I hear the phrase "it has only been ___ weeks" over and over again from the pundits this time of year. Yes, it is early, and yes, early September excellence is no promise of similar results in December. We get it. But, we also know that we can only collect and analyze evidence that exists. And in 2014, we have 4 weeks of material to dissect and sort through. The findings are quite interesting from a Dallas Cowboys standpoint.
As we mentioned yesterday, the Cowboys have run the ball more than anyone (130), they have more yards than anyone (660), which in turn equates to the most yards per game by anyone (165 per).
But, we did not mention that the Cowboys are 7th in 1st half runs, 2nd in 1st and 10 runs, and 3rd in overall run percentage with 51%. Yes, their run/pass balance is actually 51/49. There is no way that is sustainable, but who ever thought we would see this for even 4 weeks?
Here is another one for you to ponder: The Cowboys are #1 in the NFL through the 1st month in 10-yard runs. They are also #1 in the NFL in 20-yard runs, but since there are so few of those, I like the volume of numbers that separate the league in the 10-yard category.
Here is a chart that shows how bad the Cowboys have been at this category over the last 4 seasons. Basically, while the average NFL team has about 195 10 yard runs, the Cowboys have 152 from 2010-2013. That shortfall of 43 is substantial and demonstrative of a team that simply was so discouraged by its own running situation that they almost stopped trying altogether.
Well, the investment in the offensive line is proving to be an amazing development that is making everything better. The Cowboys are already using Play Action at a rate that is off the charts for a Jason Garrett/Tony Romo offense, and that only works over the long haul if you have a proper run threat that is troubling the defensive brain trust.
Well, look above at that blue line. I included 2014 (the green line in 2014 is the PROJECTED league average only), even though it is an obvious misrepresentation of the season because THEY HAVE ONLY PLAYED 4 GAMES! That is right, the blue line is almost already at the 2012 level, and is well beyond half way to 2011 and 2013. Can they keep up this pace? Who knows. But, even if they don't, they will destroy pretty much every year on this chart by simply playing league average the rest of the way in.
Here is a play that can't wait until Xs and Os Thursday. This might be the best example of the Cowboys zone running dominance we have seen so far. It also reminds you that DeMarco is great and all, BUT, he is also running without getting touched quite a bit. Which, is what you love to see. This play is certainly the stuff that coaching clinics are made of:
The whole objective of the zone blocking scheme is to create a seam. However, the defense plays a role in selecting the seam. You move them (often laterally) and when one of them breaks their form, you use it against him and turn block him from the play. In this case, Ronald Leary does it to #94 - Cameron Jordan. Then, Tyron mows out 93-Galette with a small amount of assistance from Witten.
That leaves the combo block with Frederick and Martin on the Nose tackle. If you notice, the combo block is not because Martin cannot handle the block on his own. Rather, it is done by Frederick to allow Martin a chance to step over and get leverage that he didn't have at the snap. If Martin tries to block 95-Deaderick without Frederick's help, the angles are wrong. So Travis pops him back towards Martin, then once Martin is in position, Frederick leaves to go clean up #50-Lofton at the 2nd level. You seriously cannot do it better than this.
The first time Murray is actually touched is at the 7 yard line - 21 yards down the field. And as this area high school coach tweeted me, it is perfect.
Offensive Participation: In this game, the perfect attendance of the 7 who are "always on the field" continued: Smith-Leary-Frederick-Martin-Free-Witten-Romo. They are each now 277 for 277 on the season. If that continues, the team success is bound to continue as well. Next up are Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, and Terrance Williams playing most of the rest of the snaps. So, that generally leaves 1 spot that is swapped between Cole Beasley, Gavin Escobar, and James Hanna from play to play. Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle combine to play 10 snaps and try to give Murray a brief spell. Otherwise, this is an offense that has had great health and they certainly hope to keep it that way. All snap numbers courtesy of PFF and they include all snaps including plays that were not official because of penalties.
STATS FOR WEEK 4 AGAINST NEW ORLEANS
|Avg Starting Position||D31|
|1st Down R-P||19-10|
|2nd Down Avg to Go||7.00|
|2nd Down R-P||8-12|
|3rd Down Avg to Go||5.53|
|3rd/4th Down R-P||5-8|
|3rd Down Conversions||8-13, 61%|
|4th Down Conversions||0-0|
|Yards Per Play||7.1|
|Yards Per Pass Attempt||8.3|
|Red Zone TDs - Drives||3-3, 100%|
I realize that sometimes on these blogs I don't spend enough time telling you what "good" is and I need to improve upon that. Today, let's spend a moment on the Average yards to go on 2nd Down. Last week, I said that the Cowboys had a nice low number on Average yards to go and someone was shocked to hear that averaging 6.1 on 3rd was actually very good. It is.
So, allow me to say that on 2nd Down, the NFL generally averages about 7.9 yards to go. Now, keep in mind, it is because of all of the penalties and sacks and so forth that often make that number go up, but 7.9 or 8.0 is usually the number at the end of the season. So, the Cowboys again were at 7.0 this week, which means that they were way ahead of the chains and for the season have a 7.16 average yards to go on 2nd down which ranks them 5th in the NFL - and 2nd in the league for the best "2nd and 6 or less" percentage at 47%. Again, these are fantastic developments.
This season, we're attempting to track both passing and drive progression. John Daigle has designed a fantastic chart. Each color, for instance, represents the possession number listed in the key. If you were to start from the bottom and work your way up, you would be tracking that possession from beginning to end. The dotted-lines are incompletions. Large gaps between throws are mostly YAC or carries.
