Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday Thoughts on Garrett

Between all of the blog entries since the Green Bay game, and the debates that followed on the air with Norm, I thought I would share some emails and and offer a few more items of interest before we put it all to bed and prepare for the Redskins game which will be here in no time.

1) I was reading some of the post-game analysis from the Packers' writers and found this which appears to support my thoughts about the blitz and the Packers feelings that defense on Sunday was pretty cut and dried:

Facing a critical juncture in the season, Capers dusted off some blitzes he hadn't used this season and applied consistent pressure on the Cowboys, sending everyone from inside linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk to cornerback Charles Woodson to safety Nick Collins. The Packers sacked Romo five times and chipped in three other tackles for loss in holding the Cowboys to a season-low 278 yards.

Now that he's seen what his unit can do when turned loose, is Capers going to keep his foot on the accelerator?


"These guys know we will be as aggressive as we can be and have success," Capers said of his fourth-ranked defense. "I've never been around a player yet that doesn't like to be aggressive. And we certainly like to dictate the tempo of the game and I thought we were able to dictate the tempo of the game yesterday."

But many coordinators have promised to blitz aggressively only to back off because of the risk factor, so what he said Monday won't necessarily hold true next Sunday. Capers said he was able to blitz so much because the Cowboys became predictable, eschewing the run early in favor of a pass-happy attack.

Another reason Capers might dial down his blitz calls is that the next opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, have running back Frank Gore, whose 64- and 80-yard touchdown runs this season can scare the ink off a coordinator's play sheet. The downside of blitzing is that if the offense has the right play called, there can be a huge hole for a running back.

It's one reason Capers refused to blitz Brett Favre in the two Minnesota Vikings games; he feared running back Adrian Peterson would scorch him.

"That's the thing, you have to make sure you're gap sound," Perry said. "When you zone pressure, sometimes guys get out of their gap too quick. If you're slanting the wrong way, you get creased. You have to be conscious of that. That's why if a team is running the ball, you have to be a little more selective than when you pressure and when you don't."

And that is what specifically bothererd me about the game plan on Sunday. What they (Dom Capers and the Safeties coach, Joe Perry) said in that story is football 301 material. There are some significant downsides about blitzing that keep a defense from doing it as much as its fan base wants.

I call this sort of stuff "Madden Influence". Madden, the video game we have all played, made many of us a lot smarter when it comes to football, I believe. There is no doubt that unless you played, you did not know much about "Quarters or Cover 2" until you played Madden.

But, the problem with Madden is that before long, you call Shotgun 4WR on every offensive play and the most aggresive blitz possible on every defensive play. We know there are negatives to that approach, but who cares? It is a video game.

But, in real football, the coaches never throw enough bombs to satisfy the fans, nor does any defenisve coordinator call enough blitzes to make the fans happy. This is why Jason Garrett is so interesting. He almost seems more like the college kid playing Sega than the old conservative coach with the whistle around his neck.

I thought you would enjoy reading a coach discuss why NOT to blitz, and why blitzing made sense against the Cowboys on Sunday. And KNOW that around the league, there is a recipe for playing against Jason Garrett. Everyone with a film projector knows it. And this is why we "self-scout".

2) Did they abandon the run because of the injury to Marc Colombo? I think there is something to this theory, and I believe it is because they fear Doug Free cannot hold his own at the point of attack.

Let's look at the runs with Doug Free at Right Tackle:

Offensive Snap
#9 WC Choice Right, -1
#10 Barber Middle +2
#12 Jones Right +2
#16 Jones Right 0
#17 Choice Middle +3
#22 Barber Right -2
#26 WC Choice Left +11
#31 Jones Right +4

8 plays, 19 yards. Not a huge sample, but it does represent the final 49 minutes of the game. Only 8 runs, and 2 of them from the Wild-Cat. So, 6 traditional runs the rest of the game which yielded 9 yards. It seems possible that these results caused Garrett to fade even further into the pass-happy posture.

And this is why they seem to be considering Leonard Davis at Tackle, and moving Proctor inside. If you have to go the final 7 games without running the ball, expect very bad things. Must. Run. Ball.



