Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Decoding Callahan - Week 10 - At New Orleans - Historic Lows Demand Desperate Measures

"Rob Ryan is kicking their butt right now" - Chris Collinsworth, NBC

Around the game of football, there are certain weeks where the result is just so disastrous that looking at the film seems pointless and masochistic.  Throw it in the trash or burn it!  Nothing can be learned from that debacle.

That is likely true, but it would not make for a very informative blog post.  So, while I agree that writing about the offense today and the defense tomorrow will be a repetitive exercise in issuing failing grades, I think it is worthwhile to examine the rubble before we move along to something a bit more salvageable.

The historic differences in this game are certainly rare in the game of professional football.  High School games see this sort of thing on a regular basis and sometimes, it creeps into college, but rarely, if ever, has the NFL ever seen a yardage difference of 400 yards.  When the Saints out gained the Cowboys, 625-193, it constituted one of the most one-sided avalanches in the history of the sport.

So, perhaps in the interest of making a historical record of the horrors we saw on Sunday, here is a list of the lows that the offense provided for us in their powerless attack:

FIRST DOWNS:  There are reports everywhere marveling at the Saints setting the all-time 1st Down record, but that is something to discuss tomorrow.  Today, we look at the Cowboys 9 1st Downs with equal amazement.  October 26, 2003 was the last time the Cowboys had a total this low in the offensive 1st Down category when they also had just 9 in a 16-0 loss against Tampa Bay in first year of Bill Parcells and with Quincy Carter at the helm.  On that day, they were playing a Bucs team that had no offense either and were only out gained by about 80 yards - not 432.

3RD DOWN CONVERSIONS:  You certainly cannot do worse on 3rd Down than the Cowboys did on Sunday night as an offense.  They went 0-9 and looked absolutely helpless.  As we mentioned yesterday, they are now the worst team in the NFL on 3rd Downs on the road, and 30th overall on the "money down".  This is absolutely going to be their undoing unless it can be sorted out quickly.  From a historical perspective,  0 conversion nights, while rare, have happened on several occasions in Cowboys history, but since they started keeping these in the statistical archives in 1991, it has happened 4 times.  You will not be surprised to find out that all 4 times they have taken the 0, they have lost comfortably:  December 21, 2002, they lost in Philadelphia, 27-3.  December 30, 2007, they were drilled in Washington, 27-6, as they rested their starters.  October 25, 2010, they lost to the Giants by a deceivingly close final score of 41-35, in a game best remembered for losing Tony Romo for the year.  And then, this game on November 10, 2013 in New Orleans.

TOTAL PLAYS FROM SCRIMMAGE:  43 is amazingly low in this up-tempo NFL world we live in.  I could not find a lower number as far back as the records go, and only a few that were close.  The closest thing I found to that small of an impression on the game by the offense was another game against Tampa Bay that we have all forgotten, this one on September 9, 2001 (it sure seems all of the forgettable games are against Tampa) in which the Cowboys had 44 snaps on offense and lost, 10-6.

COMPLETIONS: While 10 completions is easily the worst of Tony Romo's career (his previous low for an entire game was 13 back in December of 2007 when the Eagles won at Texas Stadium), it is nowhere near as bad as it has gotten for the Cowboys franchise.  The worst I can find from the post-Landry era would have to be that amazingly forgettable day in Nashville on Christmas Day in the year 2000, when Anthony Wright completed 5-20 for 32 yards passing against a Titans defense that did not suffer fools.  Incidentally, the 104 net yards passing is low and pathetic, but it cannot compete with the Dave Campo years for historical lows.  They have several games that can beat that, as does a young Troy Aikman in 1990 in Arizona when he had a 9-25 day for 61 yards, a QB rating of 11, and a stunning 2.44 yards per attempt day.

TIME OF POSSESSION: Yes, it is true that having only 20:28 in the time of possession category is also amazingly low and pathetic, but again, it is not close to historical lows for the franchise - and you don't even have to go back very far to find a worse day.  That would be October 30, 2011, in another Sunday Night game in Philadelphia in which the Cowboys were buried 34-7, in a game that is perhaps best remembered for a Martellus Bennett play where the ball hit him in the face mask, then was batted in the air, and was, of course, intercepted.

Those were the major categories that jumped out at us after looking at the tape, and honestly, if you have to go back to Campo and Anthony Wright to find similar performances in many of these spots, well, then it was a night to forget.

And this is just the offense.  Tomorrow, it gets worse.


I promised some of you to take a look at a few things from this game and they both met together in the 4th Quarter.  Some have asked me to examine Doug Free closer after he started getting some national attention from Pro Football Focus and even MMQB for the mid-season All-Pro teams.  The questions were about his quality and whether people like me are saying enough about his play.

Honestly, in watching him every week, I am stunned at how nice people across the country are being to Free after butchering him last year.  In both cases, I think they were going overboard.  He wasn't as bad as they said in 2012 (he was bad, but I thought it was overdone) and now this year, I honestly don't get where they are coming from when they discuss him as one of the best tackles in football.  He has been better, but he has issues, still, especially in pass protection.  And since the Cowboys pass the ball as little as just about anyone in football (30th most runs by percentage - only Cleveland and Atlanta run less), that is where I will continue to put my stock on a lineman here.  I would give Free a passing grade, but he has been really poor lately, and you wonder if he has 2 more months in him.

The other thing people wanted to look at is whether there were players who had stopped giving it their all on Sunday when things got bad (that is a nice way to say "quitting" without actually saying it).

