Cowboys' poor ball security destroys all plans
OCT 03, 2012 9:56a ET
Another one that you will hear coaches discuss at every level is the simplicity of the turnover battle. Specifically, the team that takes care of the the football will almost always win the game.
We forget that sometimes. We think it might be antiquated and that today's new offenses are so powerful that they can overcome a simple turnover in a 60 minute game. But, evidence proves that this is not antiquated. This applies to Lombardi's era as much as it does to today's.
And we aren't even talking about the turnover margin. We are simply talking about winning a football game when your team turns the ball over 3 times in a game. In 2011 in the NFL, 130 teams turned the ball over 3 times in a single game. 24 of them were victorious for a 24-106 record. 18% win percentage is a pretty strong number.
What if we talk about turnover margin? -3? In 2011 in the NFL, the team that was -3 in the turnover battle went 1-37. 2% winning percentages pretty much tell you that home or away, mismatch or no, day or night, roof open or closed, if you get your butt beat in a turnover battle, you aren't winning unless something magical goes down.
October 8, 2007 was that miracle in Dallas. That was the last Monday Night Football game where Tony Romo threw 5 interceptions. It is a game that we might not have given enough time to when it happened, but now realize how singular a game that truly was. It is the only game in the Romo/Garrett era in which the Cowboys have won a game with a -3 or worse in the turnover battle.
All-time, the Cowboys franchise is 10-102-2 when they are -3 in the turnover battle.
-2? Romo/Garrett's Cowboys are 2-18. The Buffalo win and the equally magical overtime win in Kansas City in 2009.
In games in which they simply have 3 giveaways? Romo/Garrett's Cowboys are 2-19.
No team, and especially this team, can overcome giving the ball away.
So, it is really tough to read much into the game against the Bears beyond the generosity with the football. They turned the ball over 5 times and that is the story of the game. In addition, the defense generated one takeaway, so -4 was not going to work.
You simply need a miracle - Buffalo 2007 style - to pull a win out of a game with that many self-inflicted wounds.
And, as we know, there were no miracles to be found.
RUNNING INTO A WALL
Once again, the offense could not run the football. 14 carries for 41 yards and the 3 game trend is just ridiculous since leaving New York. 48 carries since have totaled 132 yards for less than 3 yards a carry and a streak of 3 games since the Cowboys have had 50 yards rushing in a game.
Let me repeat: They have not had 50 yards rushing in a game since Week 1!!!
I wanted to show you something that I promise is being discussed in the coaching meetings about the running game this week, below.
It is the bread and butter of the running game that has disappeared. Below, we have the 3 most common personnel groupings for running the ball. All 3 are under center, and I have laid out all of the rushing numbers for the 3 groupings based on the last 5 seasons. Give each one a good look:
"12 Personnel" - 1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR
"21 Personnel" - 2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR
"22 Personnel" - 2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR
Did anything jump out you?
Here is what I saw and I am sure they are wondering about - the "12" and "22" packages have been completely shut down in 2012. They have 5 year lows in both categories in yards per carry, and "12" personnel, the love of Jason Garrett's offense, is not only at a 5-year low, but at a 5-year low by almost 50%!
And what do both of these groupings have in common? 2 Tight Ends.
Now, we can discuss the health and well-being of Jason Witten. It appears that he is rounding into form, but what have the Cowboys lost when Martellus Bennett went away? Everyone, to a man, conceded that he had turned into a very good blocker - almost to the complete expense of his pass catching. Maybe we are seeing this in black and white clarity.
Is John Phillips anywhere close to Martellus Bennett? Probably not, but it is more complicated than that. Perhaps Bennett was at least respected downfield? And as a blocker, he was more than you would expect from a tight end. I don't think Phillips is close to that.
Defenses see your personnel and then decide how they are going to play you and who should be respected. Do they bring up another safety to stuff all run plays or do they fear the idea of a tight end bursting down the seam against a linebacker?
And, if the two seam passes that hit Witten in both hands - one in Seattle and one in Tampa Bay - were caught, would the running game have a lot less heat on it because safeties would back off and respect the big play over the top? Of course.
You can bet the coaches are sorting through this information and asking those same questions as we speak.
If you cannot run the ball at all out of "12" or "22" personnel with 2 tight ends and essentially 7-8 run blockers (depending on a fullback), then you can't run the ball at all.
Data from Week 4 vs Chicago
|Starting Field Position||D 23|
|1st Down Run-Pass||12-23|
|2nd Down Avg Distance to Go||7.04|
|2nd Down Run-Pass||2-21|
|3rd Down Avg Distance to Go||5.3|
|3rd Down Run-Pass||0-9|
|3rd Down Conversions||3-9, 33%|
The data is all considerably better than it was against Tampa. Better 1st down success and a very short and manageable 3rd Down distance. But, 5 picks makes all of these numbers relatively irrelevant.
Here are the passing charts to see what was being accomplished on Sunday.
Blue is a completion. Red is incomplete. Yellow is a touchdown, and Black is an interception. The passes are lines from where Romo released the pass to where the pass was caught. This shows you his release point and where he likes to throw when he slides in the pocket.
2nd Half - All Throws
2nd Half - Only Romo Throws - almost no success to the right side of the field.
As you can see, the "Tampa 2" concedes short throws under the coverage and very little down the field. This chart speaks volumes.
Intern Tim focused on Jason Witten this week for his iso-chart. Here are all of the throws to Witten on this forgettable Monday Night:
Throws only to Jason Witten
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-At New York: 9 Drives - 5 Run/4 Pass
Wk 2-At Seattle: 9 Drives - 3 Run/6 Pass
Wk 3-Tampa Bay: 13 Drives - 7 Run/6 Pass
Wk 4-Chicago: 11 Drives - 3 Run/8 Pass
Season: 42 Drives 18 Run/24 Pass - 43% Run
2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run/102 Pass 44% Run
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. High Shotgun numbers are not this team's calling card for success.
As you can see, the situation in the game dictates the use of shotgun. The Cowboys use "Shotgun 11" as their "catch-up" mode and the more they run it, usually the worse the game is going.
They have run up the white flag on running the ball and by halftime of the last 3 games have gone almost exclusively to the 1-dimensional and predictable shotgun offense. That invites blitzes with corners and safeties jumping routes - which leads to turnovers and big collisions. Not the way to live long-term.
Wk 1 - NYG: 15/54 27.7%
Wk 2 - Sea: 29/56 52%
Wk 3 - TB: 34/63 54%
Wk 4 - Chi: 50/68 74%
2012 Season Total: 138/241 57%
2011 Total - 445/1012 43.9%
Here is the breakdown by groupings:
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.
Totals by Personnel Groups:
They ran just 4 plays from "12" and 3 plays out of "22" personnel. The Cowboys have seriously abandoned something that used to be what their identity because of offensive ineptitude.
Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:
In a way, the bye week is a welcome site, because the coaches can now look at a quarter of the season and see what is working and what is not. But, the easy solution of just scrapping everything and rolling shotgun 11 the rest of the way is the quick road to nowhere.
They simply must figure out a way to balance out the offense from a standpoint of making teams respect your offensive line just a little.
If they don't, they expose their pass protection and blitz pick-up. They also run into disguised coverages that will eventually fool your Quarterback and pull off another turnover.
And the Cowboys simply cannot win if they are giving the ball away.
Do I think that Derrick Dockery, Phil Costa, David Arkin, or Jeremy Parnell are the answers? No. I don't. But, we are getting to the point with the offensive line that you might give someone else a chance (or someone else who is unsigned) simply to try to salvage an offense that seems pointed to 5-11 if this doesn't get sorted quickly.
This is a very important week for the decision makers at the Ranch.
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