Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 11/8/11
"Winning 1st Down". The basic battle ground of a football game starts for all involved on winning 1st Down. Anyone who consumes NFL press conferences will often hear a coach talk about this topic and often not quite understand the ramifications of what it all means. After all, as a fan, 1st Down hardly ever seems vital in its outcome. This is where coaches and fans see things quite differently. 1st and 10 is the ultimate 5050 split play. The defensive team must sit on the years and years of data at nearly all levels of football that say on 1st and 10 tendencies do not reveal anything. 50 of their positioning, strategy, and technique is to defend against the run and 50 is to prepare for the pass. A defense must play it "straight up" because the offense is looking to take advantage of as coaches say, "whatever the defense gives them". Meanwhile, offensive coaches are talking about "staying on schedule". This means that they prefer to always remain in the 5050 scenario inside the defense's head. What does this mean? Well, if 1st and 10 is 5050, so is 2nd and 6 or less. 2nd and 12 or 2nd and 9 is a pass-heavy down. And on 3rd Down, the entire league passes, but if the team is to stay where it is 5050, you would need 3rd and short. Let's say 3rd and less than 3. If you get behind schedule, now the defense is not concerned with your run attack. And if they can eliminate run plays from their focus, then this is where you get coverage issues and blitz situations. And this is where nearly every offense finds operating more difficult. So, if you can weed through the cliches and the armor of Jason Garrett when he talks offense, you will find a guy who believes in offensive balance and staying on schedule (as does pretty much every coach this side of Mike Leach). This is certainly now a pass-first league with offenses just running 42 and passing 58, but 1st Down remains what it always has. 5050, or 50.7 run and 49.3 pass so far league-wide in 2011 to be precise. Which brings us to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have run 250 snaps out on 1st Down this year and run the ball 50.8 of the time (127123). When they move to 2nd Down, the splits are now 71103 (41 run). And of course on 3rd Down, it drops off the table to 1779 or 17 runs. Defenses collect this data and it helps them determine what sub-packages to utilize in a given down and distance situation. Of course, offenses use the same charts to determine ideal plays for ideal Down and Distance opportunities as well. Every coach has plenty of plays for 3rd and 3, but they will all tell you there is no play for 3rd and 16, In effect, everything you do as an offense starts on 1st and 10. And that is why we keep the numbers that we do in the first box every week. We want to see the RunPass splits according to down, and more importantly, we want to see how many yards to go the Cowboys were asking of themselves on 2nd and 3rd Down. This team is having major issues this season on 3rd Downs (35) and most of those issues happen when they get in too many "3rd and Long" spots. The entire NFL converts just 19 on 3rd and 10, and the Cowboys are even worse at 17. RESULTS VS SEATTLE Why am I writing all of this after the offense played so well against Seattle until it fell into the red zone? Because, the Cowboys were quite successful on 1st Down in this game, and everything else fell into place. The important statistic known as "average yards to go on 2nd Down" produced the best result of the season (6.33). Across the NFL, teams average 7.97 yards to go on 2nd Down. The Cowboys mark is slightly better at 7.89. So, the mark of 6.33 is very strong. This means they were getting plenty of good things done on 1st Down. The running game was strong and that made the Seahawks bring a safety up to help defend against DeMarco Murray. When they walk a safety up, that is when Romo is ready to go to the air on 1st Down. Fans will tell you this is Garrett finally realizing that he should throw the ball down the field. Garrett will tell you that this doesn't happen if the Seahawks don't fear the running game and commit a safety up in the box. And, the Seahawks don't fear the run if there is nothing to fear. 4 times on Sunday, Garrett and Romo "took a shot" down the field. I imagine this is a season high for deep routes, but I my memory could be failing. The Witten busted coverage TD is not included here as that was a developing pass play that was simply Romo going through his reads. But, the 4 shots below were all designed as the 1st and sometimes only option of the pass play down the field. Deep Shot 1 - Play 7 - 110D30 - 21 Personnel - 39 yards to Bryant Deep Shot 2 - Play 19 - 34D32 - S12 Personnel - 37 yards to Austin Deep Shot 3 - Play 41 - 110D31 - 12 Personnel - INC down sideline to Austin Deep Shot 4 - Play 50a - 110O35 - 21 Personnel - INC down sideline to Robinson Notice, 3 are on 1st and 10 when the defense is looking for the 5050 run possibilities. 