Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Decoding Callahan: Week 9 - Minnesota - Negative Runs Lead To No Runs

"9 times?" Pause. "9 times."

Yes, 9 times is how many times the Cowboys attempted to run the ball in 63 snaps on Sunday against the Vikings.

Not only is that a league-low (tied with Baltimore at Buffalo on September 29), but it is a franchise-low in team history.  No other time had a Cowboys team ever run that few rushing plays in a game.  Ever.

That is really remarkable.  It makes you think the Cowboys must have been playing against the Steel Curtain, right?  But, then, the Vikings had given up 182 yards on the ground in 42 carries by Green Bay just one week prior.  And only one time in 2013 did a Vikings opponent NOT attempt 21 or more carries and only twice (NYG and PIT) did they not gain 100 yards rushing against Minnesota.  The Vikings have a strong defensive front, but to suggest that they are extraordinary is a real stretch.

And yet, with the return of DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys elected to try a few runs - even gash the Vikings for a 27 yard dash, and then inexplicably, decide to not run again for most of the afternoon.

And they elected to do this, despite common sense seeming to dictate that the best way to defeat Adrian Peterson is to actually keep him on the sideline.  Instead, the Cowboys surrendered the largest time of possession that the Vikings had all season long (31:27) just one week after they had a season low (19:06).

This sends us back down the road of believing that the Cowboys offensive brain-trust has minimal trust in its own ability to run the football and can be chased off the idea quite easily and swiftly early in a game.  We have discussed this quite a bit in this space over the years that the people that fear the Cowboys running game the most are the Cowboys themselves, and even the slightest hint of failure chases them off the plan altogether and they scrap it.

How much did losing Brian Waters have to do with this?  Possibly, quite a bit.  It would seem that the recipe against Minnesota was to use a running game to loosen up the secondary and make play-action far more affective when there is even a small chance that you might actually hand the ball off.  We have seen this play out plenty over the years.  The Cowboys get very little off play-action (and stop using it altogether) because the linebackers and safeties are not convinced.  In fact, we need to look at some plays and decide if the defense knows that when you play the Cowboys, if you can demoralize them early with a few run blitzes, they will stop altogether and get into a pass-exclusive offense the rest of the day and you can simply focus on that.

So, if the Cowboys only tried to run the ball in conventional situations about 4 times all day, we can actually look at the TFLs (Tackles for loss) and see why the Cowboys decided they had enough and wanted to go almost exclusive shotgun and give the running game the rest of the day off.

Play #1 - 1st play of 1st Drive

Here is a zone stretch left.  Everyone has a man in their assignment, but it does get complicated when former Cowboys safety Andrew Sendejo walks down into the path of where they play is headed.  This changes James Hanna's job from helping to seal off Jared Allen to grabbing a dive-bombing Sendejo and leaves Dez to get his cornerback and Ronald Leary to get to the linebacker at the 2nd level.

Right at the snap, Jared Allen starts driving Tyron Smith backwards as if he is a tight end.  This is certainly not going to help the play develop if Tyron cannot regain his leverage.  Now, Hanna sees he doesn't have time to help on Allen, and now sees his issue with the safety Sendejo sniffing out this play and heading north.  Dez sees the issue and looks to assist.  But, here come the crashing linebackers, too.   This is running against 8-man fronts.  Too many bodies to help on blocks.

Tyron is now back to the 18 as Demarco gets the ball.  Sendejo is now splitting Hanna and Dez at the 20.  Those 2 are destroying this play.  What is Murray supposed to do here?  He will try to get wide to the edge, but there is the corner now in full sprint, too.

Now that Dez is laying in the running lane, you can see that the castle has been stormed.  Tyron is back to the 17 now, and Murray has less than a chance to do anything with this.

He turns it upfield to make it only a 2-yard loss, but this play was a disaster, despite 72-Frederick and 65-Leary doing a good job getting to their spots.  Hanna and Smith were simply obliterated and the safety shooting down says the Vikings knew what the Cowboys like to do on 1st and 10 to start a drive.

Play #2 - 1st Play of Drive #2

Here is the inside run off the run/pass option we have seen a million times with Witten playing the lead FB in this scenario.  Romo can opt for a quick pass up to Williams if he chooses, but they are going to use Dunbar on an inside run here on 1st and 10 and see what can be accomplished.  Unfortunately for them, Minnesota is sending a corner blitz here and that means that all of the Vikings are slanting to their right.  It is a rather unconventional idea on 1st and 10 in the 1st Quarter, but the Vikings are going to not allow the Cowboys to ground and pound this thing.  They are going to challenge them until they get burned.

On these plays, it is customary for the tackles to turn the defensive ends upfield and let them think they are winning to the edges and then the RB runs right past them.  But, with the DE cutting across Doug Free's face to the inside, you can see that Free is already reaching and won't be able to get much done there.  Meanwhile, the blitzing corner is Harris' job to impede, and he did not have leverage at the snap (he would have had to false start) and therefore is losing there, too.  Tyron is pushing Jared Allen right out of the play like he is supposed to, but Free is losing up top.  Meanwhile, Leary is also not expecting the DT 98-Letroy Guion to cross his face to the outside, but he does.  Witten is planning on heading north in the A-gap between Frederick and Leary, but Leary's recovery is going to take him and Witten into the same spot, making everything worse below.

Look at all the red above at the moment of handoff.  Dunbar sees purple at 3 spots in front of him before he gets the ball.  Witten's lead block has now cut off Leary, leaving big Guion with nobody between him and Dunbar.  Free is losing and Harris has lost.  We have another mess.

Look now as he gets the ball, he has 3 Vikings on him 4 yards behind the line.  The Vikings are rewarded for calling a blitz right into a Cowboys run and again, it is a mass or purple at the ball.

So, these 2 plays started the first two drives and lost yards.  They set up 2nd and 12 and 2nd and 13and pretty much killed any chance of getting rolling.  The Cowboys then stopped running for the rest of the day aside from short yardage, a few shotgun handoffs, and a scramble or two.

Give the Vikings credit for being aggressive and demoralizing any ideas the Cowboys had of getting the run game healthy, but also question the Cowboys for just throwing up their hands and not even going back to it at all.  I have always thought that the best way to do anything is to emphasize it.  Yet, this coaching staff has proven that if it is difficult early, they will scrap it.  Does that show any resolve to your team or your opponent?  Is it something you believe in, or not?

Clearly not.  Looking at Bill Callahan's track record in Oakland, he is not the guy to fix that determination level as he historically is ripped for abandoning the run all the time back in those days with the Raiders.

Is it imperative to run the ball to win?  We can debate that.  But, this team has been out of balance for almost the entire Garrett coaching run and they are 31st in the NFL in rushing plays in the 1st half of games (34%) and 29th overall (33%), and the entire time have been criticized for having an underperforming offense that seems to underachieve.  Are the two things related?  And if so, is the best way to improve to scrap it any time it doesn't work right away?  That hardly speaks to a determination to fix it.


Starting Field PositionD24
1st Down Run-Pass3-25
2nd Down Avg Distance to Go8.47
2nd Down Run-Pass3-18
3rd Down Avg Distance to Go8.71
3rd/4th Down Run-Pass3-11
3rd Down Conversions4-14, 28%


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)

The blue lines are almost completely underneath.  This remains the issue against defenses that challenge the Cowboys in that when Dallas tries to pass them out of that aggressive posture, it is usually low-pain punishments in the form of short passes.  Most defenses will live with that.

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

Much better in the 2nd half in trying to get Minnesota to back off and keep plays alive. 

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 -

In Detroit, they really wanted to run the ball and open coverage up.  Didn't work, but the idea is sound and the commitment was there as they started drive after drive with a running play and showed faith in the OL.  A season high 9 drives started with a run.  Then, against Minnesota, they opened with 2 drives on the ground and those were the two we showed above.  Then, it was over for the day.  The Vikings had chased them off their plan.

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

2013 Totals: 88 Drives - 46 Run/56 Pass - 45% 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.

As you can see, this offense is getting more and more shotgun based, so if you have dreams of lining up and mauling the opponent, that isn't in the cards.

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%

Season Total - 349 Shotgun/541 Total Plays - 64.5%

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.

OK, below you will see the issues of being "too predictable".  22 plays from under center, 18 runs/4 passes.  33 plays from shotgun, 26 passes/7 runs with several of the runs being scrambles.

Totals by Personnel Groups:

PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass

* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.

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

S12331-82- -51/0

Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 54 pass rush/blitz situations in Week 9:

As you can see, Detroit and Minnesota are not teams that believe in blitzing.  New Orleans, on the other hand, should bring pressure this week quite a bit.

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%

Season Blitz rate vs Dallas 117/365: 32%

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0000
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)21731
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0200

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)2400
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0430
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0410

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0200
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)1310
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0500


13 -
94 -
36 -
5 -
8 -
82 -
33 -
7 -
6 -
48 -
30 -
3 -
1 -
Totals27 -
224 -
99 -
15 -
1 -

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


SUMMARY:  It is important to not lose sight of the accomplishment of a late-game situation where the offense and the QB had to be near perfect to get that game in the win column.  They did just that and are trying to figure this thing out again.  But, for yet another year in a row, this offensive line is somewhere between substandard and average, with the QB and the coaching staff not asking it to do too much in the running game and getting the ball out quick in the passing game.  They are not interested in putting their QB in harm's way much nor are they interested in waiting on the running game to figure things out with live ammunition.

At some point, a coach has to decide whether he is going to try to focus more on the big picture or the situation that is right on the table at this moment.  Jason Garrett is not in a position to worry about the big picture in most people's opinion, and therefore, it is difficult to blame him when it comes down to choosing between idealism and realism as it pertains to his offense.  He has to be realistic and understand that for better or worse, this offense relies on its QB to make enough plays over the course o 10 drives to give his team a real shot at winning.  7 of the 9 games he has done that, and therefore, you continue down the path and do the best you can.

The running game is broken and don't expect it to improve until the emphasis comes from the top in the form of top investment on draft day and free agency, and that doesn't look like it is happening anytime soon.  Until then, look for 75% shotgun and asking the OL to pass protect and your QB to keep plays alive.  It is the Jason Garrett/Tony Romo offense and while it is frustrating at times, it is the best shot they have.  Luckily, they invested heavily in more weapons in the offseason to keep his options at a high level, and now it is up to them to figure out 3rd Down conversions in the face of the blitzes.

That final drive (expect a full breakdown on Thursday) was exclusively S01 (Bryant, Williams, Harris, Beasley, and Witten) with an empty backfield.  Spread 'em out and pick 'em apart.  They believe it is their best option, so we should all get used to it for at least the balance of 2013.

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