Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Decoding Garrett: Felix Edition


If you talk to enough coaches, you will hear a recurring theme when they discuss trying to solve a problem. They will make a reel.

QB is making too many bad decisions? Let's make a reel of all of his throws from the last few weeks.

WR is saying he is always open? Let's make a reel of his routes.

Mario Williams is lining up all over the place? Let's make a reel of his last game.

What does that mean? That means whoever is in charge of the film room and editing things down for a coaching meeting and discussion needs to make a reel that will string several plays together so that they may find the answer to their problem and some insight to why it is or is not a major issue.

So, in this bye week, I assume the Cowboys coaches are doing this very same thing with one of their weapons, Felix Jones. Felix's biggest game this season was last week at Houston. He had 43 yards in 7 carries. Last year, he had 10 days that were better in 16 starts.

Those days were better because in many of them he hit "home runs". Explosive runs that change games. In our discussion of Felix's value (going back to draft day of 2008), many of us questioned the wisdom of taking him based on the real concern that he is not an "every down back" (133 carries at Arkansas in 2007) unlike Jonathan Stewart was at Oregon (280 carries his last year), Rashard Mendenhall was at Illinois (262), Chris Johnson was at East Carolina (236), or even Jamal Charles was at Texas (258).

That is the main reason why I didn't think he was what the Cowboys needed with 3 of those 4 players still on the board when the Cowboys picked.

But, the argument FOR Felix Jones from those who loved him was twofold: 1) He is an elite Kick Returner and 2) He is an elite "home run" hitter.

Both of those points have been proven at different times, but they are of course predicated on 2 things being true in 2010 and beyond - that he continues to be asked to return kicks (which he has not been so now we add emphasis to the other point) and - that he continues to hit home runs (which we haven't seen since January).

What is a home run? Let's go by the NFL definition of "explosive plays"; a carry of over 20 yards. He had 5 of those last season (and 3 receptions of 20+, too) so let's make a reel and figure out why he has 0 carries of 20 yards so far. We must force ourselves to look a bit deeper than the normal rhetoric of "They aren't giving him the ball". We have all 5 of his explosive runs from 2009. Let's see what we can see:

Video Breakdowns:
The Play: Explosive #1 - Week 2 vs Giants - 2/10/D16 - "22" personnel, Felix runs for 56 yards

What Happened:What do we see here? We see Felix is being used in a power run look. "22" is based on declaring run to the opposition. With a home run hitter, you know that the Giants are sitting run so you understand on several plays you are going to run right into the teeth of the defense. BUT, when you do break through the initial wall, Felix will find that next gear and be gone. Here is what I wrote about the play last September: Another "22" look, with Bennett off Right Tackle, and Witten in motion across to the left. Watch Witten's motion taking one safety out of the run defense, and now, the LBs sense that the play is going to the Cowboys strong side (right). Once again, #52 Boley gets caught up in the wash, and when Felix cuts back, Deon Anderson doesn't even have anyone to block. Then, Felix can easily get up on the Safety Phillips who takes a bad angle and is lost in space against someone of Jones' speed. 2 snaps later, they ran this same play with Jones, and it burst for another 15 yards. The "22" is interesting, because it seems like you always have plenty of blockers, and the RBs can run to daylight. I would expect that this is another way to utilize 2 TEs down the road.

The Play: Explosive #2 vs Carolina in Week 3 - "12" personnel, 2/6/50

What Happened: "12" Personnel, this time Felix sprints wide to the weakside and shows again that if he can find a sliver of space - he is gone. I don't mean to give away the hint to what this reel is telling us, but I think you will see that all 5 of these plays have 2 TE's on the field. 5 for 5 have Bennett and Witten on the field together. This forces the defense up into the box and to prepare for a run, but the crease is all they need. Again, the probability of this play working is low, but when it does, it is very damaging when you have a game breaker.


The Play: Explosive #3 vs Oakland on Thanksgiving - "22" in 1/10/O46

What Happened: This from The Game Review last Thanksgiving I hope you read these every week, because by now, we know the Cowboys favorite plays. We know what they do well because we saw this in Week 2, Week 5, and countless other times. This is their bread and butter play out of the "22". If you go back and watch the Thanksgiving game again, this is the play they ran at least 8 times from the "22". I think I remember someone calling it "Power 35", but regardless, we know it as Double TEs to the right, with Deon Anderson leading the play. Watch the LG 63 Kosier pull out and join Anderson in creating the seal to the outside. Then, watch the 2 TEs block toward the ball and create the inside seal. From there, Felix has a path that he bursts through and finds daylight like only he can. That burst can be the difference between a 5 yard game and a 46 yard gain, but it is all off their favorite play. Simms names 70 Davis and 65 Gurode for good inside blocking - and they were good, but I don't honestly see their role as being as important to this play unless they get blown up - although Davis does get 2 again. This is all about the TEs and the FB with the LG pulling.

The Play: Explosive #4 - Week 17 vs Philadelphia - 3Q 1/10/O49 22 - Jones 49 yard TD run

What Happened:From Decoding Garrett for that game - The masterpiece of the game. Since this is week 17, I am loving the fact that they ran this play one other time that I can remember - Week 1 against Tampa , scroll down and check the Barber TD run. It is a play out of Power personnel, where the play goes right, but the pitch goes left. Watch LG 63 Kosier pulling right and then the LBs follow him. Watch the two LBs in the middle of the play step left, and once they do, Felix is gone. Then, enjoy the Doug Free show, as he sprints down the field and almost keeps Felix behind him. I have never seen a right tackle run like that, but it is clear Doug Free was putting on a show there. WOW!

