Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Football 301: Decoding Garrett - Week 10


I do this project not because it makes any money or because it is something I have to do - but rather, I compile these numbers (with help from a few friends) every week so that we have substance behind opinions. It is easy to say that "Jason Garrett had a horrible Sunday", but if you don't have any substance from the whole season with which to compare it to, you are merely making an observation that may or may not have merit.

I believe the whole point of this exercise is to be able to break down a game like Sunday and point to specific issues with his job performance - good and bad - and offer an "exit interview" from each week like I assume they do in coaches meetings at Valley Ranch.

I have also heard this week that it wasn't the fault of the play calls, it was the fault of the exectution on those play calls. I don't completely disagree, because the exectution was poor (Williams fumble and drop, Romo's decision to force ball to Witten, OL getting beat badly in pass protect), but the concept of going on the road as a team that has demonstrated they are deadly out of their base offense, and abandon it completely when the score was still 0-0, or 3-0, is a big issue.

We keep these numbers to point out that week after week, despite the popular opinion that the Cowboys are "good" at Shotgun-3 WR offense (S11), the facts are they are not good. And when they get in a position where it becomes their bread and butter, the opponent begins to salivate and plots exotic blitz after exotic blitz to expose and attack the pass protection. Then, the Cowboys counter by leaving Jason Witten and the RB in to help max-protect, and the problems for the offense get even worse because their best weapon is no longer in route.

Plain and Simple: Jason Garrett helped lose the game on Sunday by losing the plot of his game plan. I wrote about it extensively in yesterday's game recap , but here is a taste:

You must play against your opponent, not against your expectations. Some weeks, you must win a game that is truly ugly, but to do so, you have to check your expectation-level at the door, and simply play the game in front of you.

Sunday called for grinding it out and frustrating the defense and crowd with long drives of power football. We got almost none of that.

They used "13" personnel just 3 times the whole game. "22" personnel just once, aside from the 2 attempts at the "Razorback". Marion Barber had 1 carry after the 1st Quarter, which was a 1-yard loss to start the 2nd half.

The game was 3-0 into the 4th Quarter, and Jason Garrett abandoned his successful sets because he got antsy, frustrated, and desperate - again. It plays right into the hands of the opponent (when you are in shotgun, it completely changes the posture of the defense), and it is why performances like last Sunday Night in Philadelphia are the exception and not the norm. The norm is that in road-game hostile-situations, if you punch the Cowboys in the mouth a few times (sack Romo, plug up a few run plays) they change their game plan completely on the fly and roll Shotgun set after Shotgun set onto the field.

What bothers me is we see this time and time again. Garrett doesn't learn to keep his composure and his game plan. For all of his faults of being too conservative, Bill Parcells' teams would not have allowed 2 of the biggest plays of the game (the Clay Matthews sack before halftime and the Charles Woodson sack that sealed the verdict). Why? Because he wouldn't go for risky Shotgun sets in both of those situations.

The Cowboys know how to handle a track meet. But, a slug fest? Sometimes I wonder if Garrett can handle it.

Here are the numbers for you to see on Sunday:

Totals by Personnel Groups:
PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass

Table Tutorial

Definition of the Personnel Groups, click here .

The shocking facts show that the Cowboys ran 13 plays from under center for 51 yards. That is the complete showing for your base-offense. About 4 yards per snap, so it shows that this idea it "wasn't working" is silly. They just panicked. Again.

Then they threw caution to the wind and decided to work the other 45 plays from some form of a shotgun offense. Hopefully, by this point of the season you know what I think of that. The Shotgun offense should be treated like chocolate. In its proper place, it can be the best bite of your eating day, but if it is your full meal for every meal, you have no chance at being healthy.

And don't even start with the "But, Bob, they were down 17!" nonsense. Yes, a big number of those Shotgun snaps were in the 4th Quarter, but the Cowboys gave up on their game plan long before that. They played like they were down 14 when the score was 3-0 at halftime. Marion Barber had 1 carry in the final 3 Quarters! That is exceptionally poor play calling.

And please understand when I say "play calling" I am talking about your presnap look, not your actual run-pass decision. Presnap look with Romo under center gives the Linebackers and Safeties pause about what the Cowboys intent is. Shotgun Romo gives the defense no pause whatsoever. They are prepared to come in waves. And that explains why 4 sacks were out of the Shotgun sets. The defense accepts your invitation.

