Dallas Cowboys: Still a Long Way To Go, But Offense Takes Baby Steps

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Dallas Cowboys: Still a Long Way To Go, But Offense Takes Baby Steps
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In the week leading up to the 7-6 win over the Washington Redskins Sunday, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett got an earful from fans, media, and even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The message? Run the ball .

And that is exactly what Garrett did, to the tune of 149 rushing yards on 31 called running plays—a 4.8 yards-per-rush average.

There are probably some media and fans who are going to point to what matters most—points—and say it didn't make much difference from the game against the Green Bay Packers when they scored seven points.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

 

Stats that don't lie

One stat that helps debunk that ridiculous assumption is how many times the Cowboys found themselves in "manageable" second downs (2nd-and-6 or less).

In the game against the Packers the Cowboys had 22 1st-and-10s.*

Of the 22, they ran the ball six times, gaining a "manageable" second down 66 percent of the time.

When the Cowboys passed the ball on first down, they only had a "manageable" second down 31 percent of time.

The trend continued in this Sunday's game against the Redskins.

When the Cowboys ran against the Redskins defense on first down (12 times), they had a "manageable" second down 75 percent of the time, averaging 5.75 yards-per-play.

When the Cowboys passed against the Redskins defense on first down (10 times), they had a "manageable" second down 30 percent of the time, averaging 2.8 yards-per-play. That average was helped immensely by the 11- and 12-yard passes at the end.

You might say that the average yards-per-play is distorted because of that final drive in which they passed on every down, but the Cowboys only ran the ball one time on first down in the second half.

That is despite averaging 5.75 yards when running the ball on first for the entire game. 

Think about that.

 

Why are "manageable" second downs important?

The reason this stat is important is because it creates more options for the team on second down when you have success.

If you are facing 2nd-and-7 or more, your options become limited. Without looking back through two years of game logs, I can guarantee Garrett almost always calls for a pass on 2nd-and-long. 

The problem with that is that there are three things that can happen when passing the ball—and two of them are bad. 

An incomplete puts you in the dreaded 3rd-and-long, and an interception is the worst, but both are drive-killers.

Another stat that everyone seems to forget is time of possession. 

In the Packers game, the Cowboys had the ball for 24 minutes.

In the Redskins game, the Cowboys had the ball for 33 minutes.  

That is nine more minutes that the Cowboys' defense got to rest for the end of the game against the Redskins than they did against the Packers.

And, if you didn't notice, the Redskins got little to no pass-rush on quarterback Tony Romo in that final touchdown drive. 

You think those Redskins defensive linemen were gassed at the end of the game?

You bet.

And guess which defense looked fresh?  That's right, the Cowboys.

 

Then how come the Cowboys still couldn't put it together on offense? 

The lack of points on the board came down to poor play-calling in the passing game and execution by the players.

Romo was inaccurate for most of the game, and I believe a lot of that had to do with the shot he took from DeAngelo Hall after the Marion Barber fumble. 

But Garrett didn't do anything to help Romo out.

Every passing play took three to four seconds to develop, and Romo just didn't have that kind of time against the Redskins' front. The Redskins only sacked Romo once, but the Cowboys quarterback didn't ever really look comfortable.

Garrett needs to establish a short passing game—quick slants and hitches with short drops—that will build much-needed confidence in Romo with his offensive line and wide receivers early in the game. 

During the Cowboys' Dynasty in the 1990s, quarterback Troy Aikman always had running back Emmitt Smith as an outlet, whether in the flat or right past the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field.

Why doesn't this Cowboys team do something similar?

Another thing that I noticed is that Romo didn't take advantage of the incredible running game he has.  

The play-action fake that Romo gives is very nonchalant. If you watch Peyton Manning do it, he really sells the fact that it is a run.  

I think Romo could do better in this area, possibly giving his receivers a little more separation as the linebackers and secondary bite on the fake.

And then you have Mr. Roy "That idiot gave a first, third, and sixth rounder for me" Williams. I haven't been on Roy's case about the drops, but it is now becoming inexcusable. 

It might be time for Kevin Ogletree to get his shot.

 

Forecast?

The Cowboys are going to come around—as long as Garrett sticks to the run. The Cowboys have to be able to pass to win, but it is a lot easier with a running game that defenses respect. 

In the end, the running game looked great, just like Jerry knew it would. 

Now, let's see Garrett tweak the passing game.

But it's baby steps—one small step at time.

 

Table 1.

Packer's Game

First Down Run/Pass        Result
1 P 2nd & 7
2 R 1st
3 P 2nd & 10
4 R 2nd & 5
5 R 2nd & 11
6 R 2nd & 8
7 P 2nd & 4
8 P 1st - Fumble by Roy
9 P 2nd & 13
10 R 2nd & 11
11 P 2nd & 10
12 P 2nd & 13
13 P 1st
14 R 2nd & 6
15 P 2nd & 15
16 P 2nd & 8
17 P 2nd & 10
18 P 2nd & 6
19 P 2nd & 4
20 P 1st
21 P  2nd & 10
22 p 2nd & 10

 

Table 2

Redskins Game

First Down Run/Pass       Result
1 R 2nd & 5
2 R 2nd & 1
3 R 2nd & 2
4 R 2nd & 2
5 R 2nd & 5
6 R 2nd & 3
7 P  2nd & 10
8 R 2nd & 8
9 R 1st
10 R 2nd & 6
11 R 2nd & 8
12 R 2nd & 4
13 P  2nd & 2
14 R 2nd & 9
15 P  2nd & 10
16 P  2nd & 10
17 P  2nd & 16
18 P  2nd & 10
19 P  2nd & 10
20 P  2nd & 7
21 P  1st
22 P  1st

 

*I only calculate first downs in which it was 1st-and-10, as it wouldn't be accurate to include 1st-and-20 because the defense knows teams are more likely to pass.

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