets.

The Cowboys implemented three or more receivers on only 16 offensive plays last week (after doing so on just 14 plays the prior week–a season-low).  In the past, I’ve explained why passing out of running formations is successful.  Combine that with Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett’s superb pass protection ability and the deep threat posed by Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, and you have the makings of a lot of “surprise” deep passes.  Now, if Garrett would just call a few after playaction fakes. . .

DO leave Jason Witten in to block so you can take some shots downfield to “The Rookie.”

Whether in base personnel or a two-tight end set, Dallas should leave Witten in to block more this week.  The Cowboys could really help themselves by scoring quickly a time or two, and the easiest way to do that is No. 88.  Considering the frequency with which I expect the Saints to blitz, it won’t be so easy for the Cowboys to provide Kitna proper protection unless they have more blockers.  Lots of blitzers means true man coverage, though–a dream scenario for the ‘Boys.

DO use a dummy snap count (and allow Kitna the freedom to check out of plays).

Against the Saints, Kitna will see a lot of different looks, many of which New Orleans won’t “show” until he goes into his cadence.  If Kitna can use a dummy snap count to force New Orleans to show their intentions, it will make his job a lot easier.  By the way, a dummy snap count is used when you hear the quarterback yell “Omaha.”  Before that, the entire cadence is meaningless.  ”Omaha” signals to the offense that the snap count is now live.

Once Kitna recognizes the Saints’ defense, he should be allowed the freedom to check into whatever play he chooses.  He’s been outstanding with audibles since the preseason.  Last week, he checked out of three plays, two of which went for touchdowns.

DON’T resort back to Shotgun.

The Cowboys’ lack of three and four receiver-sets of late has resulted in less Shotgun snaps (or perhaps vice versa).  Through Week 10, the Cowboys were in Shotgun on a ridiculous 47.3 percent of all snaps.  Last week, however, Dallas used Shotgun on only 13 of 54 offensive plays (24.1 percent).  This comes just a week after using Shotgun at the same rate in their win over the Giants.  Garrett must have recently realized how much more successful Kitna is under center as opposed to in Shotgun.

DO use the same aggressive mentality that beat the Saints in 2009.

The Cowboys beat the Saints last season because they came out on fire.  They opened up the playbook and played with a sense of urgency.  If they do the same this week, they’ll have a good opportunity to once again take down the defending Super Bowl champs.

That’s all for today.  It may take a day or two for me to analyze this week’s game film due to travel, but it’s a long week anyway, so deal with it.  Happy Thanksgiving to all loyal DC Times readers (I hope the disloyal ones have a really shi**y one).  :)  See ya.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Detroit Lions Week 11 Post-Film Study Observations: What We Learned About Dallas

Jonathan Bales

I posted a lot of interesting notes on the Cowboys-Lions game last night, and below are some observations and statistics I gathered after reviewing the game film. . .

  • Dallas ran 12 red zone plays: seven runs for 27 yards and five passes for four yards (including a sack for -8 yards) and two touchdowns.  I’ve loved Jason Garrett’s red zone play-calling thus far in 2010.  Awhile back, I suggested that he call more passes between the opponent’s 10 and 20-yard lines, and more runs inside the 10-yard line (particularly on 1st down).  He’s doing just that this season, and it’s working well.

