Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Decoding Linehan - Week 15 - Buffalo


Sunday gave us yet another game of offensive frustration for the 2015 season where it seems that nothing has gone according to plan.  Now, this one, in which the Cowboys were playing with their 4th starting Quarterback and without their opening day plans at both Running Back and Wide Receiver, it would seem rather predictable that they were not going to light up the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo a few days after Christmas.  One might have aspired for 7 points or more, but in a season that has been marked with 4 occasions now where the team has failed to score more than a touchdown (New England, At Tampa Bay, At Green Bay, At Buffalo) it should hardly surprise us at this point.
You have heard all of the facts.  This team is now starting its 4thQuarterback in which the one that might have engineered the least hope-inspiring performances of them all - Brandon Weeden - is now enjoying some harmless trash talking of Jerry Jones on his way to the playoffs. 
Question: Will it be extra satisfying because of what Jerry [Jones] said to see the Cowboys completely just turn into a dumpster fire if you're in the playoffs?
"I mean, yeah. Absolutely," Weeden said. "We get to play extra football and he'll be watching on his couch. That's what it's all about. We're playing for something and this is a fun time of the year."
I can't really blame the guy.  As we said at the time, as uninspiring as watching Weeden was, there should be blame placed on the coaching staff for basically making sure he did nothing but check the ball down.  I don't want to belabor the point, but I had it on great authority that part of the reason Weeden was a mess here is because the coaching staff was in his ear with the constant charge of checking the ball down.  Over and over again.  And he did.
This is Weeden's throw chart against Atlanta.  As you can see, all of the blue were the completions from that game.  He built up a great QB rating from never throwing the ball down the field.
Then, he followed that up in New Orleans - had that deep shot to Brice Butler:
And Finally, against New England:
So yes, he racked up an impressive completion percentage and QB rating.  But, as you can see, over 50 of his 64 completions in his 3 starts were 5 yards or less downfield.  He was a check down machine.  Now, was this his fault or the coaching staff?  I don't know anymore.  And honestly, by now, it doesn't matter.  But, everyone revising his history on this team pulled me offsides.
Regardless, the Weeden run into the playoffs (I guess that is what we are calling a win against the Titans in Week 16) is one thing that people want to talk about.  Hopefully after looking at the charts above, they will refocus their interest on why the Cowboys have issues with their backups.  
The curiosity for me is found in Buffalo.  Why, if the Cowboys don't really trust their backups to run the offense, is Kellen Moore now slinging the ball all over the field?  Also, earlier in the year, why did Matt Cassel look like a check down machine in some games and a gun slinger in others?  
It is almost like the above charts with Weeden got everyone in a room to agree that "safe is death" and that the QB (whoever it is) is going to have to throw the ball down the field at some point.  Weeden was the victim of the ultraconservatism from Linehan and Garrett and maybe Moore is the beneficiary.  In fairness, Moore has been with Linehan for years and that might give him an advantage, but Weeden had 2 years.   Somehow, as you look at the 10 longest plays on 3rd down this season, Kellen Moore has 4 of them in just 7 Quarters at QB.  That makes no sense (thanks to ProFootballReference):
They can't possibly think Kellen Moore is more able to attack than Weeden, right?  Weeden has one of the Top 10 and that was the slant at the end of the Eagles game that Williams broke for a TD.   Otherwise, it was check down after check down.  But, the more you watch this team, the more you wonder if the offensive coaching this year during a QB crisis was a major part of the issue.  
Look at Moore on these 3rd downs on Sunday:
Beautiful fade to Brice Butler converts a long 3rd down.  
Stands in against a big blitz and delivers a nice pass to Beasley in stride to kill said blitz.
This is more of a duck, but Williams came back and made a play.  Something we were told he was incapable of making earlier in the season when they didn't really try too hard.
It is all very confusing.  I think Moore has a very high FBI score (Football Intelligence) and has confident to cut the throw loose.  
