Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Football 301: Decoding Garrett - Minnesota

Well, so much for the idea that Jason Garrett had become a bit of a "puppet master" with the rest of the NFL. Every hot streak eventually cools, and while sometimes it might be self-inflicted, the end of this hot streak was surely forced by the physical superiority of the Minnesota Vikings front.

There is no other way to explain the destruction of the Cowboys offense. 246 yards and 3 points both were season lows. And when you consider the Cowboys had 138 yards in their first 3 drives, it is clear how things went from bad to worse; The exit of Flozell Adams from the game meant that the Boys could only account for 108 yards on their final 10 drives.

Not a misprint.

108 yards on their final 10 drives.

But, despite that, I have received many missives from the masses that report to me that they really liked what Doug Free brought to the table and that they are ready to move on from the Flozell Adams era. 40 plays for 108 yards and that is considered a success because Jared Allen didn't get 4 sacks? I think we may have to amend our player grades. Please don't confuse what I am saying - I am not suggesting Free was horrid. But, I am saying that because he needed help with some max protection (you will see on the video that he constantly had a TE next to him), and because Jason Garrett and Tony Romo would not attempt certain things in the playbook since Adams was missing - we might need to curb our enthusiasm just a tad about the arrival of the new Left Tackle.

This is not to say that Flozell and the starting crew had things all figured out in the first 3 drives, because they did not. But, things went from bad to worse when big #76 was unable to return.

Another thing I found quite interesting was the pregame concession that the Cowboys made to the Vikings on 3rd or 4th and short scenarios. I do not necessarily blame them, but because of who the Vikings have, and the lack of success we saw in short yardage against the Chargers and Redskins in December, the Cowboys were pretty sure they had no chance to run the ball to gain 36 inches at the Metrodome.

I hate to say I had this called in Week 15, but I did:

It is certainly not difficult to imagine the trouble that can cause down the road. If you combine that with a kicking situation that is less than rock-solid, you can understand the ice the Cowboys stand on is exceedingly thin. Think about it: The Cowboys are in a crucial game with huge stakes (every game from here until the Super Bowl would qualify as a crucial game with high stakes) and they face a 4th and half of a yard from the opponents 31 yard line. Do you trust the kicker to make a 49 yarder? No. Do you trust your OL and RB to be able to ge that last 18 inches? How could you after the issues against the Chargers and Redskins in the last few weeks? The quandary is there for all to see.

Holy Cow! The only thing that was wrong was I had it at the 31 yard line instead of the 30. Anyway, 3 times in the early going, the Cowboys had to decide what to do in short yardage.

Offensive Play #3 - 3/1/D37 - Cowboys try pitch left to Austin +8, FD
Offensive Play #6 - 3/1/O46 - Cowboys go S11, Pass to Crayton +12, FD
Offensive Play #16 - 4/1/O30 - Cowboys refuse 4/1, miss 48 yard FG

3 chances to demonstrate you can run on the Vikings, and due to past performance and the Vikings film, the Cowboys realize they shouldn't even try it. A concession made to the Vikings spoke volumes. Stunning news for those of us who fancied the Cowboys a true power run team. Sure, they are all about power on 2nd and 8, but a true power team is unstoppable in short yardage. And, the Cowboys may still be alive if they could simply get a yard. We will never know.

And, then the true indictment of the Offensive Line; 6 sacks of Tony Romo. Romo was running for his life, and because of that, I honestly felt that it was next to impossible to evaluate him fairly. There were elements of Romo's game I didn't care for - not the least of which was the appearance that he became far more interested in the pass rush than his receivers - but I was left wondering which QB in pro football would have found success under those circumstances. I would argue that there likely wouldn't have been one.

We will show you in Football 301 each sack, and I think you will see that this was not a 1-on-1 loss that led to the sack; but, rather this was a full and complete overwhelming of the entire OL. There were plays where you see 3 and sometimes 4 of the Vikings front 4 beating their blocks. Even worse, it became such a siege that even the Vikings back-ups Robison and Kennedy were routinely running free at Romo.

A complete and total OL meltdown. And on the heels of the 2007 and 2008 finales where the OL also failed, I am inclined to suggest that the Cowboys need to strongly consider alternatives in the OL in 2010. We can debate Doug Free or Cory Proctor, but the team really needs to figure out a way to upgrade this unit since the last 3 seasons they were undone by this group, despite relative health each time.

Here is the breakdown by groupings:

Totals by Personnel Groups:
PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass

Table Tutorial

Definition of the Personnel Groups, click here .

One last things about the sacks before we dive into the videos; all 6 sacks were in the shotgun. And, now that we have all of the data we need, we see the results in 2008 and 2009 are similar in this fashion - Shotgun sets are not what this team does best.

