Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Decoding Garrett - Week 14 - Steelers

There was a pretty interesting stat that emerged from the Cowboys exciting win on Sunday that I think is worth mentioning before we move the Pittsburgh game completely aside.  It is the following:

Since 2004, there have been 5 times that the Steelers have lost a game while conceding 300 yards of passing to the opposing QB:

Sept 25, 2005 - New England 23, Pittsburgh 20 - Tom Brady 346 yards
December 9, 2007 - New England 34, Pittsburgh 13 - Brady 399 yards
November 11, 2010 - New England 39, Pittsburgh 26 - Brady 350 yards
January 8, 2012 - Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23 - Tim Tebow 316 yards
December 16, 2012 - Dallas 27, Pittsbugh 24 - Tony Romo 328 yards

In other words, it doesn't happen very often.

This was actually the 7th game this season where the Cowboys offense put up 400 yards of total offense, but it has been one of those years where the Cowboys have put up a very large amount of its production in games when they fall way behind and build up statistics that may or may not truly matter.

The Giants game in week 1 is thought of as the most efficient game this season in terms of productivity,  with an enormous 7.6 yards per play and 433 yards on just 57 snaps in a game where there was never a circumstance that would point to hollow yardage.  The top 2 performances in terms of yards per play were 2 of the last 3 games in which DeMarco Murray has been available again - 6.7 against a Philadelphia team that has offered no resistance whatsoever this season and 6.5 against a Pittsburgh team that builds its entire identify off its defense.

In fact, if you add in the 481 yards put up against the Baltimore Ravens, and you might see that the Cowboys showed themselves quite capable against the physical AFC North.  Wins against the Browns and Bengals, and offensive showings against the Ravens and Steelers - along with a 3-1 record (just a kick from 4-0) - tell us that the Cowboys may be a more physical team than we gave them credit for being.

There was a stat that floated out there on Sunday about the fact that DeMarco Murray has not eclipsed the 100 yard barrier since Week 1 in New York, and that is absolutely true.  If you have built your fantasy football team around him this year, I imagine your playoff run is already over.  But, it is tough to measure what his effect is on this offense from a standpoint of being capable of converting short yardage situations, picking up blitzes, being a receiver out of the backfield, and most importantly, selling play action.

Teams do not want to get beat for big yards against him, and that is why the linebackers stay home on the play fakes.  This allows for plenty more opportunities down the field - like the seam pass to Jason Witten for the touchdown on Sunday, and slants right past the ears of linebackers after a run fake.  That, and the fact that Murray has been good for 289 rushing and receiving yards in 3 games tells you that he is worth all of his hype.

Obviously, however, the Cowboys have discovered the hard way just how weak their offense looks when Murray is not available.  I don't believe Felix Jones is even a consideration for an extension in 2013, simply because the offense just cannot function with Jones or even Phillip Tanner behind him.  One major objective on draft day has to be to get another young RB or two in here to compete for the #2 job behind Murray.  To not plan for his next injury would be irresponsible, but given his style of running and his durability issues, the Cowboys must make it a priority to be covered the next time he cannot go for an extended period of time.

Other items worth mentioning included the idea that the Steelers were unable to generate many negative plays.  James Harrison certainly did a fine job on the Murray fumble in the red zone and the Romo naked boot leg that he sniffed out and destroyed, while Lawrence Timmons threw Tony Romo for a giant sack, but 3 plays out of 63 is a number you can live with after Geno Atkins alone had a half-dozen the week before.  I know the Steelers are not at the height of their defensive powers these days, but I think in a week where the Cowboys had to deal with the many exotic looks that a Dick LeBeau defense can provide, the fact that they seldom allowed a blitzer a free run at Romo is definitely worth pointing out.

The zone blitz requires the proper personnel, but to see Pittsburgh run it like they do really makes me wonder if the Cowboys could do more of that sort of thing with their defense.  The Steelers show that they are bringing 7 all of the time, but almost always have 2 or 3 dropping back in to passing lanes.  The one time they brought all 7 was on the 2nd and goal play in the 4th Quarter, right before the Murray TD run on 3rd and Goal.  They have almost no healthy cornerbacks and still are running a Cover 0 blitz on the goal-line.  I loved it, but couldn't tell if it was desperation or a great strategy.

But, through it all, I think most of us would have to say that the offensive line played about as well as you can expect them to.  In particular, Doug Free versus Lamarr Woodley was a match-up that did not result in any Steelers' highlights - perhaps because Woodley's health is not anywhere near where it should be, but take your victories any way you can get them.

One more offensive development worth raising is the contributions of Dwayne Harris, James Hanna, and Cole Beasley.  All 3 made plays in the passing game to help compensate for less Dez Bryant targets, and all 3 look very threatening as speedy threats.  I wish we would have seen more Hanna in 2012, but I understand that he must distinguish himself as a blocking threat if he wants to be used more.  That could simply require time and development in the offseason, because his wheels sure made linebackers look useless trying to run with him.  That is the type of mismatch issue that you would want to feature every week now that it has been shown off.

