Thursday, September 09, 2010

Thursday Cowboys E-Mail Bag

As seen

I am still trying to get a feel for my offerings on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis here at the DMN. I will be honest and say one of my biggest problems as a radio guy/blogger/sports dork is that my eyes are a bit bigger than my stomach when it comes to projects like this. Therefore, I need to force myself to be conservative early in the season in what I will try to deliver over the course of the next 20 or so weeks. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver so I will try to go in that direction.

With that in mind, here is what I am thinking will be my schedule (with most posts hitting your computer before 10 am each day:

Monday: "The Morning After" Column - 2,000 words of random observations straight from my notebook on that week's game.
Tuesday: Decoding Garrett
Wednesday: Digging Deeper - I plan on focusing on 1 particular match-up and as the title suggests, digging a little deeper. My initial plan is to find one of the opponent's elite players, and focus on how the Cowboys dealt with him throughout the game. Albert Haynesworth is a candidate this week, but so is Brian Orakpo. But, I am excited about this new feature that should have plenty of numbers and video for you to digest.
Thursday: Reset Day. I am thinking this will be interaction day. Answering your questions whether it be via email or a live chat.
Friday: Game Plan Friday - 2,000 more words of trying to sort through what the Cowboys main objectives and game plan thoughts should and could be heading into the game.

So, since this is Thursday, I wanted to go through this week's posts and find comments that needed further addressing:

Here are links to this week's entries and the comments below are mostly from there: Monday - Tashard Choice , Tuesday - Decoding Garrett Primer , and Wednesday - Analyzing the Schedule .

This is from Lee Blair on the Tashard Choice piece:

That was the biggest tub of Bull manure I've ever seen spilled on one table. He had to sit for a while to make that one up, and he should brush his teeth after spewing out that much crap. I thought I had heard every tale that could be told to justify Barber still being on the team and starting!

Special teams? You bring in another back and quit risking your best running back on special teams-because if he gets hurt, you are back to Felix and Barber- and that means no ground attack half of the time.

Your starting back shouldn't be in on third downs???? Why don't you just telegraph to the defense, "we're gonna pass, don't worry about the run"? Try telling Emmitt Smith he wasn't needed on third downs. He would have ripped your head off.

Whoever this guy is, he shouldn't be writing and dreaming this stuff up- because his imagination has gotten the better of him. Wow.

Lee, here are my thoughts: First, I think if you read the article a little more closely, you will see I think very highly of Choice and I believe he will likely be the featured back in 2011. But in 2010, he serves some very important other purposes. I need special teams to be good if this team is going anywhere. And unless you watch football from a purely fantasy football perspective, you surely realize that coverage units are vital. Hidden yardage is a real consequence to those who are not mindful of which 11 players are on punt coverage and kickoff coverage. One of these days, I will show you the probability of each yard line and how starting at a certain place makes you that much more likely to score a TD than 36 inches back. It is shocking.

But, I actually want to address something that I think many of us fall victim to in 2010 as we follow the NFL. There are many trends that are obvious and pointed out every week. One that is mentioned, but not spelled out is the role of the RB in 2010. You are right. Early in his career, Emmitt Smith was an every down back. He played on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. But that was the NFL almost 2 decades ago. Do you realize how things have changed since then? I was just watching the 1993 Cowboys season finale (The Emmitt Shoulder Game in the Meadowlands) and I charted the offense. Do you know that in 1993, the Cowboys had about 2 personnel groups on normal downs and distances? 12 and 21. The only real substitution Norv Turner employed was Moose for Scott Galbraith. That was it. They ran 0 plays from the shotgun the entire game. The Giants played pretty much the same 11 players on defense and the Cowboys played the same 12 players on offense.

Fast forward 17 seasons and the NFL is way different. There is so much specialization. Last season, the Cowboys opened their season up against Tampa Bay and ran the 1st 10 plays with substitutions after every play but one. Here are the packages from play 1 to play 10: 21, S01, 12, 12, 22, 12, S11, S12, 21, Wildcat. In doing that, the Cowboys put 16 different players on the field.

My point is that while you are right - Emmitt did play every down for a good portion of the Cowboys dynasty - things are different now. Look around the league. There is no RB who handles all 65 plays every Sunday for their team. Very few teams do not have a designated 3rd Down back. In fact, now, teams go to the draft looking for a specialized 3rd Down back (they used to just look for a RB. Now, they consider his pass protecting and pass catching as a priority).

