Six Years of The Garrett Offense Tells Us Plenty About 2012

I have been meaning to write something in follow up to the Garrett story I issued last week about the relative merits of the “Jason Garrett offense” and I thought today was as good as any.  In fact, I would like to combine it with the requests of tweets like this one:  

any chance of that decoding Garrett over his whole time in Dallas being on the way?

I think that this is an excellent idea, but understand in doing so, we have to actually have a plan going in that will help us not cause an avalanche of numbers that signify nothing.

That aforementioned story from last week focused on the premise that although Jason Garrett’s claims are technically correct – that Dallas was amongst the league leaders in offense in 2012 – the data does not provide the necessary context that would reflect my view – that Dallas’ offense was both unreliable and frankly, at times disastrous for a team with post-season ambitions.

How can it be both?  Can an offense be productive relative to the rest of the league and still not be practically effective in relation to its own goal of winning 10 games and being in the tournament at year’s end?

I say, yes.  And I bet Jason Garrett would, too, if he wasn’t feeling like he had to defend himself to a mob of reporters who might vote him out of office if they had the power to do so.

2012 was the 6th year of the “Jason Garrett offense”.  Unfortunately, my database of logging every single offensive snap by personnel grouping and formation only dates back to 2008, and I am not sure I have the time or resources to ever log the entire 2007 season (if you are interested, be my guest).

However, the raw data on a year-by-year basis looks like this:

Year Total Yds – YPA Rush Att-Yards YPA Pass Att-Yards YPA
2007 5851  –  6.00 419-1746  –  4.16 556-4105  –  7.38
2008 5512  –  5.63 400-1723  –  4.30 579-3789  –  6.54
2009 6313  –  6.24 417-2081  –  4.99 579-4232  –  7.31
2010 5819  –  5.67 417-1761  –  4.22 610-4057  –  6.65
2011 6011  –  5.97 395-1853  –  4.69 612-4158  –  6.79
2012    5967  –  5.80 335-1256  –  3.75 694-4731  –  6.82

OK, that is already a lot of data to consider and I realize that I have to be careful not to lose the largest part of the audience here, but look at two things in particular above.

First, look at the raw numbers for both rush attempts and pass attempts for each year.  It went from 43%/57% run/pass balance in 2007 to 32%/68% in 2012.  That is going from a pass-heavy offense to a nearly pass-exclusive offense in a rather gradual fashion over 6 years.

Next, look at the yards per attempt in the passing game.  To compare the 2007 Cowboys to the 2012 Cowboys is not a fair comparison because there are certainly 100 variables that must be considered, but the biggest one that jumps out at you is that the 2012 pass-happy offense found 626 more yards of passing offense than the 2007 version, yet needed 138 more passes to do so.  Basically, they needed almost 5 games worth of passes to get 600 yards.  So, they pass way more, they just don’t accomplish much more.

And yet, the 2012 version can claim that they actually out-gained the 2007 version.  Which offense would you want?

Now, back to the running game.  Below is a sheet from the good folks at Stats.  They have an amazing ability to sort things any way you like, so I thought it would be important to demonstrate how little Jason Garrett offenses run the football.  So, I asked them to sort the rushing attack of the 53 Dallas Cowboys teams since the team became a franchise in 1960.

Here is what they found:

It demonstrates that the 2012 Cowboys had the 52nd best season in Cowboys history in running the football.  Technically, they had the worst rushing season in Cowboys history on a per-game basis, but the 1960 Cowboys finish last due to a 12 game season.  Had they 16 weeks, we are reasonably sure that the ’60 Cowboys might have been able to find 217 more yards on the ground.

Think about that.  Of all of the Cowboys teams ever, you might have just witnessed the single worst year of rushing the ball.  Brutal on every level.

In fact, if you wish, the Cowboys seasons of running the football with Jason Garrett as the offensive architect rank 52nd, 35th, 37th, 20th, 42nd, and 40th in Cowboys history.  That’s right.  His best season is only 20th best in the history of the franchise.  And before you tell me it is because the league has changed to a passing league, explain this:  The New England Patriots (perhaps the most pass-first team in the NFL, right?) have run the ball 398 more times than the Cowboys in the Garrett-era.  And as you can see, 398 represents an entire season of Garrett rushing attempts.  I will repeat: the Patriots have run an entire year’s worth of rushing plays more than Garrett in 6 seasons.


I had some people take issue with my blog post from last week as they claimed that yardage can be ranked free of context because the Cowboys were still in many of those games that I called garbage time.  I cited the Cowboys continuous scrapping of their game-plan in many games and resorting to an elongated 2-minute drill that employed a personnel grouping that is pass-exclusive and plays against defenses that had 20+ point leads that were certainly off and soft and willing to concede yardage in exchange for time on the clock elapsing.

I will concede that it is difficult to define “garbage time” sometimes.  Was it garbage time when the Cowboys were down 23-0 to the Giants at halftime?  Or, 28-3 to the Redskins at the half on Thanksgiving?  And if so, didn’t the Cowboys almost win the Giants game and at least make the Redskins sweat a bit?

I would say that arguing this, though, is missing the point of trying to identify the Cowboys offensive ability in 2012.

My point, would be this:  In 2012, the Cowboys’ would spend all week designing a game plan that they thought would best work against their opponents.  Then, at game-time, they would find that their game plan was completely ineffective and scrap it.  This would happen at halftime sometimes, 3rd Quarter other times, and even sometimes well before halftime.  When they would scrap their game plan (a balanced attack with multiple personnel groupings and formations) and go exclusively to a 2-minute drill offense that was 100% shotgun and 100% 11 personnel, they would then find the ability to get yards and ultimately, points.

The score in the game here is interesting, but not the trigger.  The trigger is that moment when Garrett and/or Romo says to the other, “this isn’t working.  Let’s do what we know works.”

And that happened over and over and over in 2012.  Especially at home.  The following is a look at the amount of time the Cowboys had the ball with the lead in their 8 home games.  The information is accurate and impossible to believe.

Opponent Time with the lead
Tampa Bay 17:58
Chicago 0:00
New York  1:08
Cleveland 1:16
Washington 3:46
Philadelphia 1:52
Pittsburgh 10:36
New Orleans 0:00
Total 36:36

That is right.  36 minutes and 36 seconds the entire year.  This is a team that fell behind early almost every single home game.  Why?  Because their game-plan week after week was not working.

Why?  I could offer 100 ideas.  But, the point is, they weren’t working.  And, from there, when Romo and Garrett would take it and throw it in the trash, that is when the Cowboys were able to turn these games into competitive contests by going back to Shotgun-11 personnel.  Then, and only then, was this offense able to get anything done.  

Under center?  Rushing the ball?  Declaring run and getting a tough yard?  Under center and run play action and hit one over the top?  In all of these scenarios, 2012 was about as bad a year as Garrett has on record.

Let me now show you how much they used their 2-minute/3rd Down offense in comparison to other seasons under Garrett to prove that it was pretty much their identity in 2012.

Year Total Plays-Yards Shotgun-11 Plays-Yards % of Off Plays in S11 – Yds
2008 979 – 5512 385 – 2594 39% – 47%
2009 1011 – 6313 293 – 2038 29% – 32%
2010 1027 – 5819 369 – 2521 36% – 43%
2011 1007 – 6011 303 – 1733 30% – 29%
2012    1029 – 5967 479 – 3141 47% – 53%

If that doesn’t prove it, I don’t know what would.   Admittedly, I am only providing data here and not solutions.  But, look at that data.  This year, the Cowboys found 47% of their snaps and 53% of their yards from just scrapping their plans and running the same 8 plays over and over again from their 2-minute/3rd Down offense.  

This leads to bigger issues – such as being one of the easiest teams in the league to game plan against and also putting all of your success on your QB.  So much for “Romo-Friendly”.  Now, it is “Romo only” and one of those years where you wonder what might have happened if he got hurt.

But, think about what this says.  This says that all of that film breakdown and game planning all week was largely an exercise in futility.  They keep coming back to the only thing they could do.

How do you fix it?  It starts with fixing your offensive line so that you can actually depend on them for something once in a while.  

But, we will continue to visit about that as we go.  I just wanted to demonstrate a clear explanation on how yards do not tell the story.  One team can gain 5,800 yards in a traditional way with a balanced and unpredictable offense and be efficient and effective.  Another can gain 5,900 yards and be inefficient and predictable while being way out of balance.  

Both will be amongst the league leaders in production and yet we will know better if we were watching carefully and not just believing what we are told.  

The Cowboys simply must get back to an offense where they are using S11 as the frosting on their cake.  But, in 2012, they were trying to get by on eating just frosting with no cake at all.

And it gave everyone indigestion.