Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Decoding Linehan: Week 1 - San Francisco

Welcome to another season of our in-depth blog breakdowns of the Dallas Cowboys.  On Tuesdays (or so), we lift the hood on the Scott Linehan-Jason Garrett-Tony Romo-Wade Wilson-Bill Callahan offense, and then on Wednesday (or so), the defense of Rod Marinelli-Monte Kiffin will get a similar treatment.

Our effort is to dig a little deeper and try to analyze what we think they are trying to accomplish each week, how well that objective went, and what we can learn from that moving forward.  As I have said a million times, this is not intended for the beginner, but we also try to keep it simple enough that the beginner can figure it out if he finds it interesting enough.

If not, carry on to another place as there are many more traditional ways to follow the Cowboys.  But, if you think this might be for you, you might want to read the first post of this series that ran last week and will serve as a bit of a tour guide for this entire project.  You can read that here and I think it might really help you as you attempt to break down personnel groupings and other terms that are quire common here, but uncommon around your water cooler (most likely).

Week 1 - 49ers

Now, on to the 49ers game.  First, just know that all of this effort and research can be helpful most weeks, and then others - in which they go Fumble-Field Goal-Interception-Interception-Interception in the first half - all of the raw numbers don't really illuminate much.

Below is a list of the 11 times the Cowboys have turned the ball over 4 times or more since Jason Garrett and Tony Romo joined forces back in 2007 - thanks to the ProFootballReference Game Finder:

As you can see, aside from that miracle in Buffalo - against a very bad Bills side - you don't turn the ball over 4 times and win. You simply cannot pull that off against a good team, especially one that is good enough to be favored at your place (at least it was technically your place, until they bought all the tickets).

The 49ers game showed some interesting things from this offense. 15 carries for 87 yards from under center for this new running game should have us pretty fired up about the possibility of lining it up and running it at a stout front like San Francisco and how that might apply moving forward. I didn't see much chaos in those zone stretch plays and very few negative plays in general from the running game. They, of course, get the fumble returned for the TD on their ledger, but overall, the running game at 5.8 a clip under center and 5.47 overall is strong to quite strong.

The pass protection was passable. Tyron was not very good, but overall, that is a difficult team to deal with (albeit without key members of their front 7) and the Cowboys survived pretty well, despite the 3 San Francisco sacks. The Niners were content to sit back and rush 4 or less on 98% of the Cowboys pass plays, given that they were up by 4 scores for most of the afternoon. There will be more difficult days for pass protection down the road, but that OL look organized and capable for what we saw. Of course, the games conditions require us to place quite a bit of context on all of our conclusions.

The team was beaten because their QB was massively outplayed. This won't happen often with Tony Romo, but on Sunday, he imploded about as badly as we can recall. The mental busts were uncharacteristic and one must hope that it was a rusty Romo and that is all. As we spoke about at length on Monday, if it is a trend then the Cowboys will be doomed for years of cap jail. They have put many, many eggs in his basket and he has 95 of the 96 games left on his contract extension. We have to assume this is an aberration and not panic at this juncture.

Now, the game turned on a sack. This sack was a result of mass confusion. But, it also is something we have studied for a long time around here.

Let's go back to the 2010 season when the Cowboys played in Houston. This is the first time I can remember a real discussion about these Run/Pass QB options that the Cowboys and the entire league runs being a topic of conversation. I recommend you review the entire post from that week, but if you simply watch and listen to this video, you can kind of get the picture of what is going on:

So, as Kubiak breaks down, Romo and the WR are the only guys who know it is not a run play. That is the basis for "giving Romo more control of the offense". When we were kids, the QB called the plays at the line quite a bit. They would call their own plays and that was a pretty cool thing to hear about and it made you think that they were coaches on the field. Then, in the 1990s, they weren't calling their own plays because things had become too advanced - we were told. So, now the offensive coordinators would call a play and the QB would obey most of the time.

Now, this advance that is common place is all over the league and for sure this particular playbook. If you are looking for it, you see it several times a game - the packaged play where it has many variations in a decision tree type format for the QB. The team knows they are running a particular play, but they are simply carrying out their task and are not to worry about what the QB decides on his way up the decision tree.

The play above shows how it works beautifully. Romo catches the safety sneaking up to stop the run so he finds Roy Williams in space and the touchdown makes everyone celebrate this innovation.

However, it comes with terrible consequences some times when the QB thinks he sees something and you wonder why you ever gave the QB the chance to impact a game with a sudden rush of blood to the head.

