Decoding Callahan: Familiar Issues Lead To Defeat

The offensive examination this week gives me a chance to argue with the wind about the role of running in the NFL in 2013.

The offensive examination this week gives me a chance to argue with the wind about the role of running in the NFL in 2013.  You see, in the modern age, there are few things that get debated by those that enjoy the advanced metrics that Football Outsiders and similar numbers sources like the role of the run game and run/pass ratios. Do you run to win or do you run when you win?  They tell you with great confidence that surely, you run because you are winning and that multiple carries is simply the spoils of your victory (see: Jamaal Charles on Sunday).  

It is the classic chicken or egg discussion, and although I subscribe to much of what that section of the football community has sold, I disagree with the deeper issues here. Why?  Because I watch the Cowboys game in and game out since 1998.  That truth may be real for other teams in other places.  But, I am convinced that the Tony Romo/Jason Garrett Cowboys are reluctant to run the football.  They may be reluctant because they see that high-octane offenses don't stress it or they may be reluctant because they have not had the offensive line/running back combo to do it well in years.  Regardless, not running and scrapping the idea of balance is a consistent thread when the Cowboys offense sputters in situations like Sunday - and if you don't read anything else, read this:   It always restricts what they are able to accomplish in the passing game.  Thus, the conclusion is that when the Cowboys cannot run, they make passing more difficult for themselves.  This is not guessing.  This is reality that has been proven game after game by this offense - especially when they go on the road.  

Here is how it happens:  The lack of run brings more blitzing.  The blitzing causes you to unload the ball fast.  Unloading the ball fast means nobody's route can develop and all passes are within 5 yards of the line.  All the passes being short makes the defense all crowd the line.  Crowding the line closes the windows for the passes.  And suddenly, either you fit the ball into a very tight spot or you are punting again.  And, with a bout of inaccuracy from their QB in the 4th Quarter Sunday that might have had to do with his ribs or just the pressure, the Cowboys were doomed.

But, if you still scoff at whether running matters and whether everything works better if the defense is not ignoring your run altogether - because they can and you still can't gash them - then consider this:  the last time the Cowboys won a football game with fewer than 20 carries was December 9, 2007 at Detroit.  Since then, they are 0-18.  Now, I agree, sometimes they are padding rushing totals late in a game to influence this stat.  Sometimes, they lose for other reasons that have nothing to do with this.  

But, 0-18?  

They don't run to grind the opponent in to a fine powder.  They run because it allows them to pass with greater ease.  There are some teams that don't run the ball and don't see to pay the consequences like the Cowboys - Green Bay and New Orleans both come to mind as teams that are incredibly out of balance and yet don't seem to stall below 20 points very often - but, here, there is a clear connection to running being the best way to help your passes find their marks.  



Sunday is a weird game to evaluate because offensively, the Cowboys seemed to be in a great spot almost halfway through the game.  They had Dez Bryant dominating and were able to go to that matchup whenever they wanted.  It seemed to be early in the 2nd Quarter that KC Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton decided to increase the pressure on Tony Romo and the offense by blitzing more and more.  In the first 3 drives, the Chiefs blitzed Romo once.  On the 5th drive alone, they blitzed 6 times in a row.  They figured out what Redskins DC Jim Haslett knows: the best way to take Dez Bryant out of the game is not coverage - it is pressure.  

Then, Tim made us an extra chart for 3rd and long to show how this gets worse by down.  When you are getting pressure like this, it is crucial that you stay out of 3rd and long.  3rd and long is where the QB is reluctant to take a check down because he knows he needs 8 or 10 or 12 yards to keep the drive alive.  So, he has to hold the ball longer and invites more pressure (don't get me started on why an empty backfield on 3rd and long is suicide - see the blindside sack/fumble from Sunday).  Well, here is what it looks like on the passing chart:

2 completions, one was basically a lateral throw to Dez Bryant on 3rd and 15 which got 2 yards.  Otherwise, there are a lot of red lines (incompletions).  Stay out of 3rd and long.



A few other items before we look at the data.  First, the starting field position is not something that we can directly blame the offense for, but it is there job to dig out of a hole to keep subsequent possessions from also starting deep.  They could not "un-tilt" the field as the Chiefs had them constantly in the shadow of their own goalposts.  The starting field position of their own 21 yard line was their worst in a game since Week 2 of 2012 (the debacle in Seattle that this game has been compared to for the entire week) and that includes one possession that they started in Kansas City territory with :07 left in the 2nd Quarter that really doesn't count.  Take it out of the numbers, and the starting field position was the 18 yard line - which my records don't go back far enough to tell you when was the last time they started that deep for an entire game.

Field position is overlooked by fans and media, but not by coaches.  Why?  Because, if you start at your 21 and the Chiefs average their own 35, that means over the course of 10-12 possessions, you are conceding 140-170 yards to your opponent.  140-170 yards!  Suddenly, when you tell me that you gained 318 and they gained 313, you see why that doesn't tell the whole story.  You gained 5 more yards, but were starting with a 150 yard deficit.  That won't cut it.



Finally, the following is a photo montage to express my disbelief in the decision making of Tony Romo, Bill Callahan, and Jason Garrett in what I called the pivotal play of the game in my write-up yesterday.  No further words to describe it.  Just pictures:

Data from Week 2 at Kansas City Chiefs:

Run-Pass 14-46
Starting Field Position D 21
1st Down Run-Pass 9-20
2nd Down Avg Distance to Go 8.04
2nd Down Run-Pass 6-15
3rd Down Avg Distance to Go 7.54
3rd/4th Down Run-Pass 0-11
3rd Down Conversions 3-11, 27%

Again, note the starting field position and how difficult it was to accomplish anything of note on 3rd Down.  This is why you simply must "stay ahead of the chains".  3rd and 4?  Sure.  3rd and 12?  Almost no chance.


Here are the passing charts to see what was being accomplished on Sunday.  Intern Tim is back with us this year and he has made some pleasing to the eye charts for us to see.

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.

The 1st Half is the Dez Bryant show as almost all blue lines of length are passes to Dez.  As you look at all these charts, ask, are the Cowboys working the middle of the field?  Are they pushing the safeties back?  Are they burning a blitz?  Or are they allowing the Chiefs to dictate the game?  Everything is to the edges of the field and most of it is short after the 1st Quarter.  Must attack inside the numbers and 10-20 down the field to truly back a defense off in this situation.  That is difficult and demands protection.

1ST HALF PASSING CHART -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)

2ND HALF PASSING CHART -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)

And now, the 2nd half.  Still, plenty of blue lines, but look how many are within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.  Also look at all of the red incompletions to the left - seeming to verify that Romo was having a hard time turning his body on Sunday and his mechanics were off trying to protect his ribs.

Dez Bryant Passing Chart -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)

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 - New York Giants: 5 Run/7 Pass - 42% Run

Wk 2 - Kansas City Chiefs: 3 Run/9 Pass - 25% Run


* This statistic doesn't count the 1-play kneel down drives.

2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run/102 Pass - 44% Run

2012 Total: 173 Drives - 76 Run/97 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.

And in the Kansas City Game, in which they were either ahead or slightly behind, they still went shotgun an absurd 77%.  This, more then anything, is dictating your run/pass ratio.

Wk 1 - NYG: 44 Shotgun/71 Total Plays - 61.9%

Wk 2 - at KC: 46 Shotgun/60 Total Plays - 76.6%

2011 Total - 445/1012  43.9%

2012 Total - 565/1038  54%

Here is the breakdown by groupings:

And now, a look at the efficiency of each personnel grouping.

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:

Package Plays Run Yards Run Pass
11 0 0 0-0 0-0
12 13 50 7-16 6-34
13 0 0 0-0 0-0
21 0 0 0-0 0-0
22 0 0 0-0 0-0
23 0 0 0-0 0-0
S01 2 43 0-0 2-43
S02 3 7 0-0 3-7
S11 22 134 1-4 21-130
S12 19 87 5-23 14-64
S13 0 0 0-0 0-0
Other 1 0 1-0 0-0
Totals 60 321 14-43 46-278

* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.

Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:

As you can see, hardly any production in this category:

Package Plays Yards Run Pass FD/TD
11 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
12 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
13 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
21 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
22 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
23 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
S01 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
S02 1 -2 0-0 1- -2 0/0
S11 8 30 0-0 8-30 2/1
S12 2 2 0-0 2-2 0/0
Other 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
Totals 11 30 0-0 11-30 2/1

Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 46 pass rush/blitz situations:

In Week 1, NY blitzed on 13/49 opportunities: 26%

But this week, the Cowboys saw something different altogether.  Overall, Kansas City blitzed on 19 of 46 occasions:  41%.  And if you consider they only brought pressure on 1 of the first 10 chances, that means that Kansas City quickly moved to 18 of 36, or a 50% blitz rate after the early Dez Bryant show.

Now, how did Bob Sutton attack the Cowboys with the blitz?  On 1st Down, 30%.

On 2nd Down, a little more...33%.

Pass Rushers 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go) 0 2 0 0
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go) 0 6 4 0
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go) 0 2 1 0
Totals 0 10 5 0

And on 3rd Down?  Almost every time!

Pass Rushers 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go) 1 1 2 0
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go) 0 0 6 0
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go) 0 1 0 0
Totals 1 2 8 0

And, here are the full season numbers to date through 2 games, with the Giants hardly ever blitzing and the Chiefs always blitzing:

Pass Rushers 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush Total
1st Down 3 - 7% 25 - 62% 9 - 22% 3 - 7% 40 - 42%
2nd Down 0 22 - 70% 7 - 22% 2 - 6% 31 - 32%
3rd Down 3 - 12% 10 - 41% 9 - 37% 2 - 8% 24 - 25%
4th Down 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 6 - 6% 57 - 60% 25 - 26% 7 - 7%

Major thanks to John Daigle for his diligent work on the numbers and charts!



For week 2, we covered a lot of ground.  We saw that Kansas City tried to play the Cowboys straight but then changed their tune after early success to more of a Washington/New York Jets approach of running guys at Romo all day.  There are Romo numbers that exist that indicate he is ok against the blitz, but I would like to see those in games where the Cowboys face 15-20 or more blitz situations.  It seems like the effects of constant blitzing wears the Cowboys out over 60 minutes, and if my defense had the capability to do that sort of thing, I don't think there is any question how I would build a game-plan against the Cowboys.  You must make them face their weaknesses.

They still had a narrow defeat so this could have easily been a win.  But, field position, giveaways, and of course, no running game that caused another 1-dimensional shotgun approach, leads us down the familiar path.

The play-caller may be new, but these issues that cripple this offense are not.