The Play:Explosive #5 - Wild Card vs Philadelphia - 3Q "22" - 1/10/27 - Jones +73 TD run

What Happened:The longest run in Cowboys Playoff history. From that week's Decoding Garrett: Here is where the Cowboys got their heavy "22" lifting done on Saturday night. 73 yards to Felix around right tackle. The very famous down (Bennett), down (Colombo), and around (Davis) play. So, if you ever hear football coaches talk about down, down, and around, this is what they are saying. The Eagles are extra excited here because they know what's coming. They are all going to shoot their gaps at the snap and plug this thing up. So, Felix bounces it outside Martellus Bennett and when Davis gets his seal, the last guy gets steamrolled. This is what they play for right here. Enough to make the film room get excited.


Things I noticed -

* - All 5 of his big runs last season were from "heavy" personnel packages - this is a contradiction to how they are using him this season in spread formations. He has only 6 carries in 3 games with 2 Tight Ends in 2010.

* - All 5 of his runs were at home - most explosive players are far more explosive on turf.

* - All 5 of his runs demonstrate his burst that Marion Barber and Tashard Choice do not possess.

* - Many of his explosives showed cutbacks and weak-side attacks rather than following the intended front-side of the play.

Now, remember, he had 116 runs last season and these are the biggest 5. We could also make a real of the 5 worst runs and tell a much different story, but that is the anatomy of a home run hitter. Whether you believe Felix Jones was worth the pick or not, the fact is he is here, and we see why he is here. He has special traits that must be utilized.

So, coaches - and you, the reader - what did this reel tell you? I am curious to read your comments.


Jay Beerley said...

Is it significant that all of those runs were at home? Is there a comfort level, change of play calling, better communication thing going on here? Pure coincidence?
That guy is great. Also shows why offense line health and continuity is important. And 2 tight ends who can block, obviously. Good stuff.

The Pants Down Explainer said...

Good stuff. I think the net is you last sentence:"He has special traits that must be utilized." Right-- but to be utilized, he needs to touch the ball. More. Thus, we end where we began.

Would LOVE to see similar analysis of Marion's run...I have a thesis that he is turning into Franco Harris... appears to me more interested in beating defenders to the corner/sideline...as opposed to squaring the shoulders and taking on tacklers in a "north/south" fashion. I'll submit the first run of the Houston game as Exhibit I.

David M said...

Great stuff Bob. Here's a thought to keep the baseball analogy going. A 'home run' is a 40yd+ run while a 20yd+ run is just a 'double'. Both valuable, but one is more of a game changer. Felix had 5 'home run's' in 116 carries last year while Marion had 0 in 214 carries. If it's not his burst or vision as your asterisk points 3 & 4 say, and point 1 says he's not getting the right play calls, then its on the coaches. Also, why spend that 1st rounder on a guy who only gets 15+ touches in the last 3 reg season games and playoffs. Are they that confident they can get there using him sparingly? Do they not also care about home field advantage where you point out he is much more explosive?

Shelby R. Gray said...

I've sent you a few comments on Felix so i'll just restate it here. I'm thrilled he's on the team, and I think touches will lead to other greate homeruns. But these are his 5 biggest home run hits out of 116. Let's say he had 30 runs > 20 last season. That's 17% of plays that are 'Homeruns'. Not a bad percentage at all, but what are you getting on the other 83% of plays?

Not someone who can grind out a whole game. Someone who isn't a great pass blocker, and really isn't incredible as a catch either.

These are what concern me, especially as I hear that we are moving toward him and away from Barber. Home runs are great, but we need singles and doubles on a regular basis too. I just don't know if Felix gives us that.

Brady said...

Couldn't agree more about the back-side cuts. That's been the most obvious strength for Jones when I watch him. He's so dangerous after his cut, and perhaps there's a bit of the change-of-pace syndrome going on here too. I don't buy into the idea of a change-of-pace back in the abstract, but I think if you happen to run against a (rare) team that doesn't rotate its D-linemen all that much, there can be a very real advantage to having a second back with a distinct style/speed. Interesting note about the two-TE sets. I don't know how to interpret that, except for the point you made about getting past the initial line of defense and then being gone. Seems that's been the key to Jones' big plays. There's got to be more to it that that, though, right?

Doctor Jones said...

It's hard to tell this season if that same "burst" is there. I keep hearing about how he's put on weight, well if that affects his burst than it really makes him useless and less the added weight allows him to be an every down back now.

K5 said...

Love the post - food for thought. I don't know why they don't use him more.

It would seem they could put together more f(e)lexible/creative packages with Felix on the field that would cause Defenses heartburn then they do now.

When Felix is in the line-up now Defenses can almost tee off on him.

But then again it might be because Barber is a better blocker and our O-line needs more help than we think idk

Roger Light, artist said...

Much of Garrets offense allows Romo to audible out of a run and into a pass and vice-versa. Bottom line is, if they were comfortable with Felix pass blocking more, he would be the starter and would get the bulk of the touches. They simply don't feel like they can risk Romo, i.e. the season, by having a big dose of Felix in the backfield.

Hopefully they see something to change their mind in this off week.