The bigger question is why Kellen Moore has the most 3rd down successful big plays despite playing just a fraction of Cassel and Weeden?
And why does this matter so much?  Because for the next few months, this team is going to be shopping for a young college QB to raise.  Do you want this prospect to be raised by a coaching staff that seemed to wander all over the map in 2015 with QBs that were not Tony Romo?  In other words, do you trust these guys to develop Goff, Lynch, Wentz, or Cook?  
I just showed you the good plays above, but let's not forget that Moore was just 13 for 31 and that he had some very confusing throws and the receivers were not on the same page way too often.  I hope that people don't get the impression that I am ready to set sail on the good ship Kellen Moore.  He has something, but I am not sure if we have any idea what that is until we get a long look with more dangerous weapons than what he had on the field on Sunday.  
But, if there is anything to admire about the performance on Sunday, it would be the 7 3rd down conversions.  In just one game this year, the home OT game against Philadelphia, did the Cowboys get past 7 and finished with 8.  What is amazing is that with 7 3rd down conversions, they still only scored 6 points.  It is almost impossible to have more 3rd down conversions than points.  But, the Cowboys did it, 7-6.
Here is the throw chart for the first ever start of the Boise State product.  Way too much red, but look at all the quadrants of the field he was working.  All 3 levels of the defense and both sides.  I will continue to say he has something.  Probably, just a backup, but he sees the field, sees the blitz, and understands football quite well.  Those are all admirable traits.
Yet again, if there is a tendency that does nobody any favors, it is the Cowboys run/pass tendencies continuing to match-up every week with the Shotgun/Under Center formations.  Under Center, the Cowboys ran the ball on 23 of 26 occasions. 
From Shotgun, they passed the ball on 28 of 29 occasions.  Gee, do you think the defense has a pretty good idea of what the plans are for the Dallas offense these days?  
The only change up is the 2 or 3 times a game they try to sell the play-action over the top.  I think to find consistency, which is something they may have given up on in 2015, they would need to run out of pass looks and pass out of run looks more.  Because being a linebacker or safety against these Cowboys looks very simple.  
Soon, I am going to give Darren McFadden and the running game the attention they have deserved these last few weeks.  He has done plenty to like this year and with 3 more yards versus the Redskins he will hit 1,000 yards for the 2nd time in his 8-year career.
Ben Muth, someone you hopefully know about over at FootballOutsiders.com, is a guy who routinely covers this from an offensive line perspective.  He wrote about them last week and I wanted to make sure you see this:
If I had only had one word to describe the 2015 Dallas Cowboys offensive line, it would be "underappreciated." Thankfully, I have more words than that, so we can get a little more in depth. Just because they underachieved according to their massive preseason expectations does not mean that they are a bad unit. In fact, I'd say they are a really good line that is about to get a thousand yards out of an aging Darren McFadden (who wasn't even that good in his prime). You could take an all-decade offensive line and it would struggle to run the ball with the skill talent with which the Cowboys played this year. I just don't think Dallas' offensive line ever had a real chance to live up to its hype as a potential all-time great unit. 
When the running backs are Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle; the quarterbacks are Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore; and the No. 1 receiver is Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, or a not-100-percent Dez Bryant, no offensive line is going to look good. That's not even getting into some of the most conservative play calling seen in the NFL is this year. At the end of the day, so many things were wrong with the Cowboys' offense that no offensive line could have salvaged much. The pieces are still in place, however, for this to go from a really good offensive line in 2015 to a special one in 2016.
Go read the whole piece, but this is where I have been all year.  I think the pieces are in place, too, and with an upgrade at QB or RB (or both), I have plenty of faith in the rest of the offense.
Anyway, let's get another look at Kellen Moore - odds are the last one - and 3 more yards for McFadden and call it a year.  Then, the question becomes whether the franchise will figure out a new look for their offensive coaching staff or stay with what they have.  That is its own conversation for January.  

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