  • You may have noticed the Cowboys have run a lot less three-receiver sets of late.  Last week, they implemented only 14, and this week it was only 16.  This decrease is due to a variety of factors, not the least of which is an attempt to provide protection for Jon Kitna.  Martellus Bennett is a tremendous blocker (better than even Marc Colombo, I’d say), and his receiving skills force defenses to honor him in the passing game.
  • Part of the decrease in three (and four) receiver formations is also due to Dez Bryant’s presence in base personnel packages.  He’s earned the right to be on the field for the majority of snaps, and now Garrett isn’t forced to put three receivers on the field to get Bryant involved.  I’m not afraid to admit I have a bit of a man-crush on him.
  • The lack of receivers has also resulted in less Shotgun snaps (or perhaps vice versa).  Through Week 10, the Cowboys were in Shotgun on a ridiculous 47.3 percent of all snaps.  This week, however, Dallas used Shotgun on only 13 of 54 offensive plays (24.1 percent).  This comes just a week after using Shotgun at the same rate in their win over the Giants.  Garrett must have recently realized how much more successful Kitna is under center as opposed to in Shotgun.
  • The Cowboys motioned 16 times, including on 10 of the first 18 plays.  They gained only 85 total yards on the 16 plays (5.31 yards-per-play).
  • Kitna checked out of three plays on Sunday.  All of them were passes and they totaled four yards.  That sounds poor, but two of them were touchdowns (Bryant’s touchdown and Austin’s first touchdown).
  • In my notes from yesterday, I mentioned I liked a play that didn’t work for Dallas.  They had lined Marion Barber up at fullback and motioned Felix Jones to tailback from the slot (in my notes I mistakingly said it was Bryant).  When they’ve done this in the past, they’ve usually handed the ball to Barber on a dive.  When that doesn’t happen, they’ll pitch it out to Jones.  Well, they faked both this week, and may have found themselves another touchdown had Jason Witten and Marc Colombo blocked better.  Both guys whiffed on their defender (the same guy, I might add).
  • Speaking of Colombo–he was absolutely horrible.  I knew he was bad, but after I reviewed the film, I realized he was even worse than I thought.  I credited him with yielding 1.5 sacks, and he also got nailed for a false start and a holding penalty.  I think it is time for Sam Young.
  • Kitna has spread the ball around quite well since becoming the starter (in terms of placement of passes).  Take a look at the distribution below:

  • You can see that the distribution of throws for Kitna has been nearly identical to the left, middle, and right portions of the field.  You can also see that he’s been incredibly accurate over the middle of the field, while the highest percentage of his ‘off-target’ passes have come when throwing to the right side of the field.  Compare these numbers to those of Romo in 2009:

  • Kitna has obviously been more erratic this season than Romo was in 2009, but not bad for a backup.  By the way, Kitna threw a season-low four off-target passes on Sunday against the Lions.
  • The Cowboys ran four draws for 44 yards, but they all came late in the contest.
  • The ‘Boys ran quite a few playaction passes throughout the game (eight), and I’m happy to report they threw the ball downfield following those looks.  Five of the eight passes traveled over 10 yards, and three of them went 15+.
  • It was a big screen game for Dallas as well.  They attempted six of them for 46 yards.  The targets were Jones (three times), Choice (twice), and Bryant (once).
  • Roy Williams got into the action early, hauling in two passes for 20 yards on the first drive.  He wasn’t even targeted the rest of the game, though.  Meanwhile, Chris Gronkowski was targeted three times.
  • Of the 28 times Dallas dropped back to pass, Witten was in a route on 18 of them (64.3 percent).  That’s a good rate.
  • Bryant did a really nice job of blocking on run plays.  He’s a complete player and his effort on each play is phenomenal.
  • On the 4th quarter screen pass to Jones that went for 25 yards, Kyle Kosier got away with a blatant block-in-the-back.  He missed his guy and pushed him in the back right in front of the ball, so I’m not sure how it was overlooked.
  • The naked bootleg 4th down play on which Kitna ran for a 29-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty, but I think Garrett should have saved it.  Clearly no one expects Kitna to keep the ball, particularly from a formation (Double Tight I) in which the Cowboys nearly always hand the ball off to the running back.  Perhaps Garrett didn’t have as much confidence in it at the time, but it sure would be nice to have that play in your back pocket for a crucial 4th down play in the future.
  • I’m not understanding why the last two teams the ‘Boys have played have decided not to blitz them much.  The Giants sat back and let Kitna pick them apart last week, and the Lions did basically the same today.  I counted only 12 blitzes all day from Detroit.  They did disguise them well, showing blitz pre-snap on only three of those 12 plays, but you’d think teams would recognize the Cowboys’ offensive line has trouble against blitzes, stunts, and twists and react accordingly.

