Thursday, September 16, 2010

Special Teams and EMails!

One cool thing about doing this blog is that I can launch research projects simply because I think it might be of interest to the most serious of Cowboys fan. It is time consuming, but when watching a Wednesday Night Rangers game, I like to have a side research project.

I wanted to look at the Special Teams to open the season and check the 4 most crucial groups and see where the overlap is and see what type of player they put on each team.

It is commonly thought throughout the league that special teams are usually the most terrifying to coaching staffs in September. The reasons are obvious if you think about it:

1) - The Special Teams are generally comprised of young players at the bottom of your roster.
2) - These young players were usually such good players at their Universities that they seldom ran special teams there.
3) - There is no way to replicate "game conditions" at training camp.

So, with a lot of help from my DVR, my friend Doug, and my notebook, I tried to put together a chart that would show who was running with what unit. Keep in mind that this is quite unofficial as nobody keeps track of this officially. As a brief aside, isn't that amazing? Every stat in the world is kept in every sport by now, but you are telling me that this shouldn't be somewhere in the game book? The NHL keeps record of every player on the ice for each second. They can break down the chaos of a 60 minute hockey game by each player for each second, and the NFL cannot track which players play on the coverage units? This needs to change.

Anyway, below, you will see that the 4 squads have 6 players in common: Sean Lee (Rookie), Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (Rookie), Danny McCray (Rookie), Victor Butler (2nd year), Michael Hamlin (2nd year), and Sam Hurd (5th year). When you consider that Michael Hamlin played no games his rookie year, you see why the coaches fear special teams in September.

KickoffKickoff ReturnPuntPunt Return

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Of slightly less interest to most of you will be this chart below that will track through the season the Cowboys game-day inactives. 53 players on your roster, but only 45 can dress for the game; 46 if you count the 3rd emergency QB. The 7 spots for inactives generally becomes a place to hide your injured players as the season goes on, but I like to have this as a reference tool to see how many players the Cowboys take to the game at each position. The above chart of special team players and the below chart of inactives are closely related. On Saturday, the coaches will meet and discuss who they need to dress to fill those very important special teams and spots on your roster. You have to plan as if a player like DeMarcus Ware or Doug Free gets hurt on the 1st play of the game. Then, how are we going to handle that? A staff must plan for all scenarios, so being short at a position is their worst nightmare.

Cowboys Inactives

Week12345678 (3rd QB)
Wk 1 @ WashB WilliamsK WilliamsB ChurchS YoungK KosierM ColomboS LissemoreS McGee

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OK, let's answer some email:

Mr. Sturm;

I truly enjoyed your article regarding "Decoding Jason Garrett's Offense." However, I have one very important question. Do you think that it is possible that you are providing TOO MUCH information that could benefit opposing teams? I know that sounds ridiculous considering that most coaches get paid enormous sums of money to analyze opposition to degrees of minutae that would make your article seem like a comic book, but I know for a fact that many coaches at the professional level do not truly know their opponents. Either because their information base is too limited, or because experiences skew the results, or simply because they cannot put the proverbial "two plus two equals four" they simply do not know. Believe me, as an amateur I have personal experience in revealing details to coaches of oppositional teams that I thought was blatantly obvious (and was shocked to realize that the coaches did not know such detail.)

Additionally, I am not certain that this team is as talented as the 1992, 1993 teams that could give away most of their plays to the opponents and still execute them with amazing success. (I hope that I am wrong on that part.) But I am worried that Dallas Cowboys opponents will glean more from your very professional analysis than you believe and thus aiding them in stopping (and Heaven forbid DEFEATING) my favorite team. Please consider such as you move forward in your articles… please.




John, I am flattered that you like what we do, but I would promise you with absolute certainty that while this material that we are doing may enlighten football fans, it is not 1% of information an opponent has when entering a game. It would be like an opposing army getting information that Fort Bragg is in North Carolina to help them take on the Allies in North Africa. Yes, it is information, but it isn't going to help them.

NFL Coaching Staffs are so advanced in their scouting and preparation that it would absolutely blow your mind. Yes, they do track personnel packages just like we do. Yes, they do look for run/pass tendencies, just like we do. But, from there, they go about 1,000 miles further down the road by things so advanced that they would be speaking some alien language to most of us.

So, while I know for a fact that some of the Cowboys brain trust is intrigued and amused at this project, I don't feel like they think we are giving away any secrets. As one of them said, there are no secrets in the NFL.



Hey Bob,

I think you do the best job of ANYONE in the area in breaking down games, especially on the offensive side of the ball. I’m sure you have blogged away on Cowboy points today, and will most certainly get into it on the show today. Ohhh, how I long for a Jason Garrett roast today. I know you have that ready to go…

Bob, I realize you get a ton of Cowboy related email, and you’re not soliciting P-1 opinion. Still, I must get some things off my chest. If you choose to delete this upon reading, I completely understand. Purpose served, regardless. Must…. Vent….

Sooooo we open with a fairly crisp drive which stalls – stalls because Red Genius decides it’s time to unveil the horizontal passing hour. Twice to a rookie who hasn’t taken a snap in live action as a pro and another to the Troy Hambrick of wideouts, Roy Williams. Who is Roy Williams going to elude in that situation? Your Bill Cartwright theory validated. Punt.

After three first downs, Dallas’ second drive nearly stalls when another bubble screen goes for a loss. Washington is flagged for unnecessary roughness, so the drive continues. Dallas moves to the Redskin twelve. Out rolls the Marion Barber option pass. Another lateral pass which results in OPI… drive ends on a missed FG.