Week 4 Summary
Whether "statement" and "momentum" drives actually exist is topic for another day. For now, follow along the light blue possession.
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 - San Francisco: 5 Run/5 Pass - 50% Run
Wk 2 - At Tennessee: 8 Run/3 Pass - 72% Run
Wk 3 - At St. Louis: 7 Run/2 Pass - 77% Run
Wk 4 - New Orleans: 9 Run/2 Pass - 81% Run
2014 Total: 32 Drives - 29 Run/12 Pass - 70% Run
Wow. Look at these numbers compared to the last 3 years!
2013 Total: 176 Drives - 84 Run/92 Pass - 47% Run
2012 Total: 173 Drives - 76 Run/97 Pass - 44% Run
2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run/102 Pass - 44% Run
* This statistic doesn't count the 1-play kneel down drives.
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 - San Francisco: 41 Shotgun/63 Total Plays - 65% Shotgun
Wk 2 - At Tennessee: 30 Shotgun/76 Total Plays - 39% Shotgun
Wk 3 - At St. Louis: 26 Shotgun/50 Total Plays - 52% Shotgun
Wk 4 - New Orleans: 26 Shotgun/62 Total Plays - 41% Shotgun
2014 Total: 123 Shotgun/251 Total Plays - 49% Shotgun
Here is a reader tweet on this very topic:
Again, it helps to have a massive lead (vs Tenn and vs NO), but there is clearly intent to how the Cowboys are lining up and trying to maul you physically.
Below are the season totals for past seasons, but thru 4 games in 2013, the Cowboys were at 61% with 151 shotgun snaps out of 246 total. This year, they are at 123/251. So, easy math there, in 2014 they have had 5 more opportunities, but have been in shotgun 28 fewer times! Pinch me. They finally are running an offense I have been campaigning for since Terrell Owens was on the team!
2013 Total: 566/945 - 59.8% Shotgun
2012 Total: 565/1038 - 54% Shotgun
2011 Total: 445/1012 - 43.9% Shotgun
TOTALS BY PERSONNEL GROUPS
(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.)
* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.
So much dedication to balance and variety that there is almost nothing to complain about. It puts me in an odd position.
Wk 1: 1/5, 9 Yds, 3 INT, 1 FD
Wk 2: 4/5, 39 Yds, 1 Sack, 2 FD
Wk 3: 3/3, 88 Yds, 1 TD, 2 FD
Wk 4: 6/8, 76 Yds, 1 TD, 4 FD
2014 Total: 14/21, 212 Yds, 2 TD, 3 INT, 1 Sack, 9 FD
In review, look at the Week 1 totals, then take only the last three weeks into account: 13/16, 203 Yds, 2 TD, I Sack, 8 FD. Amazing. I wrote a long piece in August about the Cowboys and the Run/Play Action Passing combo, and it might be worthy of checking again if you get the chance. It is really something how things clicked in the final 6 games of last year and they have kept going. The epiphany of the New Orleans humiliation last November and the bye week would be an amazing story to hear Jason Garrett tell some day.
Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 32 Pass Situations vs New Orleans
With Rob Ryan, it is never how often he blitzes (you will notice his blitz rate isn't shockingly high), it is how many he sends when he does blitz. He loves the big blitz with 6 and 7! Dangerous and deadly all at the same time. And Romo burned him on his own stove.
Wk 1: SF Blitzed Dallas 1/40 - Blitzed 2.5%
Wk 2: Tenn Blitzed Dallas 12/33 - Blitzed 36.3%
Wk 3: STL Blitzed Dallas 11/23 - Blitzed 47.8%
Wk 4: NO Blitzed Dallas 11/32 - Blitzed 34.3%
2014 Total: Opponents Blitzed Dallas 35/128 - Blitzed 27%
2013 Total: Opponents Blitzed Dallas 210/616 - Blitzed 34%
Thanks to John Daigle for his work on the charts and graphs.
SUMMARY: Forgive me, but in the interest of time, I did not spend too much time on Tony Romo this week. In short, he was very, very good. He diagnosed blitzes, he made throws, he did not risk interceptions, and overall he was absolutely the type of player that looks like a QB1 capable of leading his team to a division win.
Of course, there is so much more in that equation, but if your QB is at that level (and not nursing a back injury that is ending his career) then my fears of the last several months are quieting down. This was not the case after SF and Tenn, but these last 2 weeks have been "Top Shelf Romo".
If he is going to do that, and if the zone blocking is going to do what we saw above, and the tactical decisions made by the man with the call sheet are going to remain on point, and if the health continues....the sky is absolutely the limit for this offense.
I believe that they finally came to grips with the idea that they are not best suited for the Saints/Packers/Patriots template (and by the way, those teams are not as suited for it as they once were, either). Rather, the physical pounding style of Seattle or San Francisco which starts with a huge and powerful line, a running game that is unforgiving, and then when you adjust to deal with it, the aerial attack begins against a lesser-popualated secondary.
It is physical, smash-mouth, toll-taking football and it wins in this league - in any era. It took us a while to get here and it won't always be sunny mornings and pretty flowers, but for now, you can absolutely see that the league is noticing some things on film that are going on down in Dallas.
You are not relying on 1 guy to carry you. You are relying on 6 guys up front. And then, the next wave is a QB with lots of weapons. It protects your defense and it wears out your opponent. And if you study this offense over the course of many years, you know I am not always feeling this cheery about the Cowboys offense. But, I must confess, I haven't been this optimistic about the possibilities in a long time. The pieces are finally falling in place.
Let's see how the league responds.