You could easily make the case that the play below cost the Cowboys the season. And, it is the same decision tree where this is a called run where Romo checks into the backside pass to Miles Austin and leaves Clay Matthews to either fall for the run fake or be unaccounted for on the pass rush. This might remind you of Justin Smith on Sunday - because it is identical in many ways - zone stretch right with backside throw to the left. If you have time, you can read all about that fateful day. It is a real amazing scenario from Week 14 of last year.

So, the QB takes a run play and turns it into a pass which he has the power to do. In the case above against Green Bay and the case below on Sunday, the run game was having great success and gaining confidence. Of course, the play above was late in the 4th Quarter and the one below was very early in this contest.

2nd and 1 from the 2 yard line and the 49ers are already up 7-0. The Cowboys broke the huddle in 23 personnel (2 RB, 3 TE) and they were going to ram it in or at least get the 1st down. But, the play clock went down and they called timeout.

During the timeout, they decided to go Shotgun 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and spread out the Niners. That is not a bad plan because it might make the running opportunity easier. But still the call was the zone run right with Murray and a lighter defense because of the Cowboys putting Beasley, Williams, and Bryant back out there.

Another frustrating element of this is the play clock is down again. The play clock is the one consistent enemy of this offense and it appears to not matter who is coordinating. They are never in their stance with :12 left. It is always :05 or less it seems. That doesn't help and there is no excuse coming out of a timeout.

Anyway, clearly Romo wants the Dez back shoulder fade on the left, but he has to see the corner pressing and the safety lingering. Dez is doubled. Meanwhile, you can see the 49ers not sure how to line up on the other side and the safety is trying to move the LB off of Beasley as this is all happening.

Now, Romo doesn't give the ball to DeMarco and Tyron blocks down to the right (check Tyron's movement above in the Green Bay game). Tyron is going to get blamed for Justin Smith running free to Romo, but that is what the play calls for. Romo knows this. Tyron is supposed to - on both plays - dive right to cut off his inside gap and to keep anyone from breaking into the zone block right. If Justin Smith is going to get DeMarco, he needs to go outside Tyron and chase down Murray from behind. That is unlikely. But, if Romo keeps, Smith is not accounted for so the ball has to get out quickly. Once Romo hesitates, the play is dead. And look at DeMarco and how annoyed he appears to be after the play.

The Cowboys end up settling for 3 instead of a physically dominating 7 and the afternoon was never the same. It was a day of repeated Romo poor decisions, but this is the one that bothered me the most. Yes, I want Dez to get chances in the red zone - many, many. But on this one, he has to see they are sitting on it and to give this OL a chance to prove that they can help DeMarco get a yard or two.

QB power in the offense is a very wonderful tool, as long as the QB sees everything properly. If he sees it wrong, games are lost. In this case, I am sure he would agree that this is not the type of mental busts that the team should have to overcome.

Offensive Participation: All hands on deck for the offense. OL played all 73 snaps together, Smith-Leary-Frederick-Martin-Free. Romo - Murray - Bryant - Williams. Reserve snaps: Beasley 47, Street 20, Hanna 15, Escobar 10, Harris 9, Dunbar 4, Parnell 4, Clutts 1. - Courtesy Pro Football Focus Participation Charts.

1 snap for your Fullback. 10 for your 2nd round tight end. 4 for your secret weapon Lance Dunbar. We shall hold off on any snap judgements for several weeks, but that is not the type of work load we had in mind for any of the above.


Run Plays23
Pass Plays40
Avg Starting PositionD18
1st Down R-P15-17
2nd Down Avg to Go6.3
2nd Down R-P6-15
3rd Down Avg to Go5.4
3rd/4th Down R-P1-9
3rd Down Conversions5-9, 56%
4th Down Conversions1-1, 100%
Yards Per Play6.1
Yards Per Pass Attempt7.6
Red Zone TDs - Drives2-4, 50%


Last season, intern Tim created (outstanding) passing charts in order to display release points from the pocket. This season, we're attempting to track both passing and drive progression. For instance, if you were to start at the first yellow line (D27) and work your way up, you would be tracking that possession from beginning to end. The dotted-lines are incompletions (and noted if separate events occurred). Large gaps between throws are mostly YAC or carries.
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

2013 Totals: 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% 

2013 Total - 566/945  59.8%
2012 Total - 565/1038 54%
2011 Total - 445/1012 43.9%


(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.

