I am, by just about every definition, a bit abnormal. Very few people out there would find great joy in charting Dallas Cowboys football games by personnel group and formation. But, for some reason, I like to look for interesting little quirks to a Cowboys game plan like senior citizens like to search for shark teeth on the beaches in Florida. I like to try to figure out what the Cowboys were looking at in their coaches meetings and what their conclusions were.
So, when the Cowboys did something on Sunday that was so unlike anything I have seen from the Cowboys in the 4 seasons Jason Garrett has been with the team, the idea stuck out like a sore thumb.
Did you see it? Did anything seem different to you?
Here it is. The picture you see below is a formation that the Cowboys have used during 2 plays this year, 8 plays in 2009, 7 plays in 2008, and 0 plays in 2007 according to my trusty notebook.
But on Sunday, the Cowboys rolled it out 11 different times in 1 game. So, 17 plays in Jason Garrett's first 59 games in charge, and then 11 times in Game #60.
It is called "S02". The formation is called that because "S" means Shotgun and "02" means 0 RBs and 2 TEs. That, of course, means 3 WRs complete the personnel grouping on these plays. Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Dez Bryant all on the field at the same time.
So, why did they break out this new wrinkle in this non-conference game? Because, I submit to you that like most of the wrinkles Jason Garrett has rolled out this season, it was designed to help protect the QB. The Colts have 2 edge rushers that do not allow normal protection considerations. if you are playing Houston or Chicago or Washington, you must deal with an elite pass rusher in Mario Williams, Julius Peppers, or Brian Orakpo, but not 2 elite rushers. You simply stick a TE over to that side and in most cases you can slide protection to that side and be fortified against the pass rush.
But, against the Colts, both of your tackles needed help. But, you cannot simply run 2 TE formations and expect results when you roll out S02 and your average yards to go was 11.6 on each of those 11 snaps. When you need big yardage, you don't want 2 TEs and a RB on the field - as that would only allow for 2 WRs to work against a nickel defense which says each WR would have a safety over the top for double coverage. You want to be able to double Freeney, double Mathis, and cause issues down the field in the secondary.
Bennett and Witten are not lined up next to the tackles, but rather a step back to "widen the edge" so that Freeney and Mathis would have to go further around the corner. Then, as you show it often enough, you can run Witten and Bennett out in route and the defense still has to account for them in coverage. Bennett and Witten act as "jokers" in pre snap (a joker is a player on offense that could be protecting or in route - on defense a joker is a player that could be rushing or dropping) and can do so many things from that spot on the field.
And that is why "S02" was so strong. To help Jon Kitna with protection and to help him again with targets. To hear some talk, Jon Kitna was doing great work that Tony Romo was not doing when he was healthy. The reality is that Kitna threw for only 167 yards and a net of 151 on Sunday.
And those 11 snaps in "S02" accounted for 103 of the yardage through the air and another 28 yards on 2 Kitna scrambles. Which means that Kitna threw for about 48 yards in all other situations COMBINED on Sunday. Hardly a day to make you forget your starter. Nevertheless, give Garrett and Kitna big credit for hitting on something to get them just enough yards to stay in the game.
Innovation that is not going to be needed or helpful against most teams, but the Cowboys ran this group more times in 1 game than it pretty much had over the course of the Garrett era in Dallas. That is called coaching up your team. I really am encouraged by this.
The other obvious noteworthy element of the game plan and execution is the success of the ground game. This allows you to keep feeding the rock, control the clock, and keep your OL from having to pass protect against those beasts Freeney and Mathis.
Wk 1: 33
Wk 2: 33
Wk 3: 22
Wk 4: 37
Wk 5: 18
Wk 6: 37
Wk 7: 51
Wk 8: 36
----------------Wade Phillips Fired---------------
Wk 9: 12
Wk 10: 14
Wk 11: 33
Wk 12: 20
Here is the Data from Win #4:
It should come as no surprise that the shorter distance you have to go on 3rd Down, the more elaborate you can get in your play selection and the more off-balance you can make the defense. So, when you see the Cowboys had a shockingly low "4.4" yards to go on 3rd Down - which is easily their lowest average yards to go the whole season, you can better understand how they were able to convert 8 of 15. Keep the distance manageable, they say, and you can do so much more. And the Cowboys did on Sunday.
|1st Down Run-Pass||22-10|
|2nd Down Avg Distance to Go||7.81|
|2nd Down Run-Pass||17-10|
|3rd Down Avg Distance to Go||4.4|
|3rd Down Run-Pass||7-8|
|3rd Down Conversions||8-15, 53%|
Oh, Jason, you little devil. How do we explain this? When he took the job after 8 weeks, the Cowboys were 44% run on drive starting plays - the play that sets the tone for your offense on a given drive. Now, since taking over as head coach, the Cowboys have moved to 63% run on drive starters. This is surely no coincidence, right? Yes, you want to protect your backup QB and take the game out of his hands more, but to me, this is a simple case of Jason Garrett making sure this team commits to physical football. And I love 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
Wk 10-Detroit: 11 Drives - 6 Run/5 Pass
Wk 11-New Orleans: 12 Drives - 5 Run/7 Pass
Wk 12-Indianapolis: 11 Drives - 10 Run/1 Pass
67 Run/65 Pass
Here is the breakdown by groupings:
Note the success of "S02":
Totals by Personnel Groups:
"22" personnel (2 RB, 2 TE) was 3 for 3 on 3rd Down Conversions.
Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:
Make sure you check out the video supplement that will be posted a bit later today.
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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