We discussed at great length on Monday about the game plan of Rob Ryan that in some respects seemed sound and well conceived before the game began. Sometimes, what looks like a great idea on the chalkboard does not work on the field. The reasons for this discrepancy are multiple; sometimes the coaches are sabotaged by poor execution on the field by their players. Sometimes, the opposing coach anticipates your tactics and has a plan in place to make you look silly. Sometimes, it is both. On those days the scoreboard will usually indicate a result that will not require a long-term examination. When you lose 34-7, you can learn from the film study, but it won't be enjoyable.
And when a defensive game plan is so soundly defeated, that by the time your offense takes its 9th snap they are already behind 21-0, then you never truly know what Jason Garrett had planned for the Eagles. Whatever Garrett was going to try to exploit on that Eagles defense will never see the light of day due to the events of the 1st Quarter. The entire coaching process of building a sound strategy for his offensive unit was wasted because of the ambush the Eagles executed to perfection.
Week after week in the NFL, game plan meetings on Monday and Tuesday are worked out amongst the coaching staff with the players recovering from the last game. The players do come into the facility on Mondays - often for film and treatment - but it isn't a long day for them. Then, Tuesday, they have their mandated off day where the players can get away until open of business on Wednesday.
But, for a coaching staff, they are breaking down the opponent bright and early on Monday morning many times. By Tuesday, they have looked at the last 3 games (minimum) of the opponent closely, and now are discussing what they think they should try to do on Sunday against that foe. That very same day of the week that can be a day of leisure for the players can be one of the longest days of the week for the coaches. By the time they leave the building on Tuesday night, they must all be crystal clear on the plan to beat the Eagles or Seahawks, because when they show up in the morning, they must be able to confidently break down that plan to their troops in positional meetings.
The rest of the week is used to practice and study every detail about how they will deal with their opponent. They look at every scenario - 1st and 10, 2nd and long, 2nd and medium, 2nd and short, 3rd Down, 3rd and short, 2 minute drill, and goal-line offense. Hours in both the film room and on the practice field are spent going through any number of situations that could arise.
But then, you are down 21-0 in 8 offensive snaps. And all of your work, planning, and preparation goes right in the trash can. Garrett never was able to use what they had worked on. The Dallas Cowboys ran 49 offensive snaps on Sunday - easily the lowest total of the season - and were in their "2-minute drill/3rd Down" package for 38 of those snaps.
That package, known as "S11" in this space - Shotgun, 1 RB (Murray), 1 TE (Witten), and 3 WR (Bryant, Robinson, Austin) - took 78% of the snaps on Sunday as the Cowboys were forced to scrap everything they had worked on and simply were going to try to dig back into the game.
When you run 78% of your offense from 1 package, and 80% of your offense from shotgun, there are many effects felt all over the field - and they are almost all bad. First of all, you never put the least bit of uncertainty in the minds of your opponent. They never must respect the run or concern themselves with anything but coverage and pass rush. The Eagles must have spent all week looking at how Tony Fiammetta and the "21" personnel that so dominated the Rams was going to test their undersized defensive front. They must have looked at "12" and "22" and considered the run-blocking of Martellus Bennett on smaller linebackers and tried to counter with different ideas like bring a safety down to build up against a running attack that nearly put 300 yards on St Louis the week before.
But, in the game itself, Bennett and Fiammetta hardly saw the field. Fiammetta played 7 snaps (including 4 of the first 8) and Bennett played 9 snaps (including a game-altering pass route that turned into a costly turnover). Kevin Ogletree played 2 snaps and backup RB Phillip Tanner took 13 snaps as Murray needed to catch his breath on a few occasions.
But, beyond that, it was the same 11 players running the same approximately half-dozen plays for the entire night. 6-8 is the normal number of different plays a team installs for its 2-minute offense. Since Jason Garrett has been the offensive coordinator the Cowboys are exclusively in S11 for their 2-min drill. S11 is certainly the most-used package in his offense, but also has consistently been one of the more inefficient packages as the yards per attempt are painfully low. All the Eagles must do is "pin their ears back" and go get Romo. By the way, the Eagles didn't even have to blitz. Just 4 times in the game did the Eagles send more than their front 4. All that work in picking up blitzes that DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner had to prepare for were hardly even seen during the game.
According to our data that goes back every snap since 2008, Dallas has run the "S11" package over 35 times on 6 occasions. They are now 0-6 in those game (39 snaps vs Baltimore '08, 37 at Philadelphia '08, 37 at Green Bay '09, 36 vs New York Giants '10, 48 vs Jacksonville '10, and 38 at Philadelphia '11).