Yes, just 1 week after praising the concept of the gameplan of Jason Garrett, I am confused at how badly he lost the plot. Such is life in the NFL.

Check out the video breakdowns, where we highlight good things the offense accomplished. I can only choose from plays in this week's game, so my pickings were pretty slim:

Video Breakdowns:

Thanks, Brian at DC Fanatic.com . He is the man, and deserves your occasional visit to his site.

The Play: 12:16 1Q - 1/10/39 - 13, Barber +13

What Happened: Marion Barber had 5 carries on Sunday, and this was the first one, a run left out of the "13" package, with John Phillips as his F-Back. Because of double tight ends to the Right (off Colombo's shoulder) the Green Bay defense is looking to slide in that direction. Watch 52 Matthews for the Packers (the LB by Adams) take two steps left at the snap and almost taking himself out of the play, even though he surely has contain to his right. Once he does that, Phillips is on him for the seal as Barber takes it off weak side and gets a nice gain for 13. He would get another carry for 7 yards in this drive and then they would ignore him for the rest of the game. I would love to hear an explanation as to why they thought that made even the slightest sense. Does this play look to you like the Cowboys are going to have trouble at the point of attack?


The Play: 4:03 2Q - 1/10/37 - S12, pass to Williams +42

What Happened: Here is another cool thing about what we do here on Tuesdays. It helps us compare and recognize when the Cowboys dust off a play that worked early in the year and use it again. In week 1, we showed you the long 66-yard TD pass to Roy Williams that was based on Roy Williams pre-snap motion. In Tampa (And, I apologize, but our video from that play in Week 1 does not show the presnap motion), they had Bennett and Witten lined up wide, with the two WR's in the slot. This matched up a safety versus Roy. In Green Bay, they had Witten in to protect, with Bennett on his own by the right sideline. Then, Austin wide left, Roy slot left, with Roy coming in motion to the right, changing the Packers' coverage right into what Romo/Garrett/Cowboys were hoping. 36 Collins trying to run down the center of the field against 11 Williams. Mismatch, great throw, and if it wasn't for the fumble, it is a different game altogether. I don't think they have run this play more than 3 times this year, but twice, it gets exactly what they want and Romo and Williams connect. Sort of.


The Play: 8:51 3Q - 2/10/20 - WC22, Choice keeps for 11

What Happened: Speaking of things we have seen before, remember the lead Wildcat/Razorback play on the goal-line against Phildelphia? Here it is again - exact same play - but from their own 20 yard line. Once again, unbalanced line to the left with Colombo on Adams left, followed by Witten on Colombo's left. Then, Deon Anderson is off-set left in the back field, and Leonard Davis pulls from Right Guard and slams into the hole.

I think the comedy here is watching 70 Davis looking for something to hit and finding 50 AJ Hawk in the hole. Hawk is ready to take on Choice at the point of attack until Davis runs him over. Hawk tries to duck and cover, but the collision is amazingly humorous. I would imagine both teams enjoyed this sequence in the film room. Cowboys gain 11, and 31 Harris tries to pull off Tashard's facemask to add 15 more yards to the run.


The Play:13:09 4Q - 1/10/8 - To Williams for 20

What Happened: Here is a play that annoyed me in its philosophy, but since it worked we must only warn them what lies ahead. Down 10-0, but still 13 minutes to play. The Cowboys get the ball at their own 8 yard line, but since Garrett has already thrown his gameplan in the river, they open on 1st and 10 with a shotgun look that keeps Witten in to make sure Romo has enough time to let Williams make his cut and deliver the ball.

It works like a charm, and the aggresive look gets the Cowboys some breathing room, right? In fact, he is only a nice tackle away from a 92 yard touchdown. But, I think it demonstrates how impatient the Cowboys were on Sunday. It is "Fool's gold", because 2 shotgun snaps later, Charles Woodson realizes Witten isn't out in route, so he blitzes and ends the game with a sack. But, this play does make a nice highlight.

The Play: 7:55 4Q - 4/10/43 - To Crayton for 14

What Happened: I only show you this crazy play out of "S11" to show that Tony Romo can make a great play on his own sometimes. He steps up in the pocket to avoid the rush, and finds Patrick Crayton who doesn't appear to be open on a play that they had to make.

