The Cowboys accomplished plenty of rare things on Sunday. One that jumps off the page is the fact that they scored a special teams TD, an interception TD, and a fumble TD all in the same quarter. According to Elias, that is the first time since San Francisco did it in 1966, so any stat that gives you over 40 years to consider you can understand how rare a feat it was.
Of course, none of that mentioned the offense, because, well, the offense didn't have too much to puff out its chest about. The fact is, that if the special teams or defense would not have pitched in and assisted the effort on Sunday, we are a bit cynical in our belief that Dallas would have been able to stick that game in the win column.
Regardless, they certainly did get a win, and that will be just the fifth time under the GarrettRomo regime (2007-present) that they have won a game in which the offense did not generate 300 yards of offense.
Three hundred yards is a poor amount of yardage production in the NFL. Offenses in the NFL average 351 yards per game this season, which continues to demonstrate that this league is becoming more and more offensive. Yards are easier to accumulate than ever before, but the benchmark of 400 being a fantastic day of offense and 300 being extremely poor remains the same as it has for quite a while.
Also, let's recall the idea that Bill Parcells used to spread during his press conferences when he was in Dallas. He often spoke of testing your offensive efficiency against the simple test of points per 100 yards. In his mind, every 100 yards should equate to 7 points on the scoreboard. If you get a Touchdown for each 100, then the target of a 400 yard day gets you 28 points. Primitive analysis, for sure, but you get the idea.
There have been 4 different occasions this season where the offense never got out of its own way. At Seattle (296), vs Tampa Bay (297), at Carolina (312), and at Philadelphia (294). That is a season's worth of offensive stinkers in just 9 games. And that doesn't even account for the 2 games that were not sabotaged by yardage, but turnovers against the Giants and Bears.
The offense is just not getting much done from any perspective, and it continues to fall at the feet of the offensive line. Without much ability to demonstrate decent run blocking aside from the Baltimore game and without much ability to hold up against a pass rush, you can certainly see how the play-calling is not a simple exercise these days.
It certainly seems that teams are beginning to see the Cowboys trends and personality when they design a game plan to compete with the Cowboys. And as appealing as the schedule appears from a perspective of playing offenses that are not dynamic and QBs that are not necessarily proven, the truth is that anyone who will play Dallas in the upcoming weeks will have the ability to keep a game close and keep the Cowboys from putting any game away early if they are going to be this easy to defend.
Opponents are making the Cowboys earn yards in small chunks, realizing that the Cowboys are not efficient enough to move the chains on a regular basis with any level of balancing their attack right now. They love to put the Cowboys in 3rd Down spots because right now, it sure seems that GarrettRomo have no great, confident plan on 3rd and short.
Yet, to this point of the season, the Cowboys have been pretty good when they have had 3rd and short (2 yards or less) 19 times. Of those 19, they have elected to pass the ball 12 times and run it 7. They are 7-12 when they pass and 5-7 when they run, but it sure seems that this scenario gives Jason Garrett indigestion.
So, it makes for interesting decisions on 2nd and short (2 yards or less). On Sunday, facing 3 chances of 2nd and 2, the Cowboys ran the ball each time. The reason this is noteworthy is that of all of the perfect chances to take a shot, 2nd and short is a great chance for play action over the top or some sort of balanced pre-snap formation that evolves into a max-protect shot down the field. And, yet, all 3 times against the Eagles, the Cowboys handed off - twice to Lawrence Vickers.
But, for the season, facing 2nd and 2 or less, the Cowboys have had 23 such situations and they have run the ball 11 times and passed 12. Of the 12 pass plays, they have hit on 2 big plays and moved the chains 5 times. But, with the 11 runs, they have moved the chains 10 times. Clearly Garrett sees a 2nd and short run as a much easier conversion than 3rd and short would be. And he is right. Especially when he can pick up a run 1st Down 91 of the time.
The flip side to 3rd and short is what happens if you don't set it up. 3rd and long has been a tough spot for the Cowboys (and every team that has ever played football, for that matter) because of the advantages that are enjoyed by the defense.
On a week to week basis, we are seeing defenses getting more courageous against Dallas in 3rd and long and in sending "big blitzes" in general. A big blitz is defined as 6 rushers or more. Any time you send 6, chances are there is man coverage behind it and opportunities. However, the opportunities are not there for long and everyone on the offense must be on the same page.
The Eagles had the Cowboys in a pickle for a while, but Romo hit Dez Bryant on a big blitz on a 1st Down in the 2nd Quarter and that got the Eagles to back off. It is fun to blitz, but if your whole game-plan is to make the Cowboys march the ball, allowing a 49 yard gain because of an over-aggressive blitz is enough to get most head coaches to walk over to their defensive coordinator and tell him to knock it off.
That is the only way to quiet a blitz - to burn it. And Romo was able to do that just enough Sunday to stay alive. Not much else went well for the Cowboys offensively, and you can bet that more defenses are going to weigh the pros and cons of blitzing the Cowboys.