Shawn, who helps collate our data, sent me this:


18 Games

12: 193-1291, 6.69, 5 TD, 1 INT
21: 111-651, 5.87, 4 TD, 1 INT
22: 201-1168, 5.81, 9 TD 0 INT

The very popular and explosive formation of choice?

S11: 340-2038, 5.99, 13 TD, 8 INT

So, if we are to critique the Cowboys offense, we see quite clearly, this team is not good in short yardage, not very good in shotgun and 3 WR, and awfully strong in everything else.

When the Cowboys were balanced, under center, and mixing things up, they marched up and down the field all season long. But, when they became 1-dimensional, they couldn't execute. More research coming, including an effort to figure out why they are so easily sacked in the shotgun, and how many of the sacks allowed were in that set-up.

I know we generally focus on the positive plays on our video breakdowns, but A) we don't have much to choose from since the Cowboys had 1 play over 20 yards and B) the result of the game begs for us to take our knowledge of what we learned and try to see why bad things happened in this playoff exit.

Video Breakdowns:

Thanks, Brian at DC . He has done a ton for this project this season, and deserves your occasional visit to his site.


The Play:1Q - 1/10/33 - Jones +8 13

What Happened: 2nd Drive of the game, the Cowboys are determined to run the football. 13 personnel, and if you can't run up the gut with great success, set them up and then bounce it outside. What I liked here was once again the pulling ability of Big Len, as 70 Davis gets out in space and then tosses 52 Greenway 3 yards in the air. Joe Buck gives Greenway credit for the tackle, but I assume that was news to Chad. Effective run that shows the Cowboys can get to the edge against the Vikings. The fake that Phillips helps sell up the middle is what freezes the linebackers and makes them commit inside. I might wonder why this was tried very few times.


The Play: 1/10/50 Screen to Jones +11

What Happened: 2 plays later, 12 personnel, and another 1st down, where the Cowboys have double WR to the left. This overloads the defense and occupies them in a way that vacates the flat for Jones to get a release that appears uncovered. Once he gets into space, we again see the ability for Felix to make a guy miss. A few of my coaching buddies asked me why we didn't see more of the Cowboys screen game, as the surely had to feel that with the Vikings ears pinned back all day, they would certainly be susceptible to the screen. However, this was the lone success in that department.


The Play: 2Q - 22 1/10/26 - Pass to Bennett +16

What Happened: OK, the last positive play from the game, a spot where the Cowboys seemed poised to tie the game. "22" Which puts the Vikings in a run state of mind. Then, you get the deep safety, so essentially, we have 51 Leber trying to decide who he wants to focus on. The deeper 80 Bennett or the shallow 34 Anderson. Romo waits for Leber to declare, and then throws it to the other one. Easy execution and a safe throw. We certainly have to wonder why this wasn't run throughout the season more. Especially on 1st down against "22" teams are putting so many in the box that you would think that this would have been easy pickings for Martellus Bennett and Tony Romo. Alas, Bennett finished the year with 159 yards. If it wasn't for Roy Williams, Marty B would have been for more frustrating for Cowboys fans.

The Play: 3Q - 1/10/24 - Toss to Barber -6

What Happened: Down 17-3, this could possibly be the last nail in the coffin for the Cowboys. They are driving into the deep end of the field, and if they can get a Touchdown here, they will be right back in the game. Now, a few things about what we are looking at here. This is that exact same "22" naked pitch that worked so well in Week 17 and Week 1 - both times going for touchdowns. Watch all 3 plays - they are identical. And each time, the only thing the RB has to do is beat the DE to the edge. He is by himself. It is a naked run, and all of the blockers are selling the play to the opposite side of the field. If he beats the DE to the edge, he may go for a Touchdown - but credit Ray Edwards for his film study. He saw this 2 weeks ago, and he wasn't falling for it. Also, watch Romo in presnap. For 3 days now, everybody has blamed Jason Garrett for the puzzling decision to call that play for Barber, when it is clear that Felix is much quicker and makes more sense for this play. But, I think Romo checked into the play at the line. If he did audible, as I think he did, Garrett is getting blamed for Romo's bet that Barber can beat Edwards to the corner. Big mistake. Drive killer, and game killer. The Cowboys never had a chance after this.


The Play: 3/10/20 - INT Leber

What Happened: Here is the Romo Interception that demonstrated how out of sorts he was. He had to double pump his throw and then he made a throw he absolutely should not have thrown. But, this is the game in a nut-shell. Cowboys are in max protect, but because Colombo cannot stay in front of Edwards, Romo must step up into Jimmy Kennedy to keep from getting mauled by 91 again. Then. the other thing I want you to see is the odd design of 11 Williams' route. What is Roy supposed to be doing on this route? He attracts nobody, he is not considered for the throw, and it seems like the Cowboys are playing shorthanded with him. This is where his performance hurts the most. 2 or 3 players only in a route, they must all be threats or you have no chance. On this play, Romo has 1 guy in route that is an option 84 Crayton. When he is not open, he either eats another sack or tries to force in the ball. 82 Witten and 23 Choice cannot even consider sliding out into a route. What a mess.

