Play calling is one of those things that anybody who has ever played Madden thinks they can do. It is under-appreciated and under-rated. It sets a tone that is so important and yet so many people over-simplify the realities of what goes into a call.
Perhaps Jason Garrett has been over-thinking things this season. Perhaps he allowed a poor OL and a QB injury to dictate what he would try to do. Or, maybe in the last few weeks, his offense did not have a mentality where anything would have worked against Jacksonville or Green Bay. The team was not ready to fight so no play would have worked.
But, I sure liked what I saw in his first game as head coach.
Contrary to popular belief, Jason Garrett has been brilliant at times with his offense. In 2009, nobody ran the ball better than the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys put up over 6,000 yards and won 11 games in a season where their offense was not quite at the Saints level, but every other team in the league wanted to switch places with Dallas.
And then 2010 happened.
But, now, at 1-7, their new coach new they could not go on like this. They had to try to rediscover what worked in 2009, whether they had their QB or not.
So, it was back to under center. It was back to passing out of heavy personnel groups. Put 3 TEs on the field to force the Giants into a run posture, and then run vertical routes against off-balance defenders.
From Shawn, my fellow football nerd who helps collate the data for this posting:
Passing game success with Heavy Personnel:
12 Pass: 3-45 yards
13 Pass: 3-69 yards, TD
21 Pass: 5-103 yards. TD
11-217 yards, 2 TD's, 19.7 yards per attempt.
First time this year, the Cowboys threw the ball with 13 personnel.
Look at that! 11 passes out of packages where the defense is thinking 50/50 run/pass or even run-heavy. 2 TE and 3 TE packages where you are keeping them guessing at the snap. And pow, here comes a pass right at your gut for 32 to Martellus Bennett. This is the Cowboys offense I remember. Make sure you check out the video breakdowns this morning.
Most people are worried about Run/Pass ratio, and while I don't think it is completely irrelevant, I personally think it is more important to have a proper balance in your under center/shotgun splits. Personally, it has been my experience that more teams in the NFL run ineffective shotgun offense than you would believe. There are a few teams that have demonstrated the ability to be superb in their productivity in any down and distance out of the shotgun, but unless your QB is Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Drew Brees, then chances are you don't need to be in Shotgun in anything but normal shotgun situations.
What are normal situations? 2 minute drill and 3rd Down (and sadly, when you are behind by 21 at halftime). Otherwise? Unless you are trying to force the issue of a particular matchup or you are trying to get the opposition to flip to nickel or dime and then work that scenario, stay out of shotgun. It makes your team to easy to defend. It makes pass rushing easy. It makes coverage easy. It makes defense easy to see 3 WR, shotgun with no concern about a run save for the occasional shotgun draw which usually is not a high percentage play.
We must also understand that the Cowboys have had some scores in the last few weeks that have also called for shotgun. But, let's look at the shotgun snaps (regardless of run or pass) so far this season:
Wk 1: 33
Wk 2: 33
Wk 3: 22
Wk 4: 37
Wk 5: 18
Wk 6: 37
Wk 7: 51
Wk 8: 36
8 week average: 33.7 snaps per week out of shotgun
And then, Sunday in New York - Wk 9: 12
12 snaps out of shotgun. Now, that is going into their place and declaring a physical battle. And aside from a botched exchange, there were almost no occasions of a NY pass rush.
Again, it helps to have a lead, but the Cowboys generally don't need an excuse to play shotgun. They were in a decent spot in the game in Week 1 the entire game, and yet had the Shotgun for 33 snaps.
Why would a team run so much out of shotgun? They are scared of their Offensive Line. We have seen that in the first 8 weeks. Jason Garrett is now talking as a man who will not allow his OL to get away that easy. He is acting like he plans on challenging them each week by making them play a physical game. Make it a street fight. "I thought we played physically hard," Garrett said on Monday.
Let's look at the Data from the shocker at Giants Stadium:
|1st Down Run-Pass||13-11|
|2nd Down Avg Distance to Go||8.5|
|2nd Down Run-Pass||8-6|
|3rd Down Avg Distance to Go||8.36|
|3rd Down Run-Pass||5-6|
|3rd Down Conversions||3-11, 27%|
Drive Starters: I list these because many offensive NFL minds will tell you that you can see a lot from what the intent is of the OC by listing his first play of each drive. When the score is still in control, you have a chance to run the ball. The Cowboys had the chance to play with the lead a bit on Sunday, and therefore they were able to pound the ball a bit more and the defense had to respect it.
Wk 1-At Washington: 10 Drives - 6 Run/4Pass
Wk 2-Chicago: 10 Drives - 3 Run/7 Pass
Wk 3-At Houston: 8 Drives - 8 Run/0 Pass
Wk 4-Tennessee: 12 Drives - 5 Run/7 Pass
Wk 5-At Minnesota: 11 Drives - 7 Run/4 Pass
Wk 6-New York: 14 Drives - 3 Run/11 Pass
Wk 7-Jacksonville: 11 Drives - 3 Run/8 Pass
Wk 8-At Green Bay: 10 Drives - 3 Run/7 Pass
Wk 9-At New York: 12 Drives - 8 Run/4 Pass
46 Run/52 Pass
Here is the breakdown by groupings:
Totals by Personnel Groups:
Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:
These numbers are impressive. The question is, "Do they all look better because your QB was in the zone?" The answer is yes. Kitna can't do that every week. But, the premise is the same. Make your OL carry the physical battle and then other things become easier to do. It all starts up front.
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.
Bob Sturm is host of BaD Radio on The Ticket 1310 AM Mondays through Fridays at 12-3 p.m. He also hosts The Ticket's Cowboys pregame show. Follow Bob on Twitter at
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