Friday, October 04, 2013

Cowboys Mailbag - 10/4

I wanted to start off today's mailbag by basically addressing more about what I have written and discussed this week on the blog and on the radio about the evolution of Tony Romo and Jason Garrett. If you want a brief recap of what I have been talking about, read the first section of this week's Decoding Callahan piece and it will give you a brief idea of the premise.

It basically goes like this.  Once upon a time, Tony Romo was a "gunslinger" and a playmaker which made him a real strength to the Cowboys.  Also, once upon a time, he had Jason Garrett who seemed intent on figuring out ways to push Romo's ability down the field and to attack the defenses on a regular basis.

But, something changed.  Yes, they still accumulate the yards and the points, but I have felt that in the second act of their relationship (since 2010, or so) that the offense has underachieved - especially felt in games that are not played at home.  

It seems that the gunslinging and aggressive posture of Romo/Garrett has diminished from "attack" to "let's not do anything detrimental and try to win this game, 17-14."  I realize that is simplistic, but I cannot watch games like Sunday and feel that the Cowboys are trying to do anything but survive and satisfy their new-found risk aversion.

Is it the broken collarbone?  Is it Garrett feeling the added pressure of the head coach spot?  Is it a result of Romo being blamed nationally for every Cowboys' shortcoming?  Is the answer a combination of it all?  And in the end, does the reason really matter?

They just appear that they enter the game with a posture of conservatism that focuses on avoiding bad plays rather than looking for good ones.  I think this has held them back badly, and I believe the infographic below demonstrates the point.  

Well done, Skyler on info graphic.

Look at the stretch from 2007-2009 to see the two showing a relatively flat and consistent performance at home and on the road.  They had issues as a football team back then, but they had the same personality no matter where they played.  They attacked the Bears at Soldier Field and the Packers at Lambeau and the Saints in the Superdome.  They marched into those places and had a swagger and a posture that said they were leaving with a win.

Now, look at the home/road splits since Garrett has been named the head coach and Romo was hurt in 2010.  In only 2 more games, they have actually bettered their home performances, while only almost never playing well on the road.

Of the 26 road games since 2010, the Cowboys have had 4 games on the road of 400 yards.  At the New York Giants in Garrett's debut (with Kitna), the 2011 game at San Francisco, the 2012 opener at the Giants again, and the 2012 trip to Baltimore.  4!  During the same stretch with the same team, they have performed that feat 16 times at home.

Do other teams with top offenses and $100m QBs have this discrepancy?  No.  New Orleans has 15 at home, 16 on the road.  Green Bay has 9 at home and 9 on the road.  New England has 13 at home, 15 on the road.  The Giants have 9 at home, 7 on the road.  Atlanta has 8 at home and 7 on the road.  There are almost no differences among the other "good" offenses during 2010-2013.  But the Cowboys are 16 to 4.

It is tough to identify why they don't see this and address it, but I can't sit on the feeling anymore.  They simply call a different game when they feel like the stakes are higher on the road.  The game feels different from the opening kickoff and they end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy;  play for 17, and end up near 17 every time.

The good news is that this Sunday they are at home and likely have believed all week that they only way to deal with Denver is to score 35 points.  I expect the Cowboys offense to throw every trick in the book out there to manufacture offense because they know 17 won't win.  They will throw deep passes and play with their aggressive meter maxed.  But, that might only serve to frustrate those who believe, as I do, that they have 2 different play books, based on the QB and the HC deciding when they can play carefully or aggressively.


Time for a few emails - this first one is in reference to the Gates TD play that we studied yesterday in our Xs and Os post:

Bob, I can't understand why the bust is on Church and why Claiborne could be responsible for a zone with two receivers. Don't you think the real bust is on Scandrick to leave the slot receiver too soon causing Church's help?  
Many thanks for your replyRoby from Milano

It boils down to this - that I might not have properly broken down yesterday.  Scandrick (2nd from top) is taking the shallow man and Claiborne (at the top) the deeper threat.  So, if you look at that play again, you can see that Scandrick is switching to the outside man and Claiborne is switching to the slot guy near the end of the play.  Check out the video below and see if you can see that here:

So, the coaching staff is asking Church to stay high and in the middle and not to drift to help a guy who they still feel is covered.  Because, if he does go up there to help, then Rivers and Gates can attack them down the seam which is exactly what happened.  I agree that it looks like Scandrick released too easily, but he actually was following the scheme.

Please tell me what is going on with Bruce Carter and that he is not a bust.  This is not the guy that we were told was perfect for this defense.  Should I panic?  

I share your concern for sure, Bill.  Carter was never sold as anything short of a solution to the problems on this defense and that while the safeties and defensive line might have to be worked on, Carter and Lee will be the strength that we build around.

Now, through 4 weeks, we have seen that Carter and Lee are fine when the opponent runs, but both are being attacked in coverage - whether in zone or man coverages - and that is a real issue when this league has proven that passing is increasing and running is decreasing every year.

