The important thing to make sure we are doing when we examine a game plan every week is to NOT automatically assume that Jason Garrett and his staff got everything wrong when they lose and that Garrett conversely got everything right when they win. The fact is, I think Garrett has designed many nice opportunities for his offense in the first few weeks (which his offense did not properly execute), but this is surely a result oriented business. His success depends on design AND execution, and this week, we saw plenty of both.
In Week 3 against the Texans, the Cowboys offense made sense. And the specifics matched the ideas that we know the Cowboys have believed in for the last several years with Garrett and Tony Romo running this thing.
People always ask "what is the Cowboys identity?" The extremes on each end of the offensive spectrum are Nebraska's wishbone or Mouse Davis' run and shoot. Well, for me, the Cowboys offensive identity is based on the following objective: Mixing run and pass from a number of formations where the offense can do either and keep the opponent off balance.
What this simply means is to run from formations where the opponent immediately thinks pass. And to pass from run-first formations and groupings. This confuses and frustrates defenses and makes your job much easier. This is a league where there are hardly any pushovers, and it is not like college football where if you are Oklahoma or Texas you can tell your opponent your play and 7 out of 11 games your opponent is not good enough to stop it. In the NFL, deception is a main ingredient for success.
I received an email from my buddy Shawn (who helps me collate this data each week) about developments that we are starting to see in the Cowboys game-plan regarding running from pass looks and passing from run looks.
Running in S11 5-35 yards.
Passing from under center with 12 and 21 Personnel versus the Texans:
12: 7-102, TD, 14.57 yards per attempt
21: 4-53, TD, 13.25 yards per attempt.
Passing from under center with 12 and 21 Personnel for the season:
12: 22-176, 2 TD's, 8.0 yards per attempt
21: 14-152, TD, 10.86 per attempt
Obviously, the reason for this objective is simple: If you try to run from run-first looks, you face 8 and 9 men fronts. Against teams that have talent, this is a very difficult exercise. But, if you run Felix Jones from Shotgun 11 personnel, the defense is almost always in nickel (sometimes dime) and there are only 6 in the box. You do have fewer blockers, but a guy like Felix Jones has a lot more room to use his elusiveness.
Meanwhile, when you line up in "12", "21", or "22" looks, the defense knows they have to respect your running attack or you will ground and pound them on 1st and 2nd Down. Most defenses will automatically walk up a safety and play "single high" with the free safety but commit all other resources to stopping your power-run looks. This is why you need to throw passes out of these looks to back them off. And Sunday, the Cowboys did both as the numbers from Shawn reveal.
We all want balance in our offense, well here is some balance for you to consider:
|1st Down Run-Pass||14-12|
|2nd Down Avg Distance to Go||7.58|
|2nd Down Run-Pass||9-8|
|3rd Down Avg Distance to Go||6.81|
|3rd Down Run-Pass||3-8|
|3rd Down Conversions||4-11, 44%|
Balance on 1st and 2nd Down is almost too perfect to be an accident. Pat Kirwan was discussing "series starters" recently, about how you can tell the intent of an offense and an offensive coordinator by simply looking at what he does with his very first play of each drive. So, I ran the numbers in the Cowboys first 3 games by just using Play #1 of each drive:
At Washington, Week 1: 10 Drives - 6 Run/4Pass
Chicago, Week 2: 10 Drives - 7 Pass/3 Run
At Houston, Week 3: 8 Drives - 8 Run/0 Pass
That is a commitment to a ground game - and more importantly, a commitment to keeping the opposition honest, and not letting them "pin their ears back" and just rush Romo.
Here is the breakdown by groupings:
Totals by Personnel Groups:
Great data above to ponder. First, let's look at the different groups. Remember when we talk about the Cowboys need to simplify? Pick what you do well and do it more. And let's trim the fat out of the playbook. Well, the Cowboys did. Garrett only used 4 groups for most of the day. He ran "23" at the 1 yard line once - for Barber's TD run, but otherwise they pretty much stayed in 4 groups. That is perfect. Also, look at how awesome "12" can be. Perfect balance and both are productive. Then, notice more runs out of Shotgun - and I mean real runs, not a draw play on 3rd and 20. In the video breakdowns, I will show you the effectiveness out of a 1st and 10 run out of Shotgun. It is quite valuable.
Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:
For a more expanded definition of the Personnel Groups, click here.
Make sure you check use these numbers when you look at the video breakdowns that will be posted later today.