Just read your blog posting "Decoding Garrett" for this last week's game., and also heard you argue with Norm on this same topic. While I agree with your general premise, I don't believe that you fully justified your assertion that Garrett abandoned the under-center formations too early in the game.

We know that, indeed, a large portion of the shotgun plays occurred after the Packers went up 10-0. However, you never actually broke down the percentage of offensive plays in quarters 1-3 that were under-center or shotgun. This is crucial data, since it expresses Garrett's formation preference when the game was essentially tied (You have been asserting that the offense played poorly because Garret abandoned under-center formations prematurely).

If I recall correctly, the offense did not run many plays at all through the first three quarters. The offense went three and out repeatedly. Therefore, your statements that "13 plays from (were run) under center for 51 yards" and that " Marion Barber had 1 carry in the final 3 Quarters" have no basis for comparison. If the number of plays the cowboys ran through the 1st three quarters was, say, 30, and the majority of the under-center plays that they ran throughout the game occured in quarters 1-3, then I would argue that garrett didn't abandon the under-center look prematurely.

In summary, I would like to see the percentage of plays in quarters 1-3 that were shotgun looks (and mind you that we should include plays that were blown dead due to penalties since those were play calls by Garrett.) I have not run the numbers (I'm too busy which is why you're sports sturm), but I have a feeling that the trend you are looking for may not be as pronounced as you believe it is.

Just some constructive criticism! Still a good statistical article that you wrote. Feel free to email me if you disagree with what I've wrote.

- Jeffry

My response:

you suggested I had no basis for comparison, but in reality, given the fact I do an exhaustive breakdown of every game going back through the last 25, I don't see how that could be true.

I have a consistent trend from these types of games (road, hostile) that spans several different examples that is what I use to make my points. Further, I am happy to share my data with you to put you at ease. Yes, Sunday was not as egregious as the final numbers indicate, but I have several specific examples in the game where he was way too aggressive in my opinion that showed he lost faith in the ability to run the ball.

Was it all Doug Free for Marc Colombo? Possibly. But, regardless, they became very, very easy to defend.

And like I said, this is about Denver, Philadelphia '08, Pittsburgh '08, and several other games of similar variety in his tenure.

Here is one from the great Shawn, who helps compile our statistical database:


"Jason Garrett helped lose the game on Sunday by losing the plot of his game plan" Yes, he did, but who's to blame? Garrett? I would suggest to you, it's Jerry Jones. Jerry has built a coaching staff with a OC and DC and no HC.

Coordinators by nature are only concerned about their unit and playing better than the other unit. A mindset of my offense, your defense and vice versa is fine between coordinators, becasue the Head Coach keeps both coordinators in line.

What happens when the Head Coach doesn't have any input in the offense?
64% of the Cowboys snaps were in S11.
74% of the Cowboy snaps were in Shotgun.

The OC went off the Reservation and the Head Coach didn't get him back on track. Could Wade have reeled Garrett back in and told him to stick with the game plan? I don't think so. Jerry took that authority away from his HC.

Garrett pushed the panic button and offensive turnovers got the Cowboys beat. The Packers only had one drive in the game, but Garrett acted as if the Cowboys needed to score 24 points. Two turnovers sunk the Cowboys ship; Romo's fumble and the intercept at the one. A good HC wins that game 14-10.

Take a look at the Bears 49ers game. What OC left the Reservation?

Side Note:
Take a look at the bottom line of the worksheet "Yds/Pass Attempt"
Under 6 yards: 3 loses
Over 6 yards: 6 wins


And another of a similar tone:

I love that you flay, lash, flog and scourge RHG when he deserves it, and that you do it logically and without malice. But here's something else for us to consider: he's not the head coach. And because of who the head coach is, RHG is not getting a chance to learn from someone who knows more about the game than he. Phillips should have gone into the offensive meetings last week and said, "Look, Capers and I have similar approaches. If I were playing against you on Sunday, here's how I would try to defend you."

So one could conclude that the combination of Garrett's relative inexperience and the lack of teaching moments from the head coach are a major contributor to his impatience (bordering on panic) when things don't work.


