Cowboys Tape Review: This is Not Your Father's Offensive Line

Back in the summer, I got an advance copy of K.C. Joyner's run metrics for the Cowboys Annual 2009. (You can still order it by clicking the icon down the right column.)  They showed an amazing disparity for last year's team according to run type. Dallas, despite having a jumbo offensive line, was poor at straight-ahead, inside running plays between the tackles.  Here's the breakdown:

Rush Type    Attempts     Yards       YPA  
Draw       71     441    6.2
Counter       88     439    5.0
Toss/Sweep       44     189   4.3
Slant/stretch      61     243   4.0
Dive      24       62   2.6
Isolation      33       80   2.4
Off-tackle      33       56   1.7

 

Notice how weak the '08 Cowboys were at the typical "muscle" plays, the type you see in short yardage and goal line. The type the '90s Cowboys lines could execute after a five pints of whiskey and a group afternoon nap.

The character of the current line is very different.  It performs better when it blocks on the move, which explains why Jason Garrett called so many runs from shotgun and spread packages. People complained about seeing the shotgun inside the five last year, but the numbers explain why.