DISCLAIMER: This is not for everyone. It may not be for you. This is a statistical study of the Cowboys offense with lots of numbers that may make your head tired if you are not up to it. Read it only if it is something that is of interest to you.
Before Denver put the brakes on this juggernaut of an offense, the results were difficult to comprehend. In the first 3 weeks of football, the Cowboys offense had the ball for 175 offensive snaps, and rolled up 1280 yards. That is an astounding 7.31 yards per snap. High School powers brag about 7.31 yards per snap. This doesn't happen in the National Football League. Despite the feeling that the offense was failing, the reality is the yardage they rolled up was a fabulous sign.
But, when the Cowboys offense dropped to 4.37 a snap on Sunday, was it more of just a market correction or a down week?
They ran the ball 25 times for 74 yards. Less than 3 yards a carry. The idea that they should have run the ball more seems like a stretch. The fact is, they did not run with any effectiveness. And, they also did not have Marion Barber in the 2nd half for much of anything. We must realize that while Tashard Chocie is a nice story, it is folly to compare him to Marion Barber or even Felix Jones in scaring opponents. He is nice as a change-up, but in games where he is counted on to be "the man" the Cowboys offense doesn't seem to operate the same way. Think about it; who was their main RB in December of last year? And how did that December offense look last year?
They passed the ball for 241 net, which is affected by 3 big plays. 2 were screens in the first half, and the last big play was the long shot to Sam Hurd. If you subtract those 3 (which you obviously cannot), the mediocre 5.12 yards per pass play falls to an amazingly ineffective 3.06 yards per pass on the other 44 snaps.
In Denver, we also saw another big issue with the offense. Pass Protection. And I cannot stress this enough; every bad issue the offense ever has is a result of poor pass protection. Jason Garrett's play selection is effected by poor pass protection (he gets very careful, and keeps Witten in which is like trying to run your offense with 1 arm behind your back). Tony Romo's throw selection is certainly effected by the rush in his face. All of the bad days for this offense all start when the Cowboys cannot build and maintain a pocket. The Giants playoff game. Arizona. Pittsburgh. Baltimore. Philadelphia.
Which, as we look at the Cowboys from the proper perspective we must ask the question of how do you gameplan against Jason Garrett? If your answer is not, "Blitz, Blitz, Blitz" until Romo/Garrett can prove they have an answer for it, then you have not been paying attention.
To put it another way, think of it like this: If I blitz the Cowboys, they will be likely to leave Witten and Barber (or Choice) in to pick up the blitz. Now, if those players are in on protection schemes, then who is in route? Roy Williams (Romo and Williams connect on just 44% of their attempts), Patrick Crayton (46%), and Miles Austin (41%). This season, on Romo throws to WRs, the Cowboys are a mere 31-70 (44%).
If I blitz Jason Garrett's offense, I make the Cowboys throw to WRs. And for whatever reasons, the Cowboys WRs are not making teams pay through 4 games. Also, if I blitz, I beat up Tony Romo, and he doesn't perform well when he is hit (in fairness to Romo, almost no QBs do - how many times did Favre get hit on Monday night? 0 sacks).
Let's look at the Cowboys use of Personnel in their 72 offensive snaps:
Totals by Personnel Groups:
Definition of the Personnel Groups, click here .
As you can see, nothing was very effective. Of 39 plays from "under center", they rolled up just 163 yards. Also, the 2 screen passes were part of that total, meaning, of the other 37 plays, the Cowboys could barely budge the ball - 110 yards (2.97 yards per snap).
Here, I want to look at 5 plays this week. I have simplified the video (with Brian's help, of course) to just strip each one down to one play per video. I want to examine the 2 screen plays, the blitz that turned the game for Denver, and the last 2 shots into the endzone. Some good, and some bad.
Thanks, Brian at DC Fanatic.com who provides the videos (and the biting commentary) for this exercise. And Shawn for his work in compiling numbers.
