Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 12/20/11
As a big fan of the English Premiership (Soccer), I am reminded of a certain fan song that comes to mind when the Cowboys get a healthy lead against an opponent of Tampa Bay's caliber. The lyrics go something like this: "Can we play you? Can we play you? Can we play you every week?" Clearly, football would be a lot easier if you only played teams that had almost no offense or defense in terms of talent or resolve. And we should give the Cowboys credit for realizing this opportunity and being able to put Tampa out of its misery rather early in the contest. This allowed for time on the sidelines for key figures of the team and a relatively easy night on the injury front. Philadelphia and New York stand ahead on the road to the playoffs and it would be foolish to expect anything similar from those two rivals, but this was a good opportunity to demonstrate the vast improvement that the Cowboys have enjoyed offensively since the half-way point of the year. Back on November 10, we spent a fair amount of time focusing on the Cowboys offensive metrics from the 1st half of the season. Despite some reasonable personal performances, as an offense, the Cowboys had very little team efficiency. That simply means that for all of the yardage they would accumulate, there would not be a proper amount of corresponding points from that hard work. In that story, we detailed the three things that make an offense inefficient: Turnovers, 3rd Down conversions, and Red Zone efficiency (how many touchdowns are you scoring from your red zone trips). Well, in the 2nd half of the season, the Cowboys have really picked up the pace in those categories. The giveaways from the offense have been under proper control, as Romo has 4 interceptions in the last 10 games. But, let's look at the other two that are seldom talked about, but so very important. On 3rd Downs, the Cowboys through 8 weeks were well below the NFL average on the "money down". At 35.4, they were down in the bottom third of the league with some of the least productive and talented offenses in all of football. This is an especially frustrating truth as we believe the Cowboys have elite talent at many of the skill positions and should not be underachieving in this department. With all of the weapons on the field at the same time, you would like to think that Garrett and his troops could convert as they should - well above the league average of 38. Now, in weeks 9-14, the Cowboys have dominated the money down. Romo threw all 3 of his touchdowns on 3rd Down on Saturday night in Tampa Bay, and after going 34-96 in the first half of the year, the offense has converted 34-73 in the last 6 games. That percentage sits at 47 and has raised the season mark to 11 in the league and at 40, is now above the league average. And now, let's update that all-important "red zone efficiency". Back before the Buffalo game, we marveled at the Bills start, but also cautioned people about falling in love with Buffalo because they were converting almost every red zone chance in to 7 points. This stat can cover a large number of faults if every time you make it inside the opposing 20, you leave with 7 points. However, if that well ever dries up, the team's wins will, too. The Cowboys had a 4-4 record and many of their problems were linked to many yards but then red zone bog-downs at the most important point of the field. Leaving with a field goal will cost you games. So, let's look at the improvement: Through 8 games, the Cowboys sat at 38 (10-26) in converting those drives into touchdowns. Given that the league average is 52, this was maybe the most disconcerting statistic of them all. The Cowboys ranked 31st in the league - higher than only Tampa Bay. Unacceptable. But, weeks 9-14 have been great in this regard. The Cowboys have been to the red zone 21 times in the 2nd half of the season and have found the end zone 13 times (59). That type of conversion rate for the entire season would rank them in the Top 5 of the league. They are finally punching in these plays and once again it comes back to the play of Romo in these tight spots, because only 1 team in all of football has fewer rushing TDs from inside the red zone than the Cowboys. Dallas has 4, and Cleveland has just 3. I do think it is fair to point out that while we do laud Romo's hot streak and the idea that getting all 3 Top WR options on the field at the same time is stressing secondaries, one thing we are not looking at is how the offensive line has improved. They are still a long way from being a strong OL, but they are much improved. In my personal opinion, the replacement of Bill Nagy with Montrae Holland has been one of the more underrated upgrades of the year. Nagy broke his leg in the New England game, and the overall performance of the offensive line has shot up in almost every category since the veteran castaway was plugged in before Game 6. Now, let's look at the Tampa Bay numbers. Data from Week 14 at Tampa Bay Run-Pass35-321st Down Run-Pass18-102nd Down Avg Distance to Go6.472nd Down Run-Pass15-63rd Down Avg Distance to Go7.613rd Down Run-Pass2-113rd Down Conversions7-13, 54 The numbers that jump out at you are the phenomenal jobs on 1st and 3rd down. Facing an average of 6.47 on 2nd Down is off the charts. Also, the RunPass splits are impressive, but those are quite affected by the score at halftime. They did run plenty, but most of it was in the 2nd half, so don't be deceived by that 18-10 runpass on 1st down. Drive Starters - 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. The Cowboys were 5 run and 5 pass on their drive starters in Tampa, but started with passes on 4 of the first 5. Again, the score affected the balance for the full game. But make no mistake, Jason Garrett came out with great aggression against Tampa - something we have challenged him to do more on the road games where he is usually quite conservative. This was not careful passing, this was downfield passing with attack as the intent. 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 Wk 13-New York - 12 Drives - 7 Run5 Pass Wk 14-At Tampa - 10 Drives - 5 Run5 Pass Total: 158 Drives - 70 Run88 Pass 44 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. Totals by Personnel Groups: PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass11111-10-01210957-693-2613120-01-22110335-185-1522197817-672-1123000-00-0S013141-12-13S02170-01-7S11221694-618-163S12000-00-0Knee101-00-0Totals6739935-16232-267 Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd4th Down: PackagePlaysYardsRunPassFDTD11000-00-00012000-00-00013000-00-00021000-00-00022101-00-01023000-00-000S012130-02-1311S02170-01-701S119581-18-5731S12000-00-000Totals13782-111-7743 Three touchdowns on 3rd Down? There are not many games during a season where that will happen. Those three plays in particular were a thing of beauty from Romo and the offense. SHOTGUN SNAPS- 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. 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 Wk 13-NYG 2858 Wk 14-TB 2667 Total - 358887 40.3 Overall, the offense appears to have found its game again in the last 2 performances. The scoring and yardage are both at levels that tell us they are finally seeming to come together. As we said, the true tests will be ahead, but from a confidence standpoint, it is easy to practice this week knowing that they are locked in pretty well and capable of being efficient and productive. These are very good signs from the 2nd half of 2011. 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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