Surely, we all look forward to a day where we forget about the 1st half against the 49ers, but since then, the offense has showed a level of productivity that is awful exciting. Since the half of Week 1, the Cowboys have had the ball 25 times as an offense, and scoring 13 times. That sort of success rate will win many games, and they have assembled long, time-consuming and defense-exhausting drives during that stretch, as well.
To show you what we are discussing, the Cowboys were 29th in the NFL in 10-play drives in 2013 (20). That was actually about the same as their performance in 2012 in that category, when they finished dead last - 32nd in long drives (21). So, combined in 2 years they had 41 10-play drives and were, along with Miami the worst in the league at sustaining drives. This year, they already have 9 and are 3rd in the NFL in this category - and have scored on 8 of them (88.9%) which means that they are taking the ball and marching with balance and effectiveness. And, that, is something we have not seen near enough of.
Here is an interesting study: What do 12/16/12 and 12/23/12 have to do with the last 4 games? Well, those would be the 6 occasions in his NFL career that DeMarco Murray has lost a fumble. It is not a rate that sets off alarms at all - but a pace that surely does. In fact, in 40 games he has lost 6 fumbles, and to compare: Alfred Morris has 7 lost fumbles in 34 games and LeSean McCoy has 7 in 77 games and Matt Forte has lost 12 fumbles in 94 games. So, DeMarco had lost just 2 fumbles in his first 36 games and had a reputation as a guy who doesn't lose the ball.
Then, Week 17 of 2013 happened. 1st Quarter of a crucial game against the Eagles where they would not have Tony Romo. 1st Drive, DeMarco fumbled. Then, the season opener in 2014, 1st drive, DeMarco fumbled. The next week, 1st Quarter, DeMarco fumbled. And, this week, Cowboys marching in the 1st Quarter, and DeMarco Fumbled. 4 fumbles in 4 games - all in the 1st Quarter. See Below:
We all know he is in a contract year. So does he. You wonder how much of this is mentality and trying to do too much.
The good news is that this team looks lethal on 3rd Downs to start the season. If we all can agree that 3rd Downs are what separates the good offenses from the rest, then the 2013 Cowboys were very disappointing and underachieving - 32nd in the NFL in road 3rd Down conversions! But, are they finally figuring out a season in which they can be efficient in the red zone AND on 3rd Downs at the same time? Currently, (and it is incredibly early) they are 3rd in the NFL this year, trailing only the Saints (gulp) and the Lions.
As we discussed yesterday in the Morning After, Romo is spreading the ball around on 3rd Down, using Gavin Escobar, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar, and even his own legs to try to move the chains against the Rams. If the defense is going to use tendencies and common sense to limit Jason Witten and Dez Bryant on 3rd Down, then Romo has to find the match ups that are available. And they will always find attractive options given the attention Witten and Dez receive, but Romo in the past has not always trusted his supporting cast. Now, maybe something has clicked.
With all due respect to Xs and Os Thursdays - I can't wait to talk more about this home run from Sunday. Here is what I wrote yesterday as a recap:
One more item on Linehan's genius yesterday has to be the Play Action bomb to Dez Bryant. There are a million items about this play that I love, but the best is this - the Cowboys set a hook based on tendencies. 1st Down, Cowboys under center, let's examine the last 7 times before that deep shot: Run, Run, Run, Run, Run, Run, and Run. Do you think the Rams knew this? Do you think they were all preparing to deal with another zone stretch? I do.Now, this is why I love to study football. You can talk for hours about 1 play. And how it relates to all of the others. And how 1 play can make players think differently about subsequent plays. And how all you need is one false step and you have your opening. Can you take advantage of it? That is the margin between winning and losing. And there is a new game being played on every snap. It is chess amidst the chaos of carnage.
So, they move forward and decide to man-up on the outside edges. Then, Romo fakes to Murray, and pulls the ball back. The safety is moving forward. Jenkins, who already has a Pick 6 is sitting on the deep out, Dez cuts back inside and now all Romo has to do is prove he can throw it in the air that far. Dez sets up for a near fair catch and jogs into the end zone. Touchdown. Coaching wins.
Since Game Rewind isn't up this early in the week, I am going to use the Fox All-22 cut that Moose is drawing all over here and in my opinion, his jumping on the safety seems a bit harsh.
The safety has to diagnose the biggest issue and looking at Terrance Williams running across the field all alone while to his right he sees Janoris Jenkins on the hip of Dez Bryant would tell any safety that the issue is the Dig route right in front of him. He can't possibly know that Jenkins is about to jump a route for no reason that is both reckless and stupid.
The play is all based on the play-action fake and then the 2 routes that come out of it - Williams from the bottom on a 15-yard Dig (which he sort of runs) and Dez on a post that he breaks at 20 over the top. Because you are in big personnel "12", there will only be a single-high safety as the Rams are sure this is a run. Then, look at what the fake does to all the white shirts. They are going to stop DeMarco and then you can all see them cuss in unison as they see what is happening behind them.
But, the Cowboys will still have 2 versus 3, and the safety can clean up any messes. If Williams is not running a route that breaks in, he is out-leveraged to the outside by 33-EJ Gaines. But, Gaines has no idea what is happening to him until Williams is 15 yards behind him.
Now, the CF Safety 23-Rodney McLeod has an easy choice. Moose blamed him completely, but I see no fault in his decision. In fact, if McLeod goes with Dez, then Williams might score a touchdown. He had to do what he did and Janoris just needs to play man instead of trying to be a hero.