The Play: 1/20/21 - "13" personnel - Screen to Barber for 26 yards
What Happened:This is a very straight-forward screen that is a wonderful remedy for an amped up defense. Use their aggressiveness against them. The Broncos have the Cowboys in a 1st and 20 hole, and now will rush 5 to make the Cowboys sweat. The Cowboys counter with a screen to Barber out of "13", in which John Phillips is in a pass route and Martellus in in pass protect off RT. Watch the fine work of the interior line, with Kosier showing very impressive mobility to go get in a DB's way. Andre Gurode is also demonstrating his ability to get down field with a full sprint looking for someone to hit. For a second, it doesn't look like Barber can go faster than Gurode! I don't think we often consider mobility a key attribute of the Cowboys' OL, but here we see #63 and #65 can do some damage in screens to the left.
The Play: 1Q - 1/10/39 - "22" Personnel - Screen to Choice for 27 yards
What Happened: This play is interesting in we see how defense react to what they see in the pre snap. Just like the next play below (when Hill blitzes BECAUSE Choice went in motion) we see here that the Broncos notice that the Cowboys have "22" personnel. This is their most impressive power offense, with Bennett and Witten run blocking, Deon Anderson leading for Choice. When the Cowboys load everyone up to the right by putting Bennett in motion, they are either running right or trying to convince the Broncos they are running right. The Broncos then run blitz #24 Bailey from that side, and he likely would have had a chance to blow that play up if it was a run right.
Instead, the Cowboys have a screen set up, that is timed pretty well. Kosier, Gurode, and Davis all get downfield, and notice again Kosier's great job getting out and sealing the OLB to the sideline. Choice beats one Denver DL #90 Peterson to the corner. When he does, it is a big gainer.
The Play: 2Q - 3/14/21 - "S12" - Blitz and Fumble
What Happened: Here is what I wrote yesterday about this 3rd and long out of "S12":
The play came with 10:19 to go in the 2nd Quarter, the Cowboys up 10-0, and facing a 3rd and 14; they decide that they will go shotgun, but with 2 Tight Ends lined up tight, and 2 WRs. Tashard Choice starts next to Romo, but motions to the left sideline to reveal whether the Broncos are in zone or man. What does that mean? That means nobody is back with Romo in the shotgun to pick up a blitz.
Denver studies this all week, and like many of us have discussed, when a team goes shotgun-empty, they decided that that will mean a blindside blitz from SS, Renaldo Hill. Yes, the Cowboys know the defense against the blitz, but they will only have a split second to get the ball out. Hill times his run brilliantly, and Romo is waiting for Roy Williams to get his route 14 yards down the field so they can move the chains. At the split second Roy is reaching the 1st down marker, Hill unloads on Romo’s blindside. Choice, who would have been right where Hill was blitzing, stands at the left sideline doing nothing but occupying Andre Goodman. Romo is sacked and fumbles. Denver returns it for an eventual 7 points (1 play later).
This is a sack that had nothing to do with anyone on the field. Every one of the 11 players on the field for the Cowboys is doing what their job asked on that play. But, the coaches of the Cowboys were out-smarted by the new coaches of the Denver Broncos. The game was never the same. From that point on, the Broncos realized the Cowboys don’t handle the blitzes and pressure well, and the Cowboys couldn’t do anything about it.
That is what I wrote yesterday. I think I got most of it right, but I would like to take issue with myself with another 24 hours to talk to others and review this play yet again. I think Romo deserves some blame here for A) locking into Roy and B) not seeing the field. If you are playing QB, you cannot lock onto one half of the field. We will see this again later on the final 2 plays of the game. He doesn't even consider that there are options on the left. He just knows on this play that Williams is running to the marker, so he doesn't look elsewhere, despite the Broncos having 3 DBs to that side of the field to defend 2 WRs. The numbers are not right for Tony.
Watch the play again. See Martellus Bennett off Left Tackle? See that he sees the blitz and looks like he might be trying to tell Romo in the pre snap (0:27 of video)? Regardless, Bennett breaks off his route as you should off a blitz, and if Romo throws to him, they do not get 14 yards - but they do at least get some more room before they punt. And they don't surrender a sack.
This is called QB awareness. If Romo is aware of both sides of the field, then he can "take what he is given". But, if he has tunnel vision as is determined to throw to Roy from the second he breaks the huddle, then he doesn't see Hill blitzing or Bennett reacting to Hill's blitz.
Blame Garrett for a poor concept to go "empty" out of the shotgun, but blame Romo for not seeing the play.
The Play:4Q - 3/G/3 - "S11" - Incomplete to Hurd
What Happened:These last two plays got plenty of my description yesterday, too:
Consider the final 2 plays of the game yesterday: 2 plays from the 3 yard line. No timeouts are left. So, you must throw into the endzone. Roy Williams and Marion Barber are not in the game, because neither is healthy enough to continue. So, as Offensive Coordinator, I must consider my options. The Cowboys are going to use “S11″, so I have Witten next to Colombo, Choice on Romo’s right side, Austin wide left, Crayton slot left, and Hurd split right. Denver is going to match-up man-to-man on the receivers, and blitz one more than you can protect. The Cowboys then make the incredible decision to keep Witten in to protect. If you read me regularly, you know there is nothing that makes me crazier that Jason Garrett does than to keep Witten in on a crucial play. We have gone on and on about how he is your #1 target, and he is your money receiver. But, like the final play of the NY Giants playoff game,Garrett leaves Witten in protection on 3rd and 4th down here. This is inexcusable, especially considering that Roy and MB3 are not in the game. What this means is with the game on the line, you have Romo trying to find 2 undrafted WRs (Austin and Hurd) and a 7th round WR (Crayton), who have made fewer big catches in all of their careers combined than Witten makes every few weeks. If you need an extra Tight End to pass protect, then get Martellus out there, and take out a WR for Witten in the slot. This should not be this complicated.
Then, Romo, who also deserves plenty of blame, decides to try to isolate Hurd against Champ Bailey for 2 consecutive slants in the endzone. Why he never looks to Miles Austin who is A) open, and B) working against Andre Goodman is beyond me. The throws weren’t bad, but Bailey recovered nicely. Since a slant is basically a physical battle to win the football, the question would be, “How many battles has Hurd in his career won that gave Romo such belief in him in that situation?” This isn’t Owens or Irvin out there. It is Sam Hurd!
My addition to those comments are simply this - in reviewing the game film, it appears that by this portion of the game that Romo has decided he has had enough of Miles Austin. Austin's poor route in the 3Q cost the Cowboys the football (even Champ Bailey knew that play was for an "out" route), and then his failure to recognize a blitz in the early 4th Quarter cost the Cowboys another punt. Romo has decided that since Austin has not made a play, and Hurd just did, that he is going to Hurd. No matter what. Again, my QB cannot have his mind made up before the play. And if he does, I pray that he doesn't convince himself to challenge one of the very best CBs in football with his 4th WR.
The Play:4Q - 4/G/3 - "S11" - Incomplete to Hurd, again.
What Happened:I should probably just write "see above" here. The last play and this one are very similar. The only difference is that Crayton runs a slant instead of the out. Otherwise, Austin slants from the left, Hurd from the right. Man to Man coverage. Everything is identical. It makes you wonder why the coaches aren't in Romo's ear between plays saying "Watch the left" if they saw what we saw on 3rd down.
This also reminds you of the stubborness to run virtually the exact same play two snaps in a row at the goal-line (Carolina's back-to-back fades).
No Witten again. You know, if I am going to lose a game because I threw it to Witten and it didn't work, well then I just have to take my medicine. But, do I really have to accept that this QB/OC dynamic duo want to put the game in Sam Hurd's hands? A guy who is only on the field because Roy Williams cannot get out there?
To say I am perplexed at the decision making of the QB/OC tandem is an understatement.
Targets - Week 4 vs Den
Season Target Distribution To Date:
3rd Down Target Distribution:
As you will see, 3rd downs are a mess right now. Ugly.
3RD Down Targets - Week 4 - Den
3rd Down Targets - Season Totals
The first week where sacks and pass protect were an absolute sabotage to the offense. Look for the Chiefs to study and learn from what the Broncos did.
We will continue to update this chart as the season goes on:
|Wk 1||Tampa||Barber||Romo awareness|
Week 3 – Carolina
Week 2 - New York Giants
Week 1 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers