Decoding Callahan: First In Rushing, Last In Trying

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) walks off the field as photographers capture images after the game against the Green Bay Packers at AT&T Stadium. The Packers beat the Cowboys 37-36.

Matthew Emmons/Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, looking at the offense for the Green Bay game is going to be similar to the Chicago contest in many respects.  Lots of good things were done here, but the current circumstances of the entire team require for near perfection from the offense to balance out the defensive futility. This happens around the league and through NFL history.  One side of the ball is significantly better than the other and is asked to shoulder way more of the burden.  Sometimes, it has even been resulted in a Super Bowl title, but that requires 2 things:  1) the inferior side of the ball to not be so inferior that they are asking the superior side to make up miles and miles of space. and 2) the superior side of the ball is really good at playing near perfect football.

The 2013 Dallas Cowboys do not seem set up for that task on either side, as the defense is now at or below all-time historic lows and is showing no signs of a recovery.  Meanwhile, the offense, despite overall improvement as this year is going on and demonstrating versatility and some power to their overall punch is unable to play perfectly enough to bring home games where they are not receiving much help.

Now, we should certainly separate the New Orleans and Chicago blowouts from games like Sunday against a Green Bay team that had no Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb, or Jermichael Finley.  They weren’t the Green Bay JV, but with a 23 point halftime lead, there is simply no justification for that game not being in the win column.  We can rationalize and sympathize all we want and still know that this one is not able to be explained away.

Much of what frustrates any observers is the idea that this team is able to run the ball much better than even the Cowboys think.  Here is a passage from a story from Bob McGinn, who covers the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal:

Still, there wouldn’t have been enough possessions for the Packers to mount their inspired comeback if coach Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan, his play-calling offensive coordinator, had given the ball more to Murray. 

“Oh, my God,” nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. “It’s the best zone scheme in the league. They say it’s old, the Wisconsin scheme. 

“The last four weeks, nobody could stop it — their zone scheme. And they gave up on it. We’re just happy they did. We were, like, ‘OK, we’ll take it.'” 

Dallas (7-7) ran Murray 18 times, and he averaged 7.4 in gaining 134 yards. By comparison, the Cowboys had 51 dropbacks, a 26.1% rushing rate that was much lower than their low 13-game mark of 35.9%. 

“We watched (Murray) last week with the coaches and we said, ‘This guy is the real deal,'” Pickett added. “He’s tough, fast and so deceptively strong. He’s one of the most underrated backs.” 

Granted, Green Bay’s defense was there to be taken early. With no pass rush whatsoever, you could forgive Garrett/Callahan for passing early to get the lead because Tony Romo had all day. 

But not to run a gifted back such as Murray, and thereby allow his effective offensive line to settle accounts and protect the miserable defense, bordered on criminal in the NFL. 

“That’s just who they are,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “They run the ball really well against everybody they play, but they just never stick with it.”

Wow.  It really appears the Packers are far more impressed with the Cowboys running game than the Cowboys were.  Now, we shouldn’t take opinions from emotional football players in a winning locker-room who might be subject to hyperbole and dramatic effect.  But, what if they are right?  What if Ryan Pickett is serious when he say that the only thing that has stopped the Cowboys offense in the last month is the Cowboys lack of taking their car out of the garage?  What if the coaching staff is going with dated material from an era when the Cowboys could not run the ball to save their life and suddenly, that is no longer accurate?

So, I started trying to apply numbers to check their opinions with math.  Were the Cowboys running the ball really well and many of us (at least me) too bothered by 2010-2012 that we are not seeing slow growth – almost like your child growing and you don’t notice but grandma sees it better because she sees the child less.

I went back to Thanksgiving.  Then, I went all the way back to the day that DeMarco Murray rejoined the team in time for the Minnesota game on November 3.  So, what did I find?  Well, from the start of November until this Green Bay game, where do you think the Cowboys rank in yards per attempt?

How about #1 in the NFL?