I didn't have much to work with this week, so I will simply show you a nice play by the offense in a sea of plays that weren't nice.

Target Distribution and Sack studies will be in another entry today. Stay tuned for that.

Past Episodes:

Week 9 - Philadelphia Eagles
Week 8 - Seattle Seahawks
Week 7 - Atlanta Falcons
Week 5 - Kansas City
Week 4 - Denver
Week 3 – Carolina
Week 2 - New York Giants
Week 1 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Garrett '08


Jay Beerley said...

Keep preaching the idiocy of the full-time shotgun formation. We are a power team, and I honestly think Garrett hates that. He can't be flashy and get a nice head coaching job with power football. That's the way I read it. Prove me wrong, Garrett.

Alis Aquilae said...

Is Barber hurt? Is that why Garrett refused to hand him the ball?

Great post, as always.


jorge said...

This is awesome wealth of information. Your blogs are more appealing than any current sports writer's stories in the Dallas Morning News. Are you sure that you're not getting paid to write these? You should.

Thanks for telling the truth and calling it out like it should.

jeremy said...


First off, love this kinda stuff. This is football dissection at its finest.

Your analysis of Jason Garrett's mindset is spot on. Somewhere in his sleep, Garrett must dream of being the offensive coordinator of the Patriots' pass-happy, shotgun offense, because whenever his offense faces a lick of adversity, Garrett's true colors come out and he reverts to Shotgun 11. That would be fine if the Cowboys had the Patriots' personnel at QB and WR and a dearth of good running backs. But that's simply not the case, no matter what prism Garrett views his offense through.

It sounds terribly hindsight-ish, but if you look back you could see this coming the minute Miles Austin rose to prominence. The Cowboys' early-season games were dominated by a potent three-headed running game because, and rightfully so, Garrett didn't know what he had in the passing game to entering the post-TO era. But they had a great running game that he would rely on that would allow him to mix in some play-action to help get the ball to Whitten, Williams and Crayton.

And that worked. It worked well. It worked enough to open up the offense. Tony Romo started having some great games passing.

And then Miles Austin happened. His Kansas City game, coupled with the Seattle follow-up performance, must have had Garrett thinking he'd found the missing piece to the offense he really wants to run -- a pass-heavy, Andy Reid-esque offense that uses the pass 30-plus times in the first three quarters in hopes of building a big lead and bludgeoning the opposition with the running game in the fourth quarter.

In the Atlanta game, you could see them moving more and more to Garrett's ultimate vision. Same thing in the Seattle game. It showed up in the Eagles game, where Romo kept getting harassed in the shotgun but they got away with it (thanks to Austin's 3rd-and-14 low-percentage big play).

And finally this past week it bit them in the rear.

It's hard to say what kind of offense the Cowboys are. With the personnel they have, you'd think they would be a grind-in-out power football team -- perhaps a better-performing Carolina Panthers-type offense with more talented overall personnel. But it's obvious that's not what Garrett wants. The first chance he had to move away from it, he did. Now will he wander back?

I can't label this as a passing offense, because they can't operate like the Patriots and be 70-30 passing and succeed. History shows that, with or without TO.

The only way I can describe the Cowboys offense is this: If it's 2nd-and-7, they're passing. If they don't get 5 yards or more on a run on first down, it's time to pass. No matter if another run might make it 3rd-and-4. And that's not the personnel of this team.

With Marc Columbo out, it's imperative that the Cowboys return to being insistant on running the ball. They're going to be blitzing a ton more, and the more the Cowboys go shotgun, the more they're going to end up neutering this offense by having to leave Jason Whitten in for blitz protection. And when the Cowboys do that, the defense has already won one battle in the play by rendering Dallas' best receiving target as simply a blocker.

What Garrett did last weekend is what Andy Reid tends to do once a season (take this year's Eagles-Oakland debacle). But Reid always bounces back (just look at his record). Let's see what Garrett does.

Josh said...

I lay awake at night and dream of what a competent offensive coordinator could do with this team.

I feel like Garrett is the ignorant woman putting 93 octane into a diesel engine and then wondering why the car just won't f-ing go anymore.