Honestly, I thought he was poor last season. I thought his play calls were often to appease some; for instance Terrell Owens gets 18 targets (Washington, Week 4) which led to Felix Jones not getting a touch. I also thought he relied on the shotgun and the pass too much when a game began to develop. When you are down 14, sling the ball without regard for caution or care, but when you are down 3 in the 3rd Quarter, there is no reason to abandon your game plan. But, the facts indicate that the Cowboys were too willing to throw the ball early and often and that gets everyone in trouble.
It gets your QB hit too often, it puts too much pressure on your OL, it allows the defense to "pin their ears back" and disregard the running game. And if you review the games in December, you will see the disregard grew.
The Cowboys threw the ball 59.1% of the time in 2008 (579 passes/400 runs) - only 4 teams in football threw more often. Playoff teams in 2008 threw the ball 52.7% of the time. The difference? 64 run plays. 4 a week. The Cowboys averaged 61.1 offensive snaps in 2008, and the average split was 36 passes and 25 runs.
But, in December? The Cowboys passed 65.5% of the time! (252 plays, 85 runs) I realize they were behind at Philadelphia, but they were never behind in Pittsburgh until the end, they led the Giants the entire way, and were in a dog fight with the Ravens most of the way. Did they abandon it because all they had was Tashard Choice healthy? Quite possibly, but regardless of their rationale, the opponents did not worry about the run at all and blitzed Tony Romo with reckless abandon. This caused all sorts of chaos for the Cowboys and made the OL look like it was no longer interested in doing its job.
As we look to 2009, we all agree the ratio must be better. Last season, the Cowboys ran the ball in the 1st half of games just 39% of the time (ranks 28th). They ranked 22nd on running the ball on 1st down - playoff teams ran the ball on 1st down 56.2% and the Cowboys ran the ball on 1st down 47.8%.
If they have the ball for 61 snaps, they need to target 32 passes/29 runs to get the ratio right and keep defenses honest. This starts with personnel groups. Too often, Garrett was too happy to throw caution to the wind, the running game out the window, and go strictly shotgun. There were games where the Cowboys played Shotgun/3 WRs for the entire 2nd half - of games they didn't trail! In that Redskins home game in week 4, they ran 58 plays and 47 were passes (81%) - and all 3 RBs were healthy!! In the blowout win over the 49ers, the Cowboys still insisted on passing 41 times! Why? And in the Ravens game, the run/pass split was 21/47 - despite this being a game that was 9-7 at halftime. Basically, it appeared the Cowboys thought they were playing Madden on their XBox (For people that don't play video games: Nobody "establishes the run" in Madden - it is pass, pass, pass).
And, remember: You aren't running the ball to appease people with calculators. You are doing it to control the clock, rest your defense, and make passing easier. You are doing it to help your QB, your OL, and move field position.
With that in mind, we must go back to personnel groups. Below, please find the Cowboys offense broken down by personnel groups.
For any of this to make sense, you have to know what all of the different packages mean. Basically, it is very simple. Every Offense in the world has 1 QB and 5 Offensive Linemen. Therefore, if 11 players are on the field, then that leaves 5 players who can join the QB in skill positions and the Offensive Coordinator has to choose how to deploy those 5. So, the groups are simple. "11" means 1 RB and 1 TE, so you add those 2 numbers together (1+1 = 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).
|11||1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR|
|12||1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR|
|13||1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR|
|21||2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR|
|22||2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR|
|23||2 RB, 3 TE|
|S11||Shotgun, 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR|
|S12||Shotgun, 1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR|
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. And when you watch the game on tv, you can easily identify the package before the snap to see what Garrett is doing.
Now, check the 2008 results for personnel packages according to my figures:
Now, let's break down the pie chart above. I broke down all 979 plays the Cowboys ran last year into Personnel groupings. I found 8 looks that accounted for at least 1% of the plays (if they ran it at least 10 times, you will see it here). There are several other looks they showed fewer than 10 times, but to try to fight against making your head spin, let's try to keep it simple.
So, here they are:
So, as you can see, the majority of the Cowboys Offense was in 3 Personnel Groups:
"21" - This was generally a package that included a FB (Deon Anderson) blocking for Marion Barber and just 1 Tight End. They ran 173 plays with this set, with 108 runs/65 passes. The troubling result is that despite this being a "power run" set, they ran for only 3.52 runs a carry. 380 yards on 108 runs was not good enough.
"12" - This is my package of choice. To me, this should be the base look for their offense in 2009. With Martellus Bennett on the field, they can balance the offense. They ran 170 plays with 2 TEs and the QB under center. 77 runs/93 passes with the 77 runs reaping 5.14 yards per carry. The defense doesn't know what is coming, so if I have to choose between Martellus on the field or Deon Anderson, I am going with a dual threat. And don't forget, you can always have 2 TEs on the field and still deploy Witten or Bennett as a "F" or "H" back where Anderson would normally stand.
"S11" - And here is the love of Jason Garrett's offense. Every time the Cowboys are in 3rd down, unless it is 3rd and very short, you can guarantee your friends the Cowboys will be in Shotgun, with 3 WRs and 1 RB. They ran this 385 times in 2008! Of the 385 snaps, 320 were pass plays (83%) so you know the defenses were not worried about the occasional delay or draw play. Romo is pretty effective in this set, but it also gets him hit plenty. Usually in shotgun, the Cowboys send Witten out in a pattern, so it is the 5 OL + Barber/Choice to pass block. And it gets your QB killed. In 2009, they have to depend on this look much, much less than nearly 40%.
So there you have it. Enough data to make your head spin, but on Tuesdays during the season, we will visit that week's game plan. Before long, you will be on your couch calling out the personnel group in pre-snap and driving your wife even more crazy.
Enjoy. And yes, I have all of the data from 2008, so if you have follow up questions about other results, feel free to post them below: