Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Decoding Linehan - Week 1 - Missed Opportunities


On Tuesdays, we examine the offense from as many perspectives as possible and make sure, like the coaching staff, that we "look at the tape" to see what jumps out at us about the Scott Linehan/Jason Garrett offense.
We want to examine what worked and what didn't to see how this offense is coming along. There were some very good things for the Cowboys -- 75 snaps is pretty great and nearly 37 minutes would be considered fantastic. Twenty-four first downs is excellent and 10 third-down conversions is off the charts.
On the bad ledger: 75 snaps and one touchdown. Seventy-five snaps and just one explosive play (plays of 20 yards or more) -- a 21-yard catch by Geoff Swaim, of all people. And why are you also in 17 third-down situations? That also is off the charts. And just 19 points.
This is the 33rd regular season game for Scott Linehan calling plays and this game ranked 30th on the yards-per-play list, as the team snapped the ball 75 times for just 328 yards, which comes out to 4.37 yards per play. Way too low.
30.            9/11/16            New York Giants            4.37 ypp
31.            11/15/15            Tampa Bay                        4.30 ypp
32.            11/1/15            Seattle                                    3.85 ypp
33.            11/26/15            Carolina                             3.75 ypp
It was truly a rough November last season.
Regardless, when you look at all of these numbers, you conclude that the biggest problem on Sunday was that there were no explosive plays -- yards in big chunks -- which we never imagined would be a real issue.
What happened? Many of you have claimed that Scott Linehan was way too conservative with Dak Prescott making his debut. There is no question that they did not ask him to make all sorts of big throws, but I will respectfully disagree with the idea that the offense was really dialed back. I thought they took several shots. In fact, here is Dak Prescott's throw chart (thanks to my guy, John Daigle for his fine work again this year). The spots are where the ball lands and with this many throws past 20 yards, I don't think you can make the claim that they ran the Brandon Weeden game plan. That was wildly conservative, but I think the Cowboys were opportunistic to throw the ball downfield on Sunday.
They just didn't connect enough.

This shows six passes of 20 yards or longer, but only one was a blue dot -- 1-6 on these throws is something that you want to improve. You also will want to get some YAC, which the Cowboys didn't have much of. There is no reason some of these shorter passes shouldn't be able to break into the open field. Especially with the Giants crowding the line to stop the run.

DEZ BRYANT: 1 catch, 8 yards

Here are the balls to Dez Bryant:
Here was his lone catch. Second play of the game, a comeback to the sideline.
Deep shot to Dez from the slot. This one was close for sure. We have seen No. 88 come down with this in the past. It just didn't connect this time against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Here is another look at how close that was.
Next, this is Janoris Jenkins taking a face-mask penalty against Dez as the ball is sent in that direction.
The above play changes your entire perception of Sunday's performance. If Dez catches this, everything is different. The Cowboys likely win. Dak Prescott is a hero. But, Bryant did not secure the ball and the review got them (again). Dez doesn't let this happen much, but even he will admit he has to win this ball.
Next, another play-action shot to Dez where Prescott is trying to hold the safety and then make a safe throw downfield. This is the one where you would like a better throw, but he was erring on the side of caution and threw it out of bounds.
Down one, 2nd-and-10, 5:33 left in the game. This one hurts. This ball is there and this ball is catchable although DRC does a nice job getting an arm in there to increase the degree of difficulty. Dez has position on Rodgers-Cromartie and this should help get them in position to win the game. Instead, the sun wins. Maddening! But, the throw is there.  
So there are all of the shots they took to Dez. I think it is important to see all of these shots before we act like they didn't try to get Bryant involved more. This many deep shots indicate that maybe they need more short throws to get him involved, but at least four times they gave him a real chance to affect the outcome with these throws.
They were searching for explosives. They just have to connect.


Now, there is no question we are going to hold the offensive line to a very high standard. Very high. They are called the best line in the National Football League. They have three All-Pro players and have invested high draft picks and now massive contracts on this line. They have built everything around this line and some of you have called them one of the greatest lines in history.
It all looks great on paper.
But, 30 runs for 101 yards is just not what we were looking for. I chose to focus on Dak-to-Dez this week, but we will break down the offensive line all season from a running game perspective.
Today, though, I did want to spend a few minutes on the Giants front vs. Dallas. You know that all of the division rivals have gone heavy on D-line because they know they have to deal with the Dallas O-line. They know that this could likely determine success or failure, playoffs or not, and coaching/GM job security or the owner will go find someone else who can beat Dallas.
So the Giants went and spent. They signed Olivier Vernon from Miami and Damon Harrison from the Jets. They kept Jason Pierre-Paul and bet that those three and Johnathan Hankins could upset the Cowboys' run game and affect the passer. They then stacked the box to make running very difficult.
The Giants had zero sacks and zero takeaways on Sunday, yet it seemed like they won the line of scrimmage against the Cowboys on the final scorecard.
In fact, the Cowboys only did not score on four drives. And one of those was the final drive where they had some clock issues. But, the two drives in the fourth quarter where they let the game get away were both sabotaged by killer offensive holding penalties on La'el Collins. Do you know a bad combination? First-and-20, and then no explosive plays to get it all back.
First play of the drive where the Cowboys had a 19-13 lead and the ball with 12:00 left in the game. If they march this ball, they might win with ease. Instead, on the first snap, La'el tackles Vernon. Just tackles him. And the drive died with a three-and-out.
Next drive. Now, down 20-19 -- 4:57 left and 1st-and-10 at the Cowboys' 36. They need to score on this drive. Instead, on first down (again!) La'el Collins holds Vernon. Again. And again, three plays later, here comes the punt team.
I want to keep stats this season on how many drives are killed by holding penalties. They are absolute drive killers. And the Cowboys had two killers in the fourth quarter. This wasn't play calling.
Then, Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Doug Free happened. In the box score, JPP didn't upset the game or anything. But, we know this Cowboys-killer played quite a role. Let's watch a few of his better moments:
Gets Doug Free on an island.
Versus empty, Free now sets too far outside and JPP blows by inside.
Finally, late in the game, he almost gets home again.  
I would say the Giants feel pretty good about this strong performance against the best O-line in football.

Clearly, the YPP and the red zone execution are major components. And then just the one explosive play. There were some really good things on Sunday in terms of moving the chains and getting decent QB play, but obviously, they left a lot on the field.

This is an interesting study when Tony Romo is the QB and the Cowboys vary their personnel groupings on nearly every play. But, as you can see, I think with Prescott, they are going to stay in 11 personnel almost all of the time and usually keep him in that familiar spot of shotgun where he can get the zone read going a bit more as he gets comfortable.

The official stats say 75 plays, but we don't keep the knees or the clocked plays in our charting, because really, what is the point of calling those run plays or pass plays?


This needs to be a "big play" offense and on Sunday with Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott, we saw no big plays to speak of. The only one was to the third tight end and another near-explosive to the fourth WR in Brice Butler.  
But, they took shots, they got good production from their QB -- let's not have him throw 45 times again soon, OK -- and they took care of the ball. They cannot deal with penalties on the O-line and the reviews were mixed in the blocking game and pass protection.
All things considered, scoring five times should be enough, but 19 points will hardly ever suffice in the NFL.
Some good things, but not enough to win. They need much better starting Sunday in Washington.
It is possible the game would have ended differently with one more kick. But, the enduring memory of losing to the Giants in Week 1 might come down to wondering if Dan Bailey can make a 63-yarder if this play ends differently.
We will never know.

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