This is the elephant in the room that has not been mentioned. If you have a coordinator that "loses the plot", that is not uncommon. I wager that it happens every week in the NFL. NFL Coaching staffs are all about checks and balances and a head coach reeling in his coordinators, coordinators scolding their position coaches and so on. Everyone must be on the same page. Everyone must answer to someone.

Does that happen in Dallas? Does Wade ever close his office door and scold Jason Garrett for a game like this? Does he say anything on the sideline when he doesn't like a call like we saw Parcells do time and time again?

Most of us who follow this team are under the distinct impression that Wade never says a word. When he is questioned on the topics of his offense at his press briefings, his answers always suggest that he supports 100% of what his offense decided to do, but that he isn't sure what they did. His Sgt Schultz routine is well-known when it comes to his offense, and this may be part of the problem: In effect, the Cowboys have an OC - Garrett, a DC - Phillips, and either no Head Coach, or a Head Coach in the owner's box.

I wish I was making this up.


Ron Dodson said...

I think we have two pretty good (not the best, but pretty good) coordinators, and no head coach. Good stuff, Bob.

Phil K. said...

It appears as though we've answered our own questions.

Jason Garrett is culpable only inasmuch as he is still a relatively new coordinator. We have to live with his missteps from time-to-time.

I'm not sure how much "game management" Wade executes other than hearing from the boys upstairs to throw the red flag. I agree that he is hamstrung by Jerry.

Lastly, I believe that ultimately coaches must give players the best chance to succeed. Norm is right in that players must execute plays. However, those are merely tactics, not strategies. Coaches must strategize in ways that play to their teams strengths. In the Cowboys case, it is a Power Run game in which you should stick with under-center sets and mix in the play-action on first down, once in a while. I know we have a potent air game. But, when the other team knows that, and they're confident that they can get to your QB (and proven it!), then you might want to "keep them off-balance!!" What a freakin concept.

wdj03 said...

By no means am I one to defend JG. Even when things were humming along nicely in '07, I wasn't really thrilled with his love of the big pass. I completely agree with you about his panicky trend.

But in the interest of fairness, I am curious as to how the numbers look if you account for the play calls & formations on plays that got erased by penalties.

For instance, how many times did he call run on 1st & 10 out of the 12 or 22, then have a holding penalty force him to call a pass out of the S11 on 1st and 20?

The formations & plays on record look very shotgun/pass happy, but his initial formations & plays under normal down/distance may be a little more balanced.

Does that make sense?

wdj03 said...

Two other things..

Where did the "pass-action" draw play go? With the success of the bubble-screen to Ogletree last week, you know that GB would've bitten hard on that.

The first thing I notice about the list of run plays with Free is that most of them are to the center or right. If a guy on the right is injured, don't just stop running completely, run to the left.

Jay Beerley said...

History is not on my side here, but there's a chance that maybe this could be the "lesson learned" game and things work out better from here. At least the loss and lesson learned game was not a division opponent. We still have the lead in the division. All is not lost. Let's just not see that again.

Aryhthmic said...

I still suspect that there are player issues at work. Marion Barber's re-injured thumb, Felix Jones's non snappy performances with knee brace, the inexplicable choice of not even trying to ride your healthy RB Choice. I also suspect that Gurode is playing below par due to injury.

Dom Capers did win the battle last sunday. I do note that Capers was said to be Garrett's choice for DC when he was interviewed for the Cowboys HC position.

There were a number of pass plays that were just that close to big strikes. Negated by inches, by penalties, by careless ball handling. I can see the temptation to get another one in. Though I also get the idea that the threat of the run may be more useful, strategically, than the actual result of the play.

Seth said...

Bottom line is that Garrett does NOT play fundamental football. His offense may work in college ball but in the pros it's about your big guys beating their big guys, establishing a running game, then taking your shot over the top with the play-action. There have been many wrinkles over time but it is always essentially the same, and always will be.

Hell even the Colts strive to establish a running game, and they have the great Peyton Manning. The fact is, if Peyton was in Garret's offense he would throw more ints and win less games. I'm actually starting to feel sorry for Romo.

Bottom line: I DO think Garrett is a very smart man and he MAY be genius, but even some geniuses are completely ignorant. We must-run-the-ball!