Sunday was a truly bizarre game to analyze for a number of different reasons - not the least of which is that the Cowboys hardly ever got to touch the ball in the first 3 quarters.
The Saints dominated the time of possession and thereby dictated the tempo and the feel of the game. In the first quarter alone, the Cowboys touched the ball for just 2:57, leaving the 12:03 to the Saints. In the 4th Quarter, it was another 11:05 for New Orleans and overall a difference 41:59 to 22:28.
One thing the Cowboys did have cooking was the big play to Dez Bryant. This quick strike kept them in a game in which their defense had to endure an absurd amount of snaps (91) and were surely drained. But, in the 1st half, the Cowboys connected on 2 long Touchdowns of 58 yards each to Dez that allowed them to stay alive. That now means that Tony Romo has hit on 3 passes this season of more than 40 yards and all 3 have been to Bryant (with the other happening on Thanksgiving Day).
The Romo to Bryant connection has become the savior of this offense as so much of the rest of the offense has been a roller coaster ride of inefficiency from week to week. Some weeks, the team cannot rush the ball. Some weeks, they cannot sustain drives. Some weeks, they cannot pass protect. And many weeks, they commit more penalties than they should.
But, from about week 5 on, the Bryant show has been phenomenal. When the season ends, we will have an in-depth study on which routes and coverages he has been most prolific in, but any observer already knows most of that from simply watching the games.
Unfortunately, this game got away partly because the throw and catch of the 3rd Down slant in the overtime with Dez was stopped by the Saints baiting and then knocking down this play. This reminds us of the Baltimore game when Bryant was so great but the inability to execute a better slant late in the game led to the long field goal that Dan Bailey missed back in Game #5 of the season so long ago. As good a day as Romo to Bryant had, if they could have moved the chains one more time in the overtime, chances are good the Saints would have conceded another drive. But, they got their rare stop, and almost like the late stages of a great NBA game, sometimes, all it takes is one stop to win a game.
And the Saints got one stop on an overtime slant to Bryant - caused a punt - and won the game.
Strategically, it was a familiar scene for the Cowboys offense. They have run more shotgun this season than ever before under Jason Garrett and have relied on Shotgun 11-Personnel week in and week out to jump start their offense.
The try and try to run a normal offense and ultimately should be congratulated for not scrapping it altogether. They twist and tweak each week to find the right combination, but then scrap it and find productivity with what amounts to their 2-minute drill. This puts tons of pressure on Tony Romo to find passes when the defense is not defending the run at all, but he has done a masterful job of getting it done again - while most of the NFL doesn't notice.
Here are the numbers:
Data from Week 15 vs New Orleans:
|Starting Field Position||D 21|
|1st Down Run-Pass||8-18|
|2nd Down Avg Distance to Go||8.10|
|2nd Down Run-Pass||3-16|
|3rd Down Avg Distance to Go||7.72|
|3rd/4th Down Run-Pass||0-11|
|3rd Down Conversions||2-10, 20%|
Just about as 1-dimensional as it gets and when they did try to run it, DeMarco Murray fumbled inside his own 10-yard line. Not only all of this, but Romo had to over-come a fair number of drops, too.
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 - As you can see the volume went way up in the 2nd half and overtime as the Cowboys needed a furious comeback late.
Here is what a 12 target, 9 catch, 224 day looks like for Dez Bryant. He has arrived.
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
Wk 15-New Orleans: 12 Drives - 4 Run/8 Pass
Season: 162 Drives* 72 Run/90 Pass - 44% 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
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.
As you will see below, they are miles beyond the amount of shotgun snaps of 2011.
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%
Wk 15 - NO: 42/56 75%
2012 Season Total: 531/977 54%
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:
Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:
In a nutshell, the Cowboys nearly stole one on Sunday despite being placed in a difficult spot all day by the Saints. New Orleans had a number of offensive matchups the battered Cowboys defense had no answers for (which we will further examine tomorrow).
Somehow, Romo kept them alive until over-time, but then they missed one serve and the Saints made them pay (with a fortuitous bounce on a fumble late).
But, now, redemption is Sunday night. Romo will have a chance to validate his performances this season with his biggest challenge yet in a hostile territory.
And yet, quietly, it seems that he is very much up for this and ready for it with his tight end setting a record and a big-play man wearing 88 on the outside.
The symmetry of huge road divisional wins on NBC primetime to bookend a long season would be a quite fitting way to win a divisional crown, no?
Time will tell us all.