(Thanks to Stats, Inc)

And look.  #1 by quite a bit.  They are running the ball with great success and yet over that same stretch, let us now sort by attempts per game:

32nd in the league.  How Jason Garrett is that?  We realize that more carries will lower the average – most likely – but, come on.  This is crazy.

You do something well and you still don’t care to do it.  So, I have heard from several people who look at this and are not convinced of anything.  Look at the teams that are running well – those aren’t the best teams in the league.  And you are right.  I am not here to argue that rushing yards per game means that you win a lot.  This is merely a discussion about how the Cowboys can win more games by using their common sense and figuring out how to further assist a poor defense by keeping them off the field.

I am here to report that the idea the Cowboys don’t run because they can’t run is incorrect information if we update results.  And it mirrors what we have seen below in our tracking of personnel groups.  It is not aided by garbage time or 3rd and 15 draws.  The Cowboys are lining up and running the ball with great success since DeMarco has come back.

Starting with the Minnesota game, we have seen the same OL for each game, too.  Brian Waters played his last game in Detroit and since then, it has been LT Tyron Smith, LG Ron Leary, C Travis Frederick, RG Mackenzy Bernadeau, and RT Doug Free.  They are inconsistent in pass protection (aside from Smith), but as a group they really look like they have figured out the zone blocking scheme with fantastic effectiveness.  And do not underestimate Frederick, who is a rookie, but comes from Wisconsin where this is all they do when running the ball.   He is teaching the course and playing very well – but he is not alone.

Also, it is exactly what this team has needed to shorten the game with a defense that you cannot put back on the field.  Which is why we are continuously confused with the play selection where they seem to be applying dated material that argues they simply cannot run the ball and the clock.

From ONLY runs under center – to eliminate the idea that these are garbage runs on 3rd and long draw plays that throw off the average, here are the numbers from just 11, 12, 13, 21, 22, and 23 personnel groups:


Since Nov 1:
74 attempts – 486 yards – average 6.57

Before Nov 1:
63 attempts – 270 yards – average 4.28


287 attempts – 1072 yards – average 3.73


342 attempts – 1584 yards – average 4.62

Do they know this?  The team is not inept at running anymore.  At least in this arbitrary sample size that is growing each week.


I am going to combine this week’s Xs and Os into this entry because I cannot wait 2 more days to dissect this:

So, this is the first play of the final drive.  You might recognize the personnel grouping and the formation because it is the same exact look as the fateful 2nd and 6 that was 4 plays later.

This is a play that has been looked at and universally agreed that while risky, if Romo puts a bit more on this pass, Dez has Shields beaten and this is 80-yard Touchdown kill shot.  Not a bad idea at all, just under thrown which is still not a bad option because Dez usually wins all jump balls.  But, I wanted you to look at the formation and look at James Hanna get over to Clay Matthews who is over Tyron Smith.  Also, watch the line and Murray zone run right.  This is important to see how Clay is sitting on the run here and runs right into Hanna.  He is going to run Murray down from the back side.

Look at everything selling run right and Romo kept and played his 1 on 1 game with Dez deep.  This looks familiar right?

And here is why, below.  But, remember, Dez is unavailable for this play on 2nd and 6.  Miles will step in for him:

So, we have looked at this from every angle.  Cleary, the first thing here is to run the clock and don’t throw at all.  I cannot really make a case against that a day later.

From yesterday’s blog:

Green Bay again shows 11 up close to the line.  The Cowboys have a prepackaged play which is supposed to be a zone right to Murray which will, at worst, cause Green Bay to use its final timeout and at best get a 1st Down and kill the game.  Instead, because of no safeties deep, Romo switches to a 1 on 1 battle to Miles Austin (remember where Dez was?) on the backside.  Why?  Because he assumed the run wasn’t going anywhere and subconsciously knew what happens if they punt with 2:00 to go against a Packers offense that had 4 touchdowns on 4 possessions in that half.  I am not saying he was right to make this decision, but if you look at it from that perspective, it at least is understandable logic.

So, Romo opts to a pass on a play where nobody but Austin and Romo know it is a pass, and as Romo is supposed to be throwing the ball, Austin’s slow release opens on the slant just as an unblocked Clay Matthews arrives on Romo’s lap.  Romo amazingly eludes him, but, now the play is off schedule and Romo regathers and throws late and behind Austin.  This brings the speedy Sam Shields back into the play and before you can blink, the ball has been turned over at the worst possible minute. 

This is where things get murky.  Yes, Romo opted out of a run play, but only because the play is designed to give the QB the responsibility to diagnose the defense first.  If this happened at any other portion of the game, it is called running the offense.  But, at that point, you need to know how vital clock management is.  You need to realize that two runs take the ball to 2:00 at least.  But, if you punt at 2:00, does Green Bay still score from their own 20?

The real issue is the throw was poor and missed where you simply cannot miss. 

But, one last point.  Look how Romo tells Escobar to stay right just before the snap (Escobar has motion as an option if Romo wants it, but Romo knows to motion Escobar will tell the Packers that the run right is off).  Then, look how Clay Matthews – just fooled by this exact look 4 plays ago – decided not to worry about Murray and go straight for Romo.  How Romo made him miss is magical, but look how quickly the Packers recover.  I said yesterday that maybe he should have run, but if he does, he isn’t going anywhere.

A better throw is a Touchdown.  But, that doesn’t mean anything now.


Run-Pass 18-51
Starting Field Position D27
1st Down Run-Pass 13-24
2nd Down Avg Distance to Go 6.65
2nd Down Run-Pass 3-20
3rd Down Avg Distance to Go 10.33
3rd/4th Down Run-Pass 0-9
3rd Down Conversions 2-9, 22%


Here are the passing charts to see what was being accomplished on Sunday.  Intern Tim 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.

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

2ND HALF PASSING CHART –  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)
As you can see, the 2nd half was more blitzing and therefore more short routes.  Interesting difference in the 2 halves and their spray charts:
Dez Bryant Passing Chart –  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)
17 targets.  That is a lot.  
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
Wk 3 – St. Louis Rams: 8 Run/2 Pass – 80% Run
Wk 4 – San Diego Chargers: 6 Run/4 Pass – 60% Run
Wk 5 – Denver Broncos: 3 Run/8 Pass – 37% Run
Wk 6 – Washington Redskins: 5 Run/4 Pass – 55% Run
Wk 7 – Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Run/9 Pass – 35% Run
Wk 8 – Detroit Lions: 9 Run/5 Pass – 64% Run
Wk 9 – Minnesota Vikings: 2 Run/8 Pass – 20% Run
Wk 10 – New Orleans Saints: 6 Run/5 Pass – 54% Run
Wk 12 – New York Giants: 6 Run/5 Pass – 54% Run
Wk 13 – Oakland Raiders: 7 Run/3 Pass – 70% Run
Wk 14 – Chicago Bears: 5 Run/3 Pass – 62% Run
Wk 15 – Green Bay Packers: 4 Run/8 Pass – 33.3% Run

2013 Totals: 110 Drives – 74 Run/80 Pass – 48% 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.

More of Garrett trying to keep the Cowboys balanced and sound, but that clearly got out of hand with 2:00 to go in the half.

Wk 1 – NYG: 44 Shotgun/71 Total Plays – 61.9%
Wk 2 – at KC: 46 Shotgun/60 Total Plays – 76.6%
Wk 3 – STL: 28 Shotgun/59 Total Plays – 47.4%
Wk 4 – at SD: 33 Shotgun/56 Total Plays – 58.9%
Wk 5 – DEN: 39 Shotgun/54 Total Plays – 72.2%
Wk 6 – WASH: 23 Shotgun/50 Total Plays – 46%
Wk 7 – at PHI: 53 Shotgun/73 Total Plays – 72.6%
Wk 8 – at DET: 33 Shotgun/55 Total Plays – 60%
Wk 9 – MIN: 50 Shotgun/63 Total Plays – 79.3%
Wk 10 – at NO: 27 Shotgun/43 Total Plays – 62.3%
Wk 12 – at NYG: 32 Shotgun/60 Total Plays – 53.3%
Wk 13 – OAK: 33 Shotgun/63 Total Plays – 52.3%
Wk 14 – at CHI: 22 Shotgun/54 Total Plays – 40.7%
Wk 15 – GB: 35 Shotgun/69 Total Plays – 50.7%