2 are with Tony Fiammetta back there as a fullback, thus getting the strong safety's attention. In fact, on the first shot - the completion to Bryant in the 1st Quarter, Earl Thomas is blitzing and Fiammetta picks him up. The image above shows Thomas sneaking up to the 35 yard line as the 8th man in the box. They are ready to take on the run. And that leaves Bryant and Austin in a man-to-man situation with a free safety over the top. And when there is a single-high safety, he cannot protect the sideline route. It is simply too much ground to cover. So, does this pass happen if they are in a 2-Deep situation as in the week before at Philadelphia? No. The pass is not there. The threat of the run is what makes this play possible. The same is true on the other two 1st Down passes down the field. Hold the safeties and take a shot. This isn't to say that deep throws can never happen without a running game making the opponent respect you, but it does demonstrate that things get so much easier if you can run the football. 1st Down shots to your Wide Receivers down the field. Is there enough time to pass protect? If you do it on 1st Down, there will be much more. And, the final two "shots" were both the drive starters. After interceptions, GarrettRomo went for the throat on 1st and 10. Look for this as the season continues to develop. -------------------- Data from Week 8 Shotgun snaps are fine on 3rd Down and in the 2 minute drill. But, we track this stat from week to week to make sure the Cowboys aren't getting too lazy in using it. They are not efficient enough to run it as their base, and with a 1585 runpass split, there is no way the defense respects your running game. SHOTGUN SNAPS- Wk 1 - NYJ: 2466 Wk 2 - SF: 3266 Wk 3 - Wash: 2762 Wk 4 - Det: 2975 Wk 5 - NE 3167 Wk 6 - StL 1060 Wk 7 - Phi 3949 Wk 8 - Sea 1959 Total - 211503 41.9 ===== Here is the Game Data from Week 8: Look at the great stats on 2nd and 3rd down yardage to go. You will take that every week and you will win. Drive Starters - 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. On Sunday, The Cowboys had a surprising number of 1st play passes. In fact, some were downfield. A very aggressive game plan from the coach. Wk 1-At New York Jets: 13 Drives - 5 Run8 Pass Wk 2-At San Francisco: 10 Drives - 4 Run6 Pass Wk 3-Washington: 11 Drives - 5 Run6 Pass Wk 4-Detroit: 14 Drives - 7 Run7 Pass Wk 5-At New England: 11 Drives - 4 Run7 Pass Wk 6-St Louis: 11 Drives - 8 Run3 Pass Wk 7-At Philadelphia - 9 Drives - 2 Run7 Pass Wk 8-Seattle - 11 Drives - 4 Run7 Pass Total: 90 Drives - 39 Run51 Pass 43 Run Here is the breakdown by groupings: Before you study the data below, I would recommend that if the numbers for the groupings are unfamiliar, that you spend some time reading a more expanded definition of the Personnel Groupings here. Here we look at how the Cowboys did with each personnel package. Once again we see that packages that involve FB Fiammetta are far more efficient than the packages that don't. He, of course, is the lead blocker in "21" and "22". And the 79 run plays from 21 and 22 this season have yielded 628 yards or 7.94 yards per carry. However, in "11", "12", and "13" personnel (no FB or a TE lined up as a FB) the Cowboys have tried 90 run plays this season for just 243 yards - 2.7 yards per carry. That sample should also account for Murray in place of Felix on most carries, but that is a startling number. And now those same numbers on 3rd and 4th Downs. Efficiency here needs to be a focus point in the 2nd half. The elite offenses are out performing the Cowboys by a shocking advantage. All in all, a very strong offensive game where they were sabotaged by the offense for quite a while. Tomorrow, let's break down the issues with the goal-line offense in our X's and O's breakdown. And please email me at Sturm1310@aol.com if you have questions that I may clarify in an upcoming email blog
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