Below, I also want to show you the 6 sacks from Sunday. Usually, these are in a different post, but I wanted to put them here, too, because they were the story of the game. The complete collapse of the pass protections.

Sack #1 - 1Q - 3/14/38 S11 - Edwards

What Happened: This is the end of the 1st drive. On this particular sack, I might blame Romo for trying to wait too long. Easy for me to say, but I think you have to get the ball to Choice in the left flat here and hope he can get you some FG position. But, he tries to stay alive, and the DL closes out on him. Kosier, Adams, and Colombo hold up pretty well here, but Davis gets beat badly by Robison, and Romo must step up quickly. Once he does, Edwards gets off Colombo and hits Romo. The start of the ambush.


Sack #2 - 2Q - 2/G/8 -S02 - Edwards/Williams

What Happened: Shotgun Empty? Again? How many sacks do we have to give up in Shotgun-Empty before we stop running that package altogether? Anyway, both tackles get beat, and the play is doomed. This is 2nd and goal and the score is just 7-0. The Cowboys execute here, I am sure the game is way different. Instead, they can protect neither flank, and are over-run with no RB protection. This, just 1 play after wasting 1st and Goal with the Wildcat. Talk about not taking advantage of your rare opportunity. This will also be Flozell's 2nd to last play. 3 possessions, all go fairly deep into Minnesota territory = 3 points. Then, your Left Tackle is gone. Church.


Sack #3 - 2/11/28 - Sack Allen

What Happened: Here, Witten is in his stance late and Jared Allen blows around the corner on him in a real mismatch. How this 1-on-1 happens is a fair question as it sure seems that Doug Free isn't quite sure where he is supposed to be. Also, note the twist stunt on the other side has 96 Robison coming free up the gut. If Allen doesn't get there, Robison would 1-count later. The route is on.


Sack #4 - 1/10/46 - Edwards Sack last play of half

What Happened: This might be exhibit A as to why you still need Flozell Adams. Just watch Doug Free on this play as Jared Allen puts him on roller skates and look where 68 Free Ends up. Sure, Edwards makes the eventual sack, but this is what Free's issue seems. So susceptable to the bull rush, and at Left Tackle, you better believe they will test your strength on a regular basis. You must be able to drop your anchor. He is quick, but is he strong? Not enough.


Sack #5 - 3Q - 3/14/28 Sack Greenway S12

What Happened: I want to say this before we break down this play: For my money, Marc Colombo may have been the best member of the OL all season. But, boy, did he struggle. I think he is still injured. This time, 52 Greenway gets the sack, but the play is destroyed again by 91 Edwards, who decides to change things up (perhaps just to keep from being monotonous) and dives inside. Colombo has no chance again, and from there, chaos ensues, and Greenway gets a sack.


Sack #6 - 4Q - 3/4/47 SACK Kennedy/Williams

What Happened: Minnesota is just toying with the Cowboys by here. 93 Williams fakes he is about to drop into coverage, and then the Cowboys block others. His pause leaves nobody accounting for him, so he then sprints right up the gut and has Romo dead to rights. Jimmy Kennedy cleans up, but again, so many breakdowns on the OL mean that players get the sack, but did not do the work to earn it.

It is over, but boy, what a mess!


Past Episodes:
Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles
Week 17 - Philadelphia Eagles
Week 16 - Washington Redskins
Week 15 - New Orleans Saints
Week 14 - San Diego Chargers
Week 13 - New York Giants
Week 12 - Oakland Raiders
Week 11 - Washington Redskins
Week 10 - Green Bay Packers
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


Anonymous said...


The Decoding Garret blogs have been great all year, and have increased my football IQ tremendously. Although, my friends all stare strangely at me now when I say "They're lined up in S11 package". Thanks!

P1 The JP

Ben said...

Probably to echo the statements of others, but thanks Bob for your phenominal coverage of the Cowboys this season, and everyone else who provided you with stats and videos. It really gave us a unique perspective. Not to get to ahead of myself, but what are the future plans for this site? Not that you don't deserve some well deserved time off from your daily hobby.

Big Jim said...

Bobster, let me add my thanks for your great work all year. It has been illuminating.

You are exactly correct about the epicenter of this earthquake - the offensive line. And if you check history, I believe you will find that the Cowboys' GM has always spent less on the OL than on any other group. However, the owner is slow to accept that the GM is a problem, so I look for Hudson Houck to be on the street soon.