Let's check some of the numbers now-

Data from Week 14 vs Pittsburgh

Starting Field PositionD 32
1st Down Run-Pass7-26
2nd Down Avg Distance to Go7.26
2nd Down Run-Pass7-12
3rd Down Avg Distance to Go7.2
3rd Down Run-Pass6-5
3rd Down Conversions4-11, 36%

Lots and lots of passing from lots of formations.  This game was going to be on Tony Romo versus Dick LeBeau.  Could Romo move the team without throwing a pass into traffic?

He did very well.


Here are the passing charts to see what was being accomplished on Sunday.

Blue is a completion. Red is incomplete. Yellow is a touchdown, and Black is an interception. The passes are lines from where Romo released the pass to where the pass was caught. This shows you his release point and where he likes to throw when he slides in the pocket.

1st Half -

2nd Half -  many throws to the perimeter allow you to keep moving the ball without trying to throw through traffic constantly.  

Here is the throw chart for Miles Austin as he became the primary receiver with Dez Bryant nursing his left hand injury.  

Drive Starters - The 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. How committed is he to the run or pass when the team comes off the sideline? We track it each week here -

Wk 1-At New York: 9 Drives - 5 Run/4 Pass
Wk 2-At Seattle: 9 Drives - 3 Run/6 Pass
Wk 3-Tampa Bay: 13 Drives - 7 Run/6 Pass
Wk 4-Chicago: 11 Drives - 3 Run/8 Pass
Wk 5-At Baltimore: 10 Drives - 8 Run/2 Pass
Wk 6-At Carolina 10 Drives - 6 Run/4 Pass
Wk 7-New York: 14 Drives - 4 Run/10 Pass
Wk 8-At Atlanta: 9 Drives - 4 Run/5 Pass
Wk 9-At Philadelphia: 10 Drives - 6 Run/4 Pass
Wk 10-Cleveland: 13 Drives - 5 Run/8 Pass
Wk 11-Washington: 12 Drives - 3 Run/9 Pass
Wk 12-Philadelphia: 8 Drives - 5 Run/3 Pass
Wk 13-Cincinnati: 10 Drives - 5 Run/5 Pass
Wk 14-Pittsburgh: 12 Drives - 4 Run/8 Pass
Season: 150 Drives* 68 Run/82 Pass - 45% Run

* This statistic doesn't count the 1-play kneel down drives (there are 6 so far this year).

2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run/102 Pass 44% Run

This picture below shows familiar target Lawrence Vickers trying to catch a ball with the sun in his eyes.  In a stadium that is indoors, but with windows facing the west.  Amazing job by the designers of the stadium to feature direct sunlight on a football field.  There are no do-overs on billion dollar stadiums.


Shotgun snaps are fine on 3rd Down and in the 2 minute drill. But, we track this stat from week to week to make sure the Cowboys aren't getting too lazy in using it. They are not efficient enough to run it as their base, and with a 15%/85% run/pass split across the league, there is no way the defense respects your running game. When shotgun totals are high, the Cowboys are generally behind, scared of their offensive line, or frustrated. High Shotgun numbers are not this team's calling card for success.

Wk 1 - at NYG: 15/54 27.7%
Wk 2 - at Sea: 29/56 52%
Wk 3 - TB: 34/63 54%
Wk 4 - Chi: 50/68 74%
Wk 5 - at Balt: 19/79 24%
Wk 6 - at Car: 22/64 34%
Wk 7 - NYG: 48/83 58%
Wk 8 - at Atl:  29/54  54%
Wk 9 - at Phil: 17/54 31%
Wk 10 - Cle: 52/76 68%
Wk 11 - Wash: 62/75 83%
Wk 12 - Phil: 24/62  38%
Wk 13 - Cin: 43/70  61%
Wk 14 - Pit: 35/63  55%

2012 Season Total: 489/921 53%

2011 Total - 445/1012 43.9%

Here is the breakdown by groupings:

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.

Totals by Personnel Groups:

PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass

* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.

Last week, the Cowboys tried 27 different plays from "under center" formations.  And those 27 plays yielded a pathetic 62 yards.  This leads many of us to the conclusion that shotgun is there only hope.  But, look at how great it worked this week from under center - 28 plays for 169 yards.

They did not abandon their balanced looks and they found many more yards on the same number of snaps.  They should be congratulated for figuring that out.

Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:


Romo had a very efficient day under duress at times, but the Cowboys refused to scrap their offensive game-plan.  They worked down the field with a number of formations and produced one of their finest offensive performances.  Just a week after a very poor day in Cincinnati that they figured out how to win in the end, we shouldn't assume that they have turned a corner.

However, with more weapons and a player like Dez Bryant who is still coming up with Touchdowns, there is reason to believe that if they need 28-35 points to deal with New Orleans this week, they just might be able to find them.

Maybe, just in the nick of time, this offense is starting to gain some traction.

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