Romo's throw is not very good, but Dez is so wide open that the play works as long as the pass eventually arrives.
Now, many of you love Xs and Os as much as I do, and that play reminded us all of the INT back in Week 1. Same play, but a different wrinkle from Dallas. Instead of Witten running the under, they put a speed guy there in Williams. This causes the safety a bit more underneath stress. And this time, the safety did not sit on the deep route. The 49ers also had the opposite corner Culliver recover with amazing back pedal, and the Cowboys threw into triple coverage.
Surely, both teams spent the week figuring out the play and the Cowboys found an alteration to use the same exact concept of a Play-Action fake on 1st and 10 with a run look to hit a home run. The Rams knew about this, but after 7 consecutive runs, dropped their guard for a moment to lethal consequences.
Offensive Participation: Certainly not trying to jinx anything here, but once again the Cowboys had full use of all of their offensive toys in Game 3. The OL has once again had perfect attendance and Linehan could deploy whoever he wanted at his leisure. That meant Witten, Dez, Williams, and Murray playing 80% or more. With supporting cast snaps at the following: Beasley 24, Escobar 18, Hanna 16, Clutts 10, Dunbar 6, Harris 4, and then 3 more players with 2 snaps each - Parnell, Street, and Randle. People like me like to discuss these low snap numbers for important pieces like Dunbar and Escobar, but the good news is that the team does seem to have some level of cover for the injuries that eventually arrive. All snap numbers courtesy of PFF and they include all snaps including plays that were not official because of penalties.
STATS FOR WEEK 3 AGAINST ST LOUIS
|Avg Starting Position||D23|
|1st Down R-P||19-6|
|2nd Down Avg to Go||7.93|
|2nd Down R-P||6-9|
|3rd Down Avg to Go||6.10|
|3rd/4th Down R-P||2-8|
|3rd Down Conversions||5-10, 50%|
|4th Down Conversions||0-0|
|Yards Per Play||6.5|
|Yards Per Pass Attempt||9.4|
|Red Zone TDs - Drives||2-4, 50%|
Soon, I will check on the average yards to go numbers correlation to 3rd Down conversions, but know that 6.1 yards to go for your average 3rd Down is very good. If you stay ahead of the chains, you are always going to convert more. I know that is obvious, but they never say that during games and it is absolutely the key to being a better 3rd down team. Not all conversions are created equal. Not even close.
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 3 Summary
In the past, Dallas has grown accustomed to ditching their game plan if a few speed bumps occur. And if this is 2013, I can't guarantee DeMarco gets another carry after 21-0. But in 2014, whether it be an anomaly or not, Dallas opened the game by running during 33 percent (5-15) of their first three possessions, and handled a three score deficit by simply running during a whopping 62 percent (22-35) of their final six possessions.
Pay special attention to the orange drive which was the money drive in the 4th Quarter where they converted several 3rd Downs. Great work when the game was on the line.
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
2014 Total: 21 Drives - 20 Run/10 Pass - 66% Run
Very interesting start to the season on the ground. I don't know how to say this, but they are actually doing what they said they would do at training camp. No guarantee this continues, but wow.
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
2014 Total: 97 Shotgun/189 Total Plays - 51% Shotgun
51% through 3 games! Is this balance???
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.)
|13||2||9||1- -4||1-13||1||-4||1- -4||0-0||0/0|
* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.
Check those runs from under center. Beautiful. And the 3rd Down conversions were very good from Romo when it mattered most to extend drives.
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
2014 Total: 8/13, 136 Yds, 1 TD, 3 INT, 1 Sack, 5 FD
After a very dicey Week 1 with play action, they have picked things up nicely. Progress, progress everywhere.
Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 33 Pass Situations vs Tennessee
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%
2014 Total: Opponents Blitzed Dallas 24/96 - Blitzed 25%
2013 Total: Opponents Blitzed Dallas 210/616 - Blitzed 34%
|1 - |
|2 - |
Thanks to John Daigle for his work on the charts and graphs.
SUMMARY: I am not sure how much of the raw data applies from these first 3 weeks as we look to the next 13. We have constructs in our mind of how a season will go, but all 3 of these first games have mitigating circumstances that make you question what we are looking at.
However, they pass protected pretty well - they also had a QB who was able to move in the pocket again and make some throws.
The offensive line is destroying teams with the zone stretch, and they have done that 3 weeks straight. Soon, we are just going to have to accept the fact that they might be a really good running team from run looks - something that hasn't been a legitimate label since Marion Barber was in the backfield. They have tried 75 run plays from under center in 3 weeks for 400 yards. 5.33 yards a carry with Romo under center is absurd for these guys.
That is impressive and that sets the hook for play-action over the top. And as you can see above, that is now there.
This, for now, is no longer a football team trying to play finesse basketball-style offense. They are balanced with strength, and can manipulate the defense in ways that I have not seen in a while.
Maybe it is Linehan. Maybe it is the importing of strength to the offensive line. Maybe it is the maturity of Dez into a terrifying threat. Maybe it is Romo understanding the concepts better. And maybe, it is only Week 3.
Regardless, I am enjoying what this offense has presented through 3 weeks. 7 giveaways is too many, but beyond that, I am willing to say this team appears to have a ceiling that is much closer to the coveted "elite" level than a Dallas offense has been in a long time. And it isn't about stats as much as it is about posture and varied options to punish an opponent.
Now, let's keep stacking good games on top of each other to prove these things.