In the great basketball movie, Hoosiers, Coach Norman Dale walked his team of under-dogs into the gigantic field house where the state tournament was going to be held and showed his team how everything might seem bigger, but it is all the same. He measured the height of the basket (10 feet) and the distance to the free throw line (15 feet). Same as in the gym where they play back in Hickory.
I wonder if Jason Garrett has ever seen Hoosiers. Because when you watch his offense over the course of many years now, or in particular his team since he has taken over as coach, you can see a very distinct difference in the way his team operates offensively when they leave their home stadium.
Now, we should concede that the list of home opponents (Washington, Detroit, St Louis, Seattle, Buffalo, and Miami) seems to be a substantial downgrade from the road opponents (New York Jets, San Francisco, New England, Philadelphia, Washington and Arizona) to explain some variations in performance. However, the differences between the home and road game plans are so drastic and frankly, predictable, that one certainly has room to wonder if the Cowboys attempt to call two different game plans.
At home, they are aggressive and determined. Run and pass splits are nearly identical. They often make their opponents choose their poison and then serve it up on a platter. It may not always work, but they are adventurous and creative in the way they go about their business. They will try even trick plays, they will pass when you think run, they will pound the ball until you can stop it, and they have a swagger.
On the road, they are timid. They are easily chased off their objectives. They abandon the run early and often. They put everything on their QB and his ability to make lemonade out of lemons. They seem to call plays in an effort to prevent disasters rather than to attack. They send a message to the troops that they are not sure if they can score points, so they often don't.
And this pattern has been in place for quite a while. Nobody is saying they never bring their home personality on the road, because they do. And sometimes, their road personality shows up in Arlington, too. But, if you look at the large sample under the play-calling of Jason Garrett, it is clear that there is a split in objectives and intentions between home games and road games.
Let's look at some evidence.
The best way a play caller can send a message to his opponent is by calling plays on 1st Down. It establishes the tone and attitude of the offense and declares to the opponent what is planned for the day.
But, when the Cowboys have been at home this season, on 1st and 10, the Cowboys have run 177 plays. The splits for those 177 snaps to start a play sequence has been 98 runs and 79 passes. The 5545 split demonstrates proper balance for a balanced offense. On 1st Down, you run the ball more because on 3rd Down, you almost never run. But as a whole, 55 runs on 1st Down will mean that your overall balance will be intact.
Conversely, when the Cowboys have played their 6 games on the road, they have had 172 1st and 10 situations. The splits on 1st Down when they have been on the road has seen just 68 runs and 104 passes. This 3961 split on 1st and 10 sets the Cowboys up for days where they never get anything done on the ground and become a 1-dimensional team. We have even heard explanations about the opponent putting an eighth man in the box to encourage the Cowboys to start slinging the ball around the yard.
Given that almost all of the road games have been very tight games and given that we are only looking at 1st and 10, we must ask why the Cowboys can be 55 run at home and 39 run on the road? We understand throwing the ball on 3rd and 12, but why does this team not allow its running game to attempt to find its footing on the road?
And what are the by-products of becoming 1-dimensional and ultra predictable on the road? Let's look at how teams counter the Cowboys when they have chased Dallas out of running plays. The Dallas Cowboys allow the fewest sacks in the NFL in home games. In 203 pass plays at home, Tony Romo has been sacked 5 times or once every 40.6 pass plays.
On the road, the Cowboys have allowed 20 sacks in 6 games (5th worst in the NFL). These 20 sacks have occurred over 254 pass plays for an average of 1 sack every 12.7 pass plays. It seems rather clear that not having balance is making the Cowboys far easier to blitz. And the blitzing beats up your QB and over-runs your offensive line.
Here is evidence that Romo might be playing his best football of his career. In those 6 road games where he has been under siege throughout the game because of the pass rush, Romo has easily the best passer rating of any QB in the league who is getting sacked 3 times a game or more on the road. His rating of 94.1 on the road this season while being sacked so often is off the charts. Only Alex Smith in San Francisco is coming close with a rating of 85.9. You just wonder what they would do if the Cowboys would bring their home game plan on the road with them.
Run the ball, take the steam out of the pass rush. Don't run the ball, invite the blitz. This is very basic football, but the Cowboys consistently do this to themselves on the road. In fact, if you take Sunday's game plan and compare it with the exact game plan from the New England game, you will find that they treated their play calling in the exact same way. The similarities are uncanny.
Data from Week 12 at Arizona
Run-Pass20-471st Down Run-Pass9-212nd Down Avg Distance to Go8.442nd Down Run-Pass9-163rd Down Avg Distance to Go6.663rd Down Run-Pass2-103rd Down Conversions4-12, 33
Drive Starters - 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan.
Notice that 3 1st Down runs are the lowest of the season. The Cowboys started their first 2 drives on Sunday with runs (both 7 yard gains) and then on the final 9 drives, they passed on 1st down 8 times. It is rather befuddling.
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
Wk 9 - Buffalo - 10 Drives - 7 Run3 Pass
Wk 10 - At Washington - 14 Drives - 4 Run10 Pass
Wk 11 - Miami - 11 Drives - 5 Run6 Pass
Wk 12 - At Arizona - 11 Drives - 3 Run8 Pass
Total: 136 Drives - 58 Run78 Pass 42 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, please note the inefficiency of "S12" where they run their shotgun package with 2 TEs. it is clearly not working well, especially on 3rd down where the Cardinals blitzed the house when the Cowboys tried to put Phillips on the field.
Totals by Personnel Groups:PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass11121-20-012191245-2014-104137164-73-9213382-141-24228416-182-2323000-00-0S01000-00-0S023420-03-42S1119701-318-67S127-61-86--14Knee000-00-0Totals6732720-7247-255
Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd4th Down:PackagePlaysYardsRunPassFDTD11121-20-01012000-00-00013100-01-00021000-00-00022000-00-00023000-00-000S01000-00-000S022150-02-1510S11571-34-420S123-70-03--700Totals12172-510-1240
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 across the league, there is no way the defense respects your running game.
Again, the similarities to the numbers from the timid game plan in New England is just amazing. They tried for the exact same game even though they were playing a 4-7 Arizona team.
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
Wk 9 - Buf 1561
Wk 10-Was 2473
Wk 11-Mia 2558
Wk 12-Arz 2967
Total - 304762 39.9
Bottom line, the Cowboys have to prove that they are a threat on the road to make you pay. But, instead, they constantly enter the game seemingly content to play for a 16-13 game. They don't wish to change their ways, and now opponents have figured it out. It is time for the Cowboys to self-scout and realize what they are becoming on the road. A very predictable and an easy team to defend.
And please email me at Sturm1310@aol.com if you have questions that I may clarify in an upcoming email blog.