Why would a football fan want to dig deeper and learn more about the inner workings of their football team? To simply understand better why your team does what it does. Surely, those of us who have never played in the NFL do not know more than the coaches and players on the teams we follow. Even though you think you know more about football than Jason Garrett or Tony Romo, I would imagine they could explain the concepts of their offense and the defenses they face a bit better than you.
Therefore, in this space, every week we try to learn more. I am certainly no coach, but I spend a fair amount of time talking to those who are so that I can learn more about this game I love. In turn, I use this blog to attempt to share those concepts with you so that you can enjoy the game from a deeper perspective than simply looking at your fantasy football roster and cheering for more yards.
We want to know why yards are gained. We want to know why match-ups are exposed and how a team can do that. We want to know what player combinations are really working for the Cowboys and which one is not. In effect, we just want to know more. We want to understand the thinking of the coach. And if we can figure out why he made a certain decision, then we can surmise what he is telling us about his own team or his opponent. Admittedly, some of this exercise is deduction and guesswork, but those who have been reading these studies for the 4 years we have been cataloging all of the snaps of the Cowboys offense seem to enjoy the theories and discussions. So join us!
The first thing we have to have a great grasp of in these discussions will always be personnel groupings. Bear with me if you have heard this, but we want to go slowly for those new to the topic.
Personnel groupings are the very first question any coordinator needs to know when looking at a play. The substitutions in football are seldom about a player being tired and needing rest. Instead, the substitutions before every play in the NFL are almost always another chapter in the chess match between an Offensive Coordinator (OC) and his adversary, the Defensive Coordinator (DC) on the other sideline or booth.
If you put on 4 Wide Receivers, I must put on 4 defensive backs (plus a safety or two behind us) to be able to matchup. If I don't, Tom Brady will see that I am trying to ask a LB like Sean Lee to run with a WR, and he will instantly find him in coverage as his first read. This is how the NFL has evolved in the last generation. In the 1970's, all 11 offensive players played nearly every down. But now, an offense will play between 15-18 players in a game - even without any substitutions to the 6 that always remain the same.
Those 6 (QB, LT, LG, C, RG, RT) are givens when we look at personnel. Every play, every team in the NFL has the same 6 players on the field for every play. So, the only thing we are concerned about are the remaining 5 players. But, you might be surprised to know how many different combinations a team can use with those 5 skill guys on their offense. And your defense has to counter those subs in just seconds before the play starts. You may wonder why there is sometimes confusion on your defense, but it is not as easy as it looks. Especially when the offense tries to rush to the line and cause more chaos.
With those remaining 5 options, some teams (like New Orleans and Green Bay) like to go with all 5 WRs in certain spots to spread you out. But, at the goal line, a team often goes with 2 RBs and 3 TEs. There are countless options, but the groups are simple. "11" means 1 RB and 1 TE, so you add those 2 numbers together (11 = 2) and subtract that number from 5 to get how many WRs are on the field at the time. (11 will mean 3 WRs, of course).
Do you get it? In all of the packages, the first number is the number of RBs, the second number is the total number of TEs. And "S" means Shotgun. So, when you watch the game on tv, you can easily identify the package before the snap to see what Garrett is doing.
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.
As we discussed yesterday (and an item that will remain a theme for quite a while around here), the Cowboys discovered a run game on Sunday against the Rams. There were 4 circumstances that were variables from the earlier part of the season, and we expanded on each of those variables yesterday, so I recommend you check out that piece if you are interested in knowing more.
Basically, the 4 variables were: DeMarco Murray as a full-time back, Montrae Holland replacing Bill Nagy at left guard, Tony Fiammetta offering the Cowboys a true blocking full back, and perhaps most importantly, their opponent - the worst rushing defense in the league - the St Louis Rams.
As the Cowboys break down the film, they will be trying to decide which of those 4 variables were most responsible and whether the fantastic results were merely an opponent-based mirage. Regardless, you will see below the numbers of an ideal Sunday at the office. To keep your offense on schedule, you must have results on 1st and 10. And on Sunday, the Cowboys were outstanding on 1st Down. This requires the ability to move the football on the ground most Sundays. 1st and 10 is such an important spot for a coach where you want to give yourself a chance on 2nd and 3rd downs by staying out of "blitz" situations.
The NFL average for yards to go on 2nd Down is 7.95, and although that doesn't sound like much, the football world is so much different in 2nd and 7 than it is in 2nd and 10. On Sunday, the Cowboys had 1st and 10 on 30 occasions, and their average yards to go on 2nd down was a season low 6.59. That is off the charts fantastic.
They also were never in Shotgun against the Rams. In effect, the Cowboys ran the ball so well (or the Rams were so awful on the ground at stopping Dallas, that Dallas never had to ask tough questions of their passing game. It was something the Cowboys haven't had since AikmanEmmitt in the 1990's - a "run first" offense. Only pass when you want to pass; not because you have to pass because it is 3rd and 13 again. The game is so different there.
Data from Week 5
SHOTGUN SNAPS- We track this because Garrett wants a balanced offense. If you are in shotgun, you pass the ball about 85 of the time. So, too much shotgun means that you are getting away from the quest for balance. It also can mean that you have little faith in your OL and want your QB to have a chance.
Wk 1 - NYJ: 2466
Wk 2 - SF: 3266
Wk 3 - Wash: 2762
Wk 4 - Det: 2975
Wk 5 - NE 3167
Wk 6 - StL 1060
Total - 153395 38.7>
Here is the Game Data from Week 6:
Drive Starters - 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. On Sunday, the Cowboys ran the ball because they were running the ball with great effectiveness:
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
Total: 70 Drives - 33 Run37 Pass 47 Run
Here is the breakdown by groupings:
Let's talk about the most successful personnel grouping of the week: "21" personnel was off the charts. This is the most basic personnel package in football. Coaches don't often call it "21", even though most coaches use the numbering system for every other grouping. At practice, you will hear the coaches call out "11" or "22" or "12" personnel all of the time before a snap. But, when it comes to "21" personnel, the coaches will often yell out, "regular! regular!"
"21" is regular personnel and the stem of the giant flower. It is what we all grew up with. A running back, a full back, a tight end, and 2 wide receivers. But, it is quite irregular to the Cowboys offense. So much so that against the Jets, Lions, and Patriots, the Cowboys had 0 snaps from regular personnel. But, on Sunday, with a healthy Tony Fiammetta, the Cowboys ran 12 plays from regular. 6 run plays for 158 yards, and 6 pass plays for 60 yards. The 6 run plays resulted in a Touchdown (the long Murray run) and the 6 pass plays accounted for another (the 2nd half TD to Dez).
Great job in the "21".
Here, everything is the same, except we are only looking at 3rd and 4th Downs to see how they convert in the money situations.
This game will pad the stats and grow the confidence, but like last week, we must remember that this is not a normal opponent. You don't have to play Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork every week, but you also don't get to play the Rams every week, either.
Learn what you can and then get ready for Philadelphia. They are resting on their bye week and will no-doubt be jacked up for war on Sunday Night in their friendly environment.
Tomorrow, let's break down a few impact plays with discussions of X's and O's. And please email me at Sturm1310@aol.com if you have questions that I may clarify in an upcoming email blog.