The object has always been to find "3 Down LBs" and those are the players you invest in (with a high draft pick and a big contract) and linebackers who can only play situational defense must be signed with caution.

So, it is not uncommon for a team to have special "nickel LBs" who replace the normal starters as it appears Ernie Sims is doing to Bruce Carter.  But, that leads us to worrying that if this continues, then it is simple to avoid Bruce Carter if you are the opponent.  Just bring on "11 Personnel" and then, Carter is on the sideline.  It is that simple.

Nickel used to mean 3rd Downs and maybe the 2-minute drill.  But, on Sunday, the Chargers almost ran S11 or S12 the entire game.  The Cowboys tried to leave Carter on in the 1st half and then had him chased off by Danny Woodhead in exchange for Ernie Sims to try.  Now, we can hope that this is a matchup issue that doesn't exist more than a time or two a season, but if not, then we have a major problem.

Denver will be in that same personnel and Carter might not play much this week.  Green Bay, Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans, and others will do the exact same thing.  Before long, you are seeing Carter is not worth a heavy investment if he cannot play against 3 WR offenses.  I am sure we are jumping the gun here, but this is a story I am really looking at with a serious amount of concern.

Bob, could you explain to me why the Houston Texans had Trindon Holliday and didn't realize what they had?  How could a team allow Jacoby Jones and Holiday both to walk within a few months of each-other and not be on top of that?  David in College Station
I swear, this is one of the great mysteries, for me.  I cannot believe how electric a return man that Holliday (who has the fantastic nickname, Short dog) has been for Denver, but remember that he had multiple kick returns for TDs in Houston in the 2012 preseason alone.  I heard he frustrated the people in Houston with poor judgement on when to field a punt and when not to - and they had been burned by Jones having a similar issue with game decisions.  So, they didn't want another return man who was anything but safe.  Of course, as we have said, if you play for safe, that is what you get.   It sure seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to me.

He is an amazing return man and a 6th round pick in Houston out of LSU.  I cannot think of a more terrifying return man in the NFL right now and a perfect set up man for all of Peyton Manning's drives. I don't have a good theory here as to why Houston didn't keep him around, but after seeing him almost win a playoff game by himself last season, it gives you just another reason to like Denver to be in the Super Bowl.

Here is his fine work for anyone who doesn't know who the shortest man in the NFL is at 5'5":


And finally, the skinny on this matchup from a historical and maniacal perspective, courtesy of Mark Lane - to see 10 times this many, check out his full column here:

-The Dallas Cowboys have not defeated the Denver Broncos since 9/10/95 when Dallas beat Denver 31-21 in Texas Stadium.
-It has been 18 seasons since the Dallas Cowboys have last defeated the Denver Broncos, which is the current longest drought against an opponent, including the Ravens, who the Cowboys have never beaten.
-The Denver Broncos vanquished the Dallas Cowboys in Texas Stadium in 2001 and 2005. The Broncos are tied with the Bears, Lions, and Chargers for second-most unanswered victories in Dallas. The Saints lead this category with 4.
-The Dallas Cowboys are 0-2 against the Broncos in October. However, both of those encounters occurred in Denver.
-Denver is one of six teams the Cowboys have faced in the Super Bowl. They are also one of two teams to have a winning record against the Cowboys in regular season play despite losing to them in the Super Bowl (6-4). The Miami Dolphins are the other team (7-5).
-The Denver Broncos’ 4-game winning streak against the Dallas Cowboys is the best in the series. The Cowboys’ largest winning streak against Denver was three games from 1973-77, one game of which was Super Bowl XII.
-Starting in October, the NFL adorns team uniforms with pink accessories to raise awareness for breast cancer. Since this campaign started in 2009, the Dallas Cowboys are 4-11 in the month of October while the Broncos are 7-8.
-The Dallas Cowboys’ first game wherein they wore pink for breast cancer awareness was a 10-17 loss in Denver in 2009.
-At home wearing attire to honor breast cancer awareness, the Dallas Cowboys are 2-6.
-In order for Peyton Manning to reclaim the record for most touchdowns in a single season with 51, he must throw a minimum of 3 touchdowns for every game to the season’s end.
-The lowest interception total Peyton Manning has for a season is 9, set in 2006 when he began the year with an interception.
-Peyton Manning leads the league in fewest interceptions thrown with zero, tied only with Jake Locker who did so through 3.5 games. Meanwhile, Eli Manning leads the league in interceptions with 9.
-The last time the Dallas Cowboys faced the Denver Broncos, Kyle Orton, Dallas’ backup, was Denver’s starting quarterback. An instance like this has never occurred in Cowboys history.
-The first time the Dallas Cowboys faced John Fox was on 10/13/02 and defeated his Carolina Panthers 14-13 in Texas Stadium.

Enjoy the game and your weekend.  We will see you back here on Monday.

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