These are the final 2 plays we saw from the offense on Sunday night and as you can see, Free and Tyron Smith are either saving their worst for last or they have checked out.  Either way, if ever there was a case for getting your QB out of a blowout because the guys in front of him have lost their fight, this is it:


STATS FOR WEEK 10 at New Orleans

Starting Field PositionD27
1st Down Run-Pass8-10
2nd Down Avg Distance to Go7.25
2nd Down Run-Pass7-9
3rd Down Avg Distance to Go9.00
3rd/4th Down Run-Pass1-8
3rd Down Conversions0-9, 0%


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

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

This is the entire passing chart for the 1st half.  This is amazingly poor.

2ND HALF PASSING CHART -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)

I know I seldom ask about shorter routes, but where were the underneath routes on Sunday?  It really seems that they went away from Cole Beasley and the flanks that extend drives and move the chains.  

Jason Witten 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
Wk 2 - Kansas City Chiefs: 3 Run/9 Pass - 25% Run
Wk 3 - St. Louis Rams: 8 Run/2 Pass - 80% Run
Wk 4 - San Diego Chargers: 6 Run/4 Pass - 60% Run
Wk 5 - Denver Broncos: 3 Run/8 Pass - 37% Run
Wk 6 - Washington Redskins: 5 Run/4 Pass - 55% Run
Wk 7 - Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Run/9 Pass - 35% Run
Wk 8 - Detroit Lions: 9 Run/5 Pass - 64% Run
Wk 9 - Minnesota Vikings: 2 Run/8 Pass - 20% Run
Wk 10 - New Orleans Saints: 6 Run/5 Pass - 54% Run

2013 Totals: 88 Drives - 52 Run/61 Pass - 46% 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 - NYG: 44 Shotgun/71 Total Plays - 61.9%
Wk 2 - at KC: 46 Shotgun/60 Total Plays - 76.6%
Wk 3 - STL: 28 Shotgun/59 Total Plays - 47.4%
Wk 4 - at SD: 33 Shotgun/56 Total Plays - 58.9%
Wk 5 - DEN: 39 Shotgun/54 Total Plays - 72.2%
Wk 6 - WASH: 23 Shotgun/50 Total Plays - 46%
Wk 7 - at PHI: 53 Shotgun/73 Total Plays - 72.6%
Wk 8 - at DET: 33 Shotgun/55 Total Plays - 60%
Wk 9 - MIN: 50 Shotgun/63 Total Plays - 79.3%
Wk 10 - at NO: 27 Shotgun/43 Total Plays - 62.3%

Season Total - 376 Shotgun/584 Total Plays - 64.3%

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.

Below, see some of the worst production from the Shotgun formations that you will ever see.  S11 had 8 snaps and totaled -6 yards.  That is just another historic low.  Wow.

Totals by Personnel Groups:

PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass
S118-63-125- -18

* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.

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

S013-60-03- -60/0
S114-80-04- -80/0
Totals9-111-38- -140/0

Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 27 pass rush/blitz situations in Week 10 in New Orleans:

As you can see, the Saints never really had to get to blitz-happy against the Cowboys.  I am sure they had some plans and worked all week at it, and then never got to use their blitzes.  Poor Rob Ryan.

Wk 1: NY Blitzed 13/49: 26%
Wk 2: KC Blitzed 19/46: 41%
Wk 3: STL Blitzed 10/25: 40%
Wk 4: SD Blitzed 8/41: 19%
Wk 5: DEN Blitzed 10/40 25%
Wk 6: WAS Blitzed 17/31 55%
Wk 7: PHI Blitzed  22/48 46%
Wk 8: DET Blitzed 9/31  29%
Wk 9: MIN Blitzed 9/54  17%
Wk 10: NO Blitzed 3/27  11%

Season Blitz rate vs Dallas 120/392: 31%

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0100
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0801
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0000

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0200
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0510
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0010

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)1100
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0400
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0200


13 -
103 -
36 -
6 -
8 -
89 -
35 -
7 -
7 -
55 -
30 -
3 -
1 -
Totals28 -
247 -
101 -
16 -
1 -

Thanks to John Daigle and Tim Krajewski for their work on the charts and graphs.


SUMMARY:  This is as bad as it gets when you are thinking you have the ability to win your division and to play in the post-season.  At least Anthony Wright and Dave Campo knew what they were and had no plans for January.

Again, I really cannot understand the idea of running and running and never using Tony Romo or Dez Bryant at all.  I realize others want them to establish the run, and that is all well and good, but a game like this demanded that you mix run and pass and understand that it would take 31-35 points to win (in a best-case scenario) and to do that, Romo and Bryant would have to be a significant portion of your production.

So, to not have 2 consecutive passes until the 4:17 mark of the 2nd Quarter and to not throw a single pass to Dez Bryant until 11:51 to go in the 3rd Quarter seems insane.  Further, there were multiple tight ends on the field for nearly the entire 1st half which is fine - unless they are never going to force the Saints to change their coverages.  They locked down on Bryant and never had to adjust to the Cowboys.  There was no creativity, no rhythm, and seemingly, very little logic put into the play-calling.

Given the severity of the situation, if I am Jason Garrett, I realize the final 6 games will decide my job future in Dallas and would have to go get the play-calling duties back after a stinker like this.  Bill Callahan is a respected coach and a guy who knows what he is doing and he shouldn't be blamed entirely for all of this mess.  But, when you are Garrett, and this is your dream job and you don't want to know what being fired feels like, then your next 6 games could determine the rest of your career.

The historic lows that were seen on Sunday from this offense and the season-long pathetic performances on 3rd Downs seem to demand instant attention and desperate measures.  I would never argue that Garrett has the answers, because if he did, Callahan would not be here in the first place.  But, if was Jason Garrett, I would definitely be grabbing that call-sheet back for the stretch run.   

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