Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Decoding Callahan: Week 1 - New York Giants

Before we get to the Giants win, a brief introduction:

For those of you new to this blog or this series or even this type of conversation, allow me to welcome you to Week 1 in what is now a 7-season series on tracking - with incredible detail - the Cowboys offense on a week-to-week basis.  In this Tuesday series, which is certainly not for everyone, we will try to turn over every stone and try to learn whatever we can learn about what the Cowboys like to do, try to do, and avoid doing.

And that is an exercise that is to replicate on some level what the Cowboys do every week.  There is this belief that you see what a coach truly believes by what his game plan looks like.  That is untrue.  His game-plan is not an idealistic view of the sport or his beliefs about deploying players in a certain system.  Rather, a game plan is a combination of your considering your strengths, your weaknesses, your opponent, and your situation, and decide what gives your side the best opportunity to win.  That should never be confused with what you want to do.  You may want to run the wishbone.  But, you don't have the personnel to do that.  You may want to run the zone read.  If only you had a guy like Colin Kaepernick.  You look at the pieces you have left on the chess board, then carefully consider your opponent's piece.  From that, you come up with a plan.  Sometimes, it is a good plan.  Sometimes, it is a plan that requires good fortune along the way.  But, it is, you believe, the best one you have available.  And that is what coaches do on Tuesday across the league.

During the week, they install the plan, using different days to install different elements (base offense, 3rd down package, red zone), and by game-time you have an idea of what you believe will work.  It changes dramatically from week to week, with everything connected, but evolving.  You put things on film to distract your opponents, sometimes.  You want them to waste valuable time preparing for you by working on stopping something you may never even run.  But, they must because they have to be prepared for what you might do.  And you, as an offensive coordinator, must be prepared to go after your opponent's weaknesses, but remain inside your strengths.  Not always easy.

So, if you continue down this road with us, we will look back at the last game from a number of angles, and try to dissect what they did well, what they did poorly, and what interests us on a level of innovation.  The Cowboys are moving from Jason Garrett to Bill Callahan - and so will we.  What has been called Decoding Garrett is now Decoding Callahan.  We know that it is still the Garrett offense, but there will be some adjustments.  We also know that the GM is committed to multiple tight ends being used on a regular basis and has instructed the offense to run accordingly.  So, we will spend time looking at that.

Again, this is digging deeper than most studies, so I understand if this is a lot of information.  But, if this interests you on some level, stick with it, and it will start to make more sense as the weeks go on.

And now, on to the Giants game.

The Cowboys entered this game with a very unsettled idea of what their offensive line was going to look like.  They knew their left tackle and center were locked down in Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, but even there, Frederick was playing his very first NFL game.  Usually, your center's first NFL action would frighten a team a bit, but he has been so solid and the rest of the line has been so chaotic that Frederick has actually been the last thing they have worried about.  It is almost like he he conducts himself as a 5 year veteran and seems to play like one, too.

But, who was going to play each guard position and right tackle was a game of musical chairs.  In the end, Ron Leary also made his NFL debut at left guard, Mackenzy Bernadeau was chosen to keep right guard warm for Brian Waters who is shaking off the retirement dust, and that pushed Doug Free back in front of Jermey Parnell at right tackle for the time being.

To make matters more unsettled, they would be facing a defensive front which has bullied them through the years and this time the New York Giants would not be at full strength with a recovering Jason Pierre Paul, but would still be treated with respect in game planning from the Cowboys.

As we look at the tactics and results, we see the Cowboys trying to make sure that all of their looks are based around the idea of using 2 and sometimes 3 Tight Ends.  The reasons for this "12" or "13" personnel looks are elaborated in greater detail in some of our past write-ups, but perhaps best demonstrated on the 2 touchdowns to Jason Witten during the game.  A proper TE, and we believe all 3 are pass catching threats (Escobar needs to prove it, Hanna needs to prove it again) is a matchup issue for LBs because of speed and DBs because of size.  On the 1st Touchdown, they tried to run a linebacker with him and the Cowboys made them pay.  Then, they switched to a smaller DB, and Romo fit it in a tight window and Witten used his size to make room.

The idea with this and just about any scheme is the same:  Make the defense make a choice.  And when they do, present them with proof that there is no right answer.  Either way, multiple tight ends can make you pay.  For much more on this concept, check out what I put here back in June.

In other news, the Cowboys ran out 2 ideas that we have not seen in our 6 years of data.  One is rather straight forward and uses the multiple tight end look.  It is called "S13" which is the same 1 RB, 3 TE, grouping, but for decades that has meant a short-yardage ground game exclusive battering ram.  But, the S means Shotgun, and the Cowboys don't intend on using S13 for running.  They know that defenses defend 13 personnel by bringing in an extra "big" or two (Linebackers) and take off a DB because you could run.  So, now you have your run defense on and the Cowboys use S13 to spread those big guys out and take advantage of them in 1-on-1 pass situations.  I love the concept, because if they stay small and play nickel, then you audible into a run play and you should be able to physically bully them in this game of cat and mouse.  Here is a look at it.

And again, remember that in 6 seasons, the Cowboys haven't done anything like this.  This is a new use of resources that only had 2 snaps on Sunday, but you can believe the Chiefs are asking how they will defend this.  And, the more Escobar and Hanna make plays, the bigger this can become.  If it is still just Witten, then this won't go anywhere.