Stats indicate that 13 of the 18 sacks (72) the Cowboys have conceded this year have not come against the blitz, but rushes of 4 or less. So, why then, if the Cowboys OL is vulnerable against 4 man rushes7 man coverages, should an opposing defensive coordinator risk big plays behind the blitz?
Data from Week 9 at Philadelphia
Run-Pass25-29Starting Field PositionD 28 1st Down Run-Pass11-11 2nd Down Avg Distance to Go6.05 2nd Down Run-Pass11-7 3rd Down Avg Distance to Go5.92 3rd Down Run-Pass2-11 3rd Down Conversions5-13, 38
Here are the passing charts to see what was being accomplished on Sunday.
Blue is a completion. Red is incomplete. Yellow is a touchdown, and Black is an interception. The passes are lines from where Romo released the pass to where the pass was caught. This shows you his release point and where he likes to throw when he slides in the pocket.
Here you see the 1st half and the shots Romo took down the right sideline to try to beat the blitz. Sound decision making where he finds the safety and throws away from him to avoid the turnovers. 2 games with 0 giveaways will always assist when the yardage is way down.
1st Half -
The 2nd half chart shows very little - because the Cowboys didn't pass much in the 2nd half. But those 2 lines to the right were the two biggest plays - both on 3rd down and both in the same drive. It is Romo finding Austin on his Houdini escape and then 3 plays later finding Dez in the end-zone on the touchdown.
2nd Half -
Here is a chart dedicated to the day that Dez Bryant had - Mostly against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Dez Bryant -
Drive Starters -The 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. How committed is he to the run or pass when the team comes off the sideline? We track it each week here -
Wk 1-At New York: 9 Drives - 5 Run4 Pass
Wk 2-At Seattle: 9 Drives - 3 Run6 Pass
Wk 3-Tampa Bay: 13 Drives - 7 Run6 Pass
Wk 4-Chicago: 11 Drives - 3 Run8 Pass
Wk 5-At Baltimore: 10 Drives - 8 Run2 Pass
Wk 6-At Carolina 10 Drives - 6 Run4 Pass
Wk 7-New York: 14 Drives - 4 Run10 Pass
Wk 8-At Atlanta: 9 Drives - 4 Run5 Pass
Wk 9-At Philadelphia: 10 Drives - 6 Run4 Pass
Season: 95 Drives 46 Run49 Pass - 48 Run
2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run102 Pass 44 Run
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. When shotgun totals are high, the Cowboys are generally behind, scared of their offensive line, or frustrated. High Shotgun numbers are not this team's calling card for success.
Much better balance here and making sure you at least tried to look for times to pound the ball. That should continue this week against Cleveland.
Wk 1 - NYG: 1554 27.7
Wk 2 - Sea: 2956 52
Wk 3 - TB: 3463 54
Wk 4 - Chi: 5068 74
Wk 5 - Balt: 1979 24
Wk 6 - Car: 2264 34
Wk 7 - NYG: 4883 58
Wk 8 - Atl: 2954 54
Wk 9 - Phil: 1754 31
2012 Season Total: 273575 47
2011 Total - 4451012 43.9
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 thePersonnel Groupings here.
Totals by Personnel Groups:
I would like you to pay special attention to the top grouping: 11 personnel. This is the base personnel for many of the big offenses around the NFL, but it has never been a favorite of the Cowboys. But, this year, they are trying it more and more. 11 personnel is 1RB, 1TE, and 3 WR. This is the exact personnel of the Cowboys 2-minute drill and 3rd Down offense, but that is always shotgun. This is different. They are using it in 5050 spots like 1st and 10 and having Romo under center. It should mean nickel personnel and it allows you to run the ball with fewer players in the box.
As you can see, they ran the ball 7 times from 11 under center, and found 51 yards or over 7 yards per carry. I know that is a small sample, but it should be noted that in the 73 games of regular season data I have collected, 9 snaps is by far the most they have ever run. In fact, in 2011, they ran that grouping 17 times the whole season. So, maybe this is the new way the Cowboys try to run the ball and see if they can accomplish their goals this way.
I small nuanced adjustment by the coaching staff that is not going unnoticed here. Compare it to the runs out of 21 and 22 - when the defense is in base and expecting run because of multiple TEs or a FB, when the Cowboys ran 11 times for 33 yards and you can see why they know that isn't going to work.
- Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.
Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd4th Down:
Clearly, they can't win on 300 yards very often, but you get the idea they are just trying to stay alive until DeMarco Murray returns.
This is not an easy struggle by any means, but at 4-5, they realize how critical the situation right in front of them is right now. Keep your QB healthy and continue to avoid turnovers. Do those two things and they think they can have a chance to get 5 more wins in the final 7 games.
And if they can do that, then they will hope that 9-7 gets a playoff spot. But for that to even matter, they must continue to figure this offense out.