The reasons for the issues with the Cowboys 2-minute drill span this entire 4 season study. The unit has never been able to exploit defenses in the passing game with this strategy. Instead, Tony Romo has demonstrated a great ability to accumulate numbers and wins through the traditional "under-center" offense. His production in this regard is actually quite impressive and compares favorably to many of the best in the sport. However, what must frustrate Romo and Garrett to no end is the way that New England, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Green Bay, and many other teams have devoured the NFL in the shotgun/3WR offenses by spreading out a defense and isolating poor coverage players in space and simply picking them apart. This was the rationale behind assembling a cast of skill players but it has never materialized.
Again that showed on Sunday. The sling-it-around offense is not something they excel at. 38 snaps in S11 with some very talented players on the field, and yet in 34 pass attempts, they are only able to rack up 174 yards. 5.11 yards per attempt in the shotgun is nowhere close to acceptable. In fact, if you subtract the 1 big play from the results - the 70-yard pass to Laurent Robinson for the Touchdown in the 4th Quarter - then you simply get 3.15 yards per attempt for the other 33 plays. Beyond putrid.
At the heart of this issue remains protection issues and faith in the offensive line. In some ways, despite heavy personnel changes along the line (in 2008, the line was Adams, Kosier/Procter, Gurode, Davis, and Colombo), the offensive line has never been properly fixed. That, of course, is easier said than done. Building a sound offensive line that allows those elite offenses to do what they do is never a finished job and requires a front office to hit on many of their moves.
But, that continues to haunt this organization. Don't just look at the sack totals. Look at the play calling that attempts to prevent sacks by getting the ball out of Romo's hand. That issue is obvious every week in 2011, as Garrett and Romo are both still smarting from the broken collarbone of 2010 and the rib issue of 2011. Both do not want Romo to be out with an injury, so the offensive options are limited to plays that can keep Romo upright. This means throwing the ball in under 2 seconds. And that means that your deep threats never have time to get deep on their routes.
One crack in the foundation makes the whole house crumble.
Before you study the data below, I would recommend that if the numbers for the groupings are unfamiliar, that you spend some time reading a more expanded definition of the Personnel Groupings here.
Data from Week 5
We track this because Garrett wants a balanced offense. If you are in shotgun, you pass the ball about 85% of the time. So, too much shotgun means that you are getting away from the quest for balance. It also can mean that you have little faith in your OL and want your QB to have a chance. After the Week 7 demolition in Philadelphia, it can certainly suggest you were behind by 21 points in the blink of an eye.
Wk 1 - NYJ: 24/66
Wk 2 - SF: 32/66
Wk 3 - Wash: 27/62
Wk 4 - Det: 29/75
Wk 5 - NE 31/67
Wk 6 - StL 10/60
Wk 7 - Phi 39/49
Total - 192/444 43.2%
Here is the Game Data from Week 7:
|1st Down Run-Pass||6-14|
|2nd Down Avg Distance to Go||9.88|
|2nd Down Run-Pass||3-14|
|3rd Down Avg Distance to Go||8.60|
|3rd Down Run-Pass||1-9|
|3rd Down Conversions||3-10, 30%|
Drive Starters - 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. On Sunday, the Cowboys ran the ball because they were running the ball with great effectiveness:
Wk 1-At New York Jets: 13 Drives - 5 Run/8 Pass
Wk 2-At San Francisco: 10 Drives - 4 Run/6 Pass
Wk 3-Washington: 11 Drives - 5 Run/6 Pass
Wk 4-Detroit: 14 Drives - 7 Run/7 Pass
Wk 5-At New England: 11 Drives - 4 Run/7 Pass
Wk 6-St Louis: 11 Drives - 8 Run/3 Pass
Wk 9-At Philadelphia - 9 Drives - 2 Run/7 Pass
Total: 79 Drives - 35 Run/44 Pass 44% Run
Here is the breakdown by groupings:
As you can see, in a game like this last one, there isn't much anyone can learn. From a coaching staff to a fan who wants to study this stuff, the Eagles game is just a mess.
Totals by Personnel Groups:
Here, everything is the same, except we are only looking at 3rd and 4th Downs to see how they convert in the money situations. Again, the Cowboys conversion rate was simply not good enough.
Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:
The Rams game threw off our sample with great results in so many departments. Now, the Eagles game balances that out with bad numbers in pretty much every regard possible. One must imagine that neither game represents a 16 game reality. They are neither that good or that bad.
As they prepare for Seattle, I assume the Seahawks coaches will hardly even look at the Eagles/Cowboys film, either. But, it will be important for the Cowboys to get back to manageable down and distances and even more importantly, a manageable scoreboard. There isn't a coordinator in the world that can do what he wants to do when he is behind 21-0 8 snaps into the game.
Tomorrow, let's break down a few impact plays with discussions of X's and O's. And please email me at Sturm1310@aol.com if you have questions that I may clarify in an upcoming email blog.