Season Total – 498 Shotgun/830 Total Plays – 56.5%

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 6 55 4-13 2-42
12 18 144 6-48 12-96
13 1 0 0-0 1-0
21 8 61 7-61 1-0
22 1 0 0-0 1-0
23 0 0 0-0 0-0
S01 6 17 0-0 6-17
S02 0 0 0-0 0-0
S11 25 160 1-6 24-154
S12 3 15 0-0 3-15
S13 0 0 0-0 0-0
Other 1 6 0-0 1-6
Totals 69 458 18-128 51-330

* – Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.

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

Package Plays Yards Run Pass FD/TD
11 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
12 1 6 0-0 1-6 1/1
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 3 0 0-0 3-0 1/0
S02 1 6 0-0 1-6 0/0
S11 3 2 0-0 3-2 0/0
S12 2 0 0-0 2-0 0/0
Other 0 0 0-0 0-0 0/0
Totals 10 14 0-0 10-14 2/1

Pass Rushers Against Dallas – 51 Pass Situations vs Green Bay Packers

Wk 1: NY Blitzed 13/49: 26%
Wk 2: KC Blitzed 19/46: 41%
Wk 3: STL Blitzed 10/25: 40%
Wk 4: SD Blitzed 8/41: 19%
Wk 5: DEN Blitzed 10/40 25%
Wk 6: WAS Blitzed 17/31 55%
Wk 7: PHI Blitzed  22/48 46%
Wk 8: DET Blitzed 9/31  29%
Wk 9: MIN Blitzed 9/54  17%
Wk 10: NO Blitzed 3/27  11%
Wk 12: NYG Blitzed 10/43 23%
Wk 13: OAK Blitzed 16/33 48%
Wk 14: CHI Blitzed 11/27 41%
Wk 15: GB Blitzed 20/51 39%

Season Blitz rate vs Dallas 177/546: 32%

Pass Rushers 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go) 0 0 1 0
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go) 0 14 8 0
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go) 0 1 0 0
Totals 0 15 9 0

Pass Rushers 3 Rush 4 Rush 5 Rush 6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go) 1 2 3 0
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go) 0 8 2 1
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go) 0 1 0 0
Totals 1 11 5 1

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 1 3 0
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go) 0 1 2 0
Totals 0 4 5 0


13 –
150 –
51 –
7 –
1 –
11 –
119 –
49 –
11 –
10 –
68 –
48 –
7 –
1 –
0 0 0-0 1 –
Totals 34 –
337 –
148 –
26 –
2 –

Thanks to John Daigle and Tim Krajewski for their work on the charts and graphs.


SUMMARY:  So, here we are again.  The offense played very well and still lost.  The numbers are out there where teams should never score 36 and lose, but now Dallas has done it twice.  They are playing better, but not close to perfect and not managing the clock worth a hoot.

But, they are getting a solid year from their offensive line and are now able to line up and run the football.  They have not run this well since 2009 and they need to figure this out quickly to deal with Jim Haslett and his blitzes that terrorize the Cowboys offense over the years.

Meanwhile, Dez and the weapons found all sorts of opportunities down the field against a poor Green Bay defense and rolled up stats despite facing a ton of blitzes.  That won’t change.

What must change is the continued poor 3rd Down play.  The Cowboys have converted the 32nd most 3rd Downs this season (56) and by far the fewest on the road (23).  This ability may decide their season which amazingly, is still completely salvageable.

Just win.  And to win, the offense is going to have to do the heavy lifting, because Bob Lilly and Doomsday is not walking through that door.