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By Jonathan Bales

Could the Cowboys transition to a 4-3 defense?

Jonathan Bales

When Wade Phillips was hired, a huge factor in the decision was his knowledge of the 3-4 defense.  It had been installed by Bill Parcells and the Cowboys were stocked with personnel who fit the scheme.

When Jerry Jones decides on a new head coach at the end of this season, it will be interesting to see if he is just as adamant now about retaining the 3-4 as he was back then.  See, there are a lot of coaching candidates who might be able to really help Dallas (Leslie Frazier, for example) who specialize in a 4-3 alignment.  What’s more important: finding a coach to fit your current personnel, or allowing the best coach to acquire the proper players?

Jerry Jones still believes this squad is ready to win in the near future, so I think you’ll see him place somewhat of an emphasis on keeping the 3-4 defense.  It might simply be too risky to switch to a 4-3 scheme and expect to be immediately competitive.

But how smooth would the transition be for the Cowboys’ current players?  I take a look below. Each player’s “new” 4-3 position is listed behind them, along with how a move to the defense would suit them.

NT

  • Jay Ratliff (DT) – Stock Up

Ratliff is already a beast in a 3-4 defense, but his agility and quickness are really best-suited for a 4-3. That would be particularly true if a new 3-4 coordinator would want Ratliff to play two gaps, meaning he’s be more of an “anchor” than a penetrator.

  • Josh Brent (DT) – Stock Even

Brent is similar to Ratliff in that he’s extremely quick for his size. At 315, though, he’s a few cheeseburgers heavier than Ratliff. Brent looks good thus far in a 3-4, but I don’t think we’d see a dramatic drop-off (or increase in production) if he was in a 4-3.

  • Sean Lissemore (DT) – Stock Up

Lissemore is a Ratliff-clone: just three pounds heavier, the same height, and a very comparable skill set (albeit Ratliff is far more polished). The Cowboys have experimented with him at both nose tackle and defensive end in their system, but I think he’d thrive more inside in a 4-3.

Position Analysis: The move to a 4-3 defense really wouldn’t negatively affect the Cowboys’ nose tackles.  Ratliff would likely continue to excel, while Josh Brent (who has played well) may become a starter.

DE

  • Stephen Bowen (DT) – Stock Up

I personally despise the manner in which the Cowboys use their defensive ends. Bowen, for example, doesn’t possess the athleticism to fly by the offensive tackles who are blocking him. There really isn’t a dramatic difference between a 3-4 defensive end and a 4-3 defensive tackle.

  • Jason Hatcher (DT) – Stock Up

See Stephen Bowen.

  • Igor Olshansky (DT) – Stock Up

At 315 pounds, Olshansky is too big to play defensive end in any scheme. It is a problem when your defensive end outweighs your nose tackle by 12 pounds.

  • Marcus Spears (DT) – Stock Up

See Igor Olshansky.

Position Analysis: Which of these players will be back in Dallas in 2011?  None of them could remain a defensive end in a 4-3, meaning the team would have a surplus of defensive tackles.

OLB

  • DeMarcus Ware (DE) – Stock Even

Ware would be a stud in any scheme.

  • Anthony Spencer (DE) – Stock Even

Spencer has the right combination of athleticism and power to excel in a 4-3.

  • Victor Butler (DE) – Stock Up

While Ware and Spencer are built for any scheme, Butler is better suited for a pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end. Of course, he might get overpowered in the running game in either defense.

Position Analysis: This one is difficult.  Ware and Spencer might benefit from rushing the passer on every play, but then again, sometimes their 3-4 coverage responsibility make the downs they do rush the quarterback easier for them.