I must stop there. You know how it went. Too many toys? Jason Garrett’s uncontrollable itch to tinker continues. Last year, you correctly pointed out their most effective formations, and how JG insists upon abandoning what should be his bread and butter, particularly in the red zone.

Why are they so dead set on Bryant being the punt returner? Again, maybe I am crazy here… but I do not recall the kid fielding a single punt in a game this August. Granted, just about all of the punts were difficult to field. I would take issue with the punt right before the half.

Prior to the disaster to end the first half, Washington punted from deep in their own territory. I believe the ball fell around midfield. I haven’t looked at it since it happened, so it is possible I am mistaken, but shouldn’t that punt be fielded on the fly… fair catch? I think we lost 18 yards there.

To revisit…. I know the best runner in Tennessee is Chris Johnson and he will get his touches. I understand the best runner in Atlanta is Michael Turner and he will get his. The top running back in Pittsburgh is Mendenhall. He is going to get work each and every week. I’m not sure if this is Garrett is running the Mike Martz attack, and he never got the memo that running backs are indeed on the field of play OR if this is a higher power insisting Marion Barber be so involved. Whatever.

The one word that comes to mind when describing the Cowboy offense: inefficient. Best runner, best receiver… doesn’t matter. The quality of player doesn’t necessarily determine the pecking order here. We have agendas everywhere. Throw to him, keep his head in it. Give him the rock, we don’t want him upset. Certainly NOT football first.

I cannot help but think what #84 could have done underneath for Tony Romo last night… or fielding punts. Trade the second most effective wideout on the roster a week before the season, HOPING two unprovens will step up. Once again, not even proven in exhibition games, these two kids.

I have so much more, but there isn’t enough time right now, sir. This club just looks terribly mismanaged, completely unprepared. I wouldn’t be so alarmed this early except for the fact Washington has the look of a really bad football team. And we all know what the rest of the schedule brings. Now, the Chicago Bears become a must-win game. Imagine it. Week two, must-win.

Maybe I am crazy. Talk to you later, Bob.

Scott S.
P1, Dallas



I hear you. There is no shortage of people wondering about the efficiency of the Cowboys offense. Does Jason Garrett have too many toys and is it too complicated to make sure he uses them all?

I do think in fairness to him, we should consider that the Cowboys have had a very good offense the last few years, and he has helped Tony Romo to develop into a near-star QB. We forget these things during a week after a Cowboys loss.

It has to get better than Week 1, but I am confident that it will - especially when he doesn't have to babysit his Offensive Line. That is why everybody should be hoping that Marc Colombo is actually right this time.

There are two numbers I want to watch closely on the offense this season. 1) How often does Witten stay in/go out. and 2) How many snaps do each of his 3 RBs get?

Well, here is your answer to the RB Question for this week:



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A couple notes here. There were 5 plays where there were no RBs on the field. Of Choice's 13 snaps, 11 were in the 3rd Down offense, and the other 2 were the WC22 play (Wildcat) and the 31 play where all 3 RBs were out there.

And then there was the newest wrinkle to the Jason Garrett offense that I saw in the opener: Felix Jones was the back for the entire final drive (aside from the last play which was Barber). That job was Tashard's for most of last year, and the reason Felix is appealing is that they lined him up in the slot several times as a WR. Yes, he is their version of Reggie Bush and Percy Harvin. Let's see if they can pull it off.

That new idea means more snaps for Felix Jones, but not too many more carries.


Cowboys just ran an S11, but both Felix Jones was lined up on the outside as a WR.

Technically, that's an S11, but shouldn't it be a S01?




I still call it S11, but in general, no. The reason is because formation does not dictate defensive personnel. They have to declare which 11 defenders are on the field by the subs, then they deploy based on how the offense deploys. This is important, but a sub-category of each personnel group.

Let me explain better as Mike is charting games by personnel package - something more of you might be interested in doing. In fact, I highly recommend you buy Pat Kirwan's new book that explains this and many more football strategy items in simple and wonderful detail.

Anyway, the Cowboys have a few players that each team that plays them will have to define. The more football evolves, the more we see that not all Running Backs are Running Backs. Not all Wide Receivers are Wide Receivers. Heck, not all Quarterbacks can be treated as just Quarterbacks. You cannot say we will cover all opposing RBs with our Linebackers, because what happens when that is Felix Jones? Marion Barber, maybe. But, Felix will run right by him. Then we have to have a safety on him - maybe even a cornerback.

So, I define him as a RB, but actual NFL teams have to decide amongst their coaches how they will do it.

But, to the greater question of why we track personnel groups, we should know the following:

Personnel packages dictate defensive personnel: After a play ends, the defensive coaches are watching the offensive sideline to see who is being put on the field. They see and then send out the appropriate counter package of their own. But, once both teams are in the huddle, the defense waits to see what formation the offense deploys in.

Once a formation is deployed, now the defensive players are on their own. The coaches can yell instructions, but in a loud stadium, it will be up to the 11 players on the field to recall what they have discussed all week for each scenario. Especially with pre-snap motion, there is just no time for much communication from the sideline. It is all on the field from the Middle Line Backer and the safeties calling out coverages that change up until the ball is snapped.

So, in summary: Personnel packages are on the coaches. But, if Felix Jones starts behind Romo and then goes in motion out to a WR spot near the sideline, then the defensive players better know from their work on Wednesday and Thursday what the appropriate adjustments will be. If they don't, then they will look unprepared and poorly coached.

Tomorrow: We Game Plan for the Chicago Bears.

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