The 2nd item that was noticeable on Sunday was the use of the pistol.  4 times, they rolled out this look:

Now, the pistol is the rage all around the league and I could not possibly describe it anything like what Chris Brown of Smart Football did last December, so if you want the entire breakdown, visit that.

But, it basically combines the good parts of the shotgun (your QB can still read the defense and see in pre snap while not requiring a major drop back) with the good parts of being under center (your running back is still moving forward/downhill with speed when he receives the ball).  Shotgun in the past required the RB to take the ball at almost a full stop and this made running - especially with power - a major issue.

Notice, that Murray is still 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage which is basically the same as when Romo is under center (perhaps a half yard difference).  They ran the pistol 4 times with Murray getting 3 carries, but you can absolutely believe that the Cowboys can develop this without exposing Romo to hits.  Detroit in Week 1 ran some very interesting pistol looks with Matt Stafford and I can assure you that Peyton Manning, Stafford, and Aaron Rodgers have no plans on running much option read.  But, they can use the alignment to do what they do best.

Data from Week 1 vs New York Giants:

Now we are into the portion of the post that we will visit each week with data to see what we can see.  The Cowboys had decent field position and obviously were the beneficiaries of some takeaways to aid that.  They did not accomplish much on 1st Down as we see that in 25 2nd down opportunities, they were on average 2nd and 9.16.  This is a byproduct of too many offensive line penalties again.

3rd Down was a little rough, too.  We want that number approaching 50% to feel good.

Starting Field PositionD 34
1st Down Run-Pass12-20
2nd Down Avg Distance to Go9.16
2nd Down Run-Pass9-16
3rd Down Avg Distance to Go8.66
3rd/4th Down Run-Pass1-14
3rd Down Conversions5-15, 33%


Here are the passing charts to see what was being accomplished on Sunday.  Intern Tim is back with us this year and he has made some pleasing to the eye charts for us to see.

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.

The first thing that will jump out at anyone is how many times Romo threw the ball in the 1st half.  As you can see, other than the Witten TD down the seam, there was just nothing downfield.  The real theme from Sunday was that the Giants were dedicating "a man and a half" to Dez Bryant and forcing the Cowboys to look elsewhere because Bryant's normal downfield routes were going to be a tight squeeze.  So, you can force the ball into coverage (as Romo did once) or you can take underneath throws.  Look at all of the blue and see that almost none of his completions were more than 5 yards downfield - this also can be a way of helping your pass protection.  Don't hold the ball.

1ST HALF PASSING CHART -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)

In the 2nd half, he was hurt, he had the lead, and he threw more downfield - but no real success.  The one deeper blue line below was a deep-in route to Terrence Williams.

2ND HALF PASSING CHART -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)
And here we break out his primary target underneath, Miles Austin who played a ton in the slot.

Miles Austin Passing Chart -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)

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-New York Giants: 5 Run/7 Pass - 42% Run

* This statistic doesn't count the 1-play kneel down drives.

2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run/102 Pass - 44% Run
2012 Total: 173 Drives - 76 Run/97 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.

Wk 1 - at NYG: 44 Shotgun/71 Total Plays - 61.9%

2011 Total - 445/1012 43.9%
2012 Total - 565/1038 54%

Here is the breakdown by groupings:

And now, a look at the efficiency of each personnel grouping.

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:

They said they wanted to run a lot of "12".  Well, 30 snaps if you combine 12 and S12, and 177 yards means that with that grouping they were able to find 5.9 yards a snap.  That is a very encouraging start against a defense that we think is decent.

PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass

* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.

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


And. one more feature.  How did NY Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell decide to rush the Cowboys.  We know the Giants love to generally just bring 4.  But, they got home a few times when they blitzed - partly because their 4 were not really bothering the Cowboys much.  As the game went on, the Giants were forced to bring more to get any pressure.  That is a very good sign, too.

Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 49 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0701
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0200
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0321

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0211
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)1500
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)1101

And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 RushTotal
1st Down014 - 70%3 -15%3 - 15%20 - 40%
2nd Down012 - 75%2 - 12%2 - 12%16 - 32%
3rd Down2 - 15%8 - 61%1 - 7%2 - 15%13 - 26%
4th Down00000
Totals2 - 4%32 - 65%6 - 12%7 - 14%49

That is a lot of data!

Thanks to our new contributor John Daigle for his work on the numbers and for his pie-charts that have been added.

This will all make more sense to you as we get a few games under our belt and find new wrinkles and establish patterns and such.

But, overall, despite yardages being modest and Romo not finding much downfield, I think with the offensive line showing reasonable protection ability and DeMarco finding holes on the ground, there is a lot to feel good about offensively heading to Week 2.  Adding Brian Waters should also help and next week they can start looking for more ways to work Dez Bryant into the proceedings.

A decent foundation is being built.


ShroffishBoil said...

In the passing charts, you used YPA for Romo but for the receivers you used yard per completion. I would suggest using Yards per Attempt for the receivers as well.

Steve said...

Why were so many shotgun snaps used when it was evident the offensive line was outplaying the Giants front four? Wouldn't it haven been beneficial to run some more play-action from under the center?

Dave said...

This is really great! Thanks!

SirSmacksALot said...

Unless I missed something, in the Miles Austin chart, you accidentally counted a completion when he had no TDs.

dangle66 said...

The 'Miles Austin' chart shows a yellow touchdown line??