ILB

  • Bradie James (MLB) – Stock Down

James is built entirely for a 3-4. He simply doesn’t have the quickness, agile hips, or sideline-to-sideline ability of a middle linebacker.

  • Keith Brooking (MLB) – Stock Down

Brooking is already struggling in space in a 3-4. He’s be asked to cover even more ground in a 4-3.

  • Sean Lee (MLB) – Stock Up

I’ve personally thought Lee was better-suited for a 4-3 scheme since he came out of Penn State.   He’s been overpowered thus far in his short career, but he has plenty of time to change that.

Position Analysis: This is where the Cowboys would struggle mightily.  Sean Lee might be able to play in a 4-3, but both James and Brooking do not fit the defense whatsoever.  The Cowboys’ linebacker corps would be absolutely decimated by the transition; so much so that it couldn’t be fixed (or even really patched up) within a single season.

Secondary

Although there are minor alterations in the secondary based on the scheme, the basic principle of playing cornerback/safety remain unchanged.  3-4 defenses tend to play more man coverage than 4-3 schemes, but that’s about it.

Projected 4-3 defense starting front seven

DT: Jay Ratliff, Josh Brent

DE: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer

MLB: Bradie James

OLB: Sean Lee, Unknown

Overall Analysis

There are some beneficial aspects to the Cowboys moving back to a 4-3 defense.  Their defensive line would be stacked and all four starters could likely make smooth transitions.

The problem would come at all of the linebacker spots.  None of the Cowboys’ current outside linebackers are capable of remaining at that position in a 4-3.  Jason Williams was probably better-suited for the defense, but he’s long gone.  With no potential building blocks in place in the middle of the Cowboys’ defense, I simply don’t envision them straying away from the 3-4 in the near future.

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By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys vs. Giants Week 10 Film Study Observations

Jonathan Bales

  • In my initial post-game notes, I wrote briefly about a new formation the Cowboys ran against New York.  They called it three times, running the same pass play (below) from it each time.  I’ve named the formation “Double Tight Left Ace.”  It’s actually very similar to “Double Tight Left I,” except there is an extra tight end to the weak side instead of a fullback.

Double Tight Left Ace

  • The first time the Cowboys ran the play, it appeared as though Felix Jones was the primary read on the pass.  The Giants were in man coverage, which meant their linebackers ran with the three tight ends who flooded the left side of the field.  Jones stepped up into the vacated area and Kitna quickly hit him for a 12-yard gain.
  • The other two times the Cowboys ran the play, however, the Giants were in a zone.  Instead of running to the middle of the field, Jones headed out into the flat.  The other players’ routes were the same, meaning Jones probably had an option route on the play.  If New York was in man coverage, he ran the route above.  If they were in zone, he headed out into the flat.
  • After reviewing the film, the Cowboys’ clock management prior to halftime was even worse than I thought.  They had a 2nd and 1 at their own 46-yard line with well over a minute to play and two timeouts.  Instead of using a timeout or going into a hurry-up offense, they huddled.  The decision cost them the opportunity to move into field goal range for David Buehler.
  • I didn’t see too many differences between Paul Pasqualoni’s play-calling and that of Wade Phillips.  Pasqualoni dialed up an exotic zone blitz early in the game, dropping both DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer into coverage and sending Alan Ball after the quarterback.  The play worked well, but the Cowboys didn’t come back to it.  I think Pasqualoni is too similar to Phillips for my liking.
  • I’m not sure what sort of effect the Cowboys’ full pads practices had on the outcome of the game, but Dallas did appear much, much more physical on defense.  They looked genuinely excited to be playing football for the first time since Week Three.  I was particularly impressed with the physicality of players in the secondary, especially Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick.
  • Scandrick had a really good game overall.  He was a step ahead of his normal position on most plays, causing Eli Manning to make difficult throws on a number of occasions.  On Alan Ball’s late interception, Manning had to lead the receiver too far because of Scandrick’s tight coverage.  Now he needs to show consistency.
  • Once again, proponents of the run will claim the Cowboys won because they were more balanced offensively, but that’s simply not the case.  Only 12 of the first 33 plays were actually runs (36.4 percent).  The correlation between rushing attempts and winning is generally due to teams running after they’ve already obtained a lead.  As was the case Sunday, that lead usually comes via big plays through the air.  The Cowboys didn’t win because they ran the ball often–they won because they ran it effectively, allowing for big passing plays downfield to Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
  • Garrett must simply not like Tashard Choice.  Choice again played just one snap–the 3rd and 22 pass to Roy Williams that went for 27 yards.  It was ALL because of Choice.  Well, not really, but why is Marion Barber still getting so many reps ahead of him?
  • Besides “Double Tight Left Ace,” the Cowboys lined up in another unique formation.  You’ve probably all seen the “Pistol” offense run by college teams like Nevada and Indiana.  If not, see below. . .