One team is considering trying to ask their marquee back to do more. The Vikings never used Adrian Peterson on 3rd Downs because they had Chester Taylor. But, I believe the play is to roll him out more on 3rd Downs starting tonight in New Orleans, so we will see if that is something they really follow through on. But, the NFL has moved away from every down backs. Using Emmitt to compare against Barber or Choice is silly on many, many levels.

From The Real King on the Garrett study:

The Cowboys never run a 10? That's surprising, but interestingly enough, I've been reading this since you started it, and never thought of it before.

No. In 2009, with 1146 plays in my database from 16 games and 2 playoff games, there was not 1 single snap out of 10 personnel (1 RB, 0 TE, 4 WR) from the Cowboys. Why? When you have Jason Witten, you want your elite Tight End on the field in every situation. He is practically has WR skills and demands DB coverage so Garrett can flex him out and get even a better matchup than a slot WR because Witten often demands a bracket cover scheme with a LB underneath and a Safety over the top.

From BradO on Garrett:

I have really enjoyed your first two columns; thanks to the DMN for seeing the value in this. A couple of notes: 1) I think you may want to classify Gronkowski as a TE in order to do apples to apples for this year compared to last. 2) One of the first questions that comes to mind is sacks -- against what packages are they most and least likely, what is done to stop them, and what does that cost in terms of targets for Romo.

Thanks, Brad. We need to see how Gronkowski is deployed. I suspect we will see plenty of John Phillips role reprised, but we have to wait and see. If he is a pure blocker, then opponents will not substitute to account for him being a threat down the field. I expect the Cowboys to move him around plenty from F-Back, to H-Back, and to a traditional TE position. Let's look for this on Sunday, because it appears that several of the beat writers have been predicting that Deon Anderson could be out of the 45 on Sunday night. That would put quite a bit on Gronkowski's plate if the Cowboys plan on using "21" or "22". Personally, I think Anderson must play because "22" is a very important part of the Cowboys game plan in 2009. Maybe 2010 will be different.

As for tracking negative plays by package, I plan on doing that. I will tell you that Tony Romo threw 9 INTs last season, and 7 were from Shotgun. He was sacked 34 times last year, and 18 were in Shotgun. I don't want to tip my hand, but my general theme in doing this study the last 2 seasons is that the Cowboys are not as good at offense in the shotgun with the field spread as they think they are (or as their fans and media may think). The Colts, Patriots, and Saints are 3 teams that spread you out and pick you apart. The Cowboys seem to be much better as a passing team when there is a threat of a run when the ball is snapped.


Bob, just a quick question for you. Last year in the opening game against Tampa Bay the Cowboys used Roy Williams coming in motion and then he ran a seem route which he scored a TD i believe it was about a 65 yard TD pass. I can not remember them running that play again the entire year. Am I wrong about that? Can you tell me the formation on that play?

Sure. In fact, here is what I wrote in last season's week 1 "Decoding Garrett":

66 Yard TD to Roy Williams:

Here, we have Shotgun "12". Bennett is wide left, Witten is wide right. Tampa Bay puts corners on both Cowboys Tight Ends, I assume because they are lined up as the "widest receivers". Meanwhile, Crayton is in the slot by Witten on the right, Williams is in the slot on the left. In pre snap, Williams comes in motion over to the right side by Crayton, and now you have 2 "speed" WRs in the right slot, with nothing but LBs and Safeties to contend with. 82 and 80 run 10 yard routes and stop. Crayton drags across the field 5 yards downfield, and Williams runs right down the seam. You can see early on that Ronde Barber (#20 - who is lined up with Witten) sees this is very bad and tries to go help on Williams, but it is too late. Candy from babies here, and you can bet the Giants are really trying to figure out what they will do differently.

There. I kind of like going back and seeing what I had written about certain plays like that. Feel free to suggest others.


Finally, I put this together for my own notebook, but I thought I would share it with you; It is a chart of how the Cowboys Final 53 looks for the 4 seasons under Wade. It gives you an idea of what the guys in the War-Room are thinking when they have 80 bodies in training camp. These are the numbers they have to get to for the final cut-down by position. You will also note that when you add one in one place (a 3rd QB, a kick-off specialist) then you are short somewhere else. And somewhere else always seems to be someone on special teams.


Table Tutorial

2007: 26 Offense/24 Defense/3 Specialist
2008: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist
2009: 25 Offense/24 Defense/4 Specialist
2010: 25 Offense/25 Defense/3 Specialist

Sources: Archer 2008 , Archer 2007 , MacMahon 2009, and Archer 2010.

Game Plan Friday for the Redskins

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