Plenty of things to like above as they really found production in yardage in most spots.  Run from under center were particularly promising and the work on 3rd Down was pretty solid.


Wk 1: 1/5, 9 Yds, 3 INT, 1 FD

We wanted more play-action in the Cowboys offense.  I refuse to back off that claim because it is a tool that needs to be used.  But, wow.  That was certainly not the start of the Linehan will employ more play action when he throws 5 passes and 3 are picked off from the run fake pass.


Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 40 Pass Situations vs San Francisco

Wk 1: SF Blitzed Dallas 1/40 - 2.5%

2013 - Season Blitz rate against Dallas offense 210/616: 34%


3 -
14 -
0017 -
2 -
12 -
1 -
015 -
1 -
7 -
008 -
Totals6 -
33 -
1 -
Thanks to John Daigle for his work on the charts and graphs.

SUMMARY:  It is next to impossible to classify this game without making all of the commentary about the 4 devastating giveaways.  The QB played brain dead most of the day and the game was a glorified preseason game for most of the afternoon.

Linehan wanted to run a balanced under-center offense with run to set up the play-action game that was going to be predicated on being able to stand up to the 49ers powerful front.  Those missions were accomplished pretty well and there were some wrinkles that were new, with deployment of Dunbar being noted, as well as Dwayne Harris being motioned over to running back.

We need to temper our conclusions in these early weeks, in hopes that the franchise QB returns, the level of competition equalizes a bit, and everyone finds their roles.  But, aside from the blowup at QB, there was a lot to like from the offense.

Which, of course, is like asking Mrs Lincoln how she liked the play.

On to next week.  


Unknown said...

Broaddus argued yesterday that Dunbar was not involved in the second half because the Cowboys were passing a lot, fearing blitz, and Dunbar is not worth a lot in those situations. Doesn't pick up the blitz well. He argues that you want Dunbar in the game when the offense is dictating to the defense.
As for Escobar; Hannah was in there a lot for him. I am guessing the shoulder is not completely healthy.

Drew Smith said...

On the Goal Line sack from the 2, while no doubt an outrageous decision from the QB, and a pretty basic zone run blocking scheme up front, I don't think you can excuse Tyron there. While the concept does call for him to take the first thing that shows in the C gap and then work to the second level, HIS pre-snap read and understanding of the D&D and field positioning should have told him Smith was his guy even if they had carried out the run. They were going to block it essentially man to man based on SF's alignment despite it being a zone run. Had Tyron not done what he did you would've had a tough time recognizing the zone scheme. And from the 2, there's no need for him to ignore Smith and get to the 2nd level. If he gets to the 2nd level there he's 3 yards deep in the endzone. I think Smith would have blown that play up had they handed it off anyways. And as it was, Tyron ended up having nobody to block and chasing Smith in the backfield as he sacked his QB. He would've been watching Smith blow up Demarco too had Tony not checked. So by the letter of the law Tyron did what his zone blocking assignment called for, but that doesn't mean he made a smart football play. Fact is there were 2 horrible pre-snap reads by the 2 $100 million guys on your team on that one play. And it cost them big time.

Drew Smith said...

I meant B gap, not C gap

Roberto Giani said...

Hi Bob, I take your point on Tyron on this play for good, but more I watch him and more it seems like he was lost on that assignment, even in a desperate move he tries to come back to help Romo. Doesn't look determinate in blocking his man inside. Just my thought.
Roby from Italy

Sturminator said...

To Drew and Robert on Tyron's role on that play, I keep coming back to the idea on a zone stretch right, he must take his first step inside. If Justin Smith is shooting the B gap, Tyron has to meet him there. But, given the suddenness in which that occurs, it better be anticipated. If you wait to see where Justin is going, you are not following the scheme. He tried to recover and perhaps could have done that better, but an unblocked backside DE when the play is going away from him is not very uncommon on those plays. He is out of the play because a DE cannot outrun a RB. Clay Matthews as a fast OLB might run him down, but it isn't likely that a DE can do that. Tyron might have done better, but his assignment was what he did, in my opinion.

Dave Green said...

One question I have is why the Cowboys can't get set with 10 seconds on the clock. Peyton Manning, in particular, does some of his best work before the snap, communicating with his team and the defense. You know it has to rattle defenders.

If Romo had more time before the snap to read the defense and to mess with their timing, he might do a lot better after the snap, don't you think?

Is this a Garrett problem? Is it Romo? It seems like a small thing to fix but it has been happening for years. I would be interested in your take, one day, Bob.