  • The trademark of the “Pistol” offense is the running back lined up behind the quarterback in a Shotgun formation.  Generally, the running back is to the left or right of the quarterback.  The reason I love the “Pistol” so much is that it doesn’t allow the defense to obtain a pre-snap key as to the play-call.  When a team is in a regular Shotgun formation, running plays are generally designed to the side of the formation opposite the running back.  In “Pistol,” a running play could go either direction.
  • The Cowboys used a variation of the “Pistol” which I have termed “Trips Right Pistol,” running the ball up the middle for a combined 12 yards the two times they called it.  I drew up the formation below. . .

Trips Right Pistol

  • I didn’t see a significant change in Garrett’s play-calling, but the Cowboys did motion a lot more than usual later in the game.  Generally, Dallas has motioned the majority of the time in the first 20 or so plays of games–the scripted plays.  On Sunday, Dallas motioned 11 times in the second half alone, including five of the first six plays to start the half.
  • Of those five plays, four were passes and they totaled 117 yards (29.3 yards-per-pass).  Let’s see if this trend continues into next week.
  • Dallas lined up in a lot more two and three-tight ends sets, even before securing a large lead.  Of their 49 offensive plays (minus two quarterback kneels), the ‘Boys implemented three or more wide receivers only 14 times.  It may have seemed like more because Bryant was targeted so much, but you’ll be happy to know that he’s effectively replaced Roy Williams as the No. 2 receiver.
  • Jon Kitna checked out of a play four times–two runs for five yards and two passes for 13 yards and a touchdown.
  • After running the ball to the outside of formations quite often to start the season, the Cowboys went back to pounding it up the middle against the Giants (as they did in 2009).  15 of their 24 runs were in either the “1″ or “2″ hole–right up the center’s butt.
  • I thought the Cowboys would run more draws than they did (three).  Those runs went for 24 total yards, so the few times they dialed up a draw it was effective.
  • The Cowboys didn’t run a single counter all game.
  • The Cowboys ran four playaction passes.  Only one was completed, but it went for 27 yards.
  • Garrett also dialed up four screen passes and they were extremely successful, thanks to Felix Jones (71 yard screen for a touchdown) and Dez Bryant (46 yard screen).
  • It may have seemed like the Cowboys threw the ball downfield much more often than usual, but that simply wasn’t the case.  Only eight passes traveled over 10 yards.  Kitna & Co. were simply effective when they did take their shots.
  • I counted only four passes as being off-target for Kitna.  He had quite the night.  Imagine what Romo could have done with this sort of protection.
  • Garrett made the offensive line’s job easier by calling three designed rollouts–the most in a single game all season.
  • I was shocked with the lack of pressure the Giants brought.  I counted only five blitzes all game, and the Cowboys totaled only eight yards on those plays.  After the initial success the Cowboys had on offense, I thought the Giants would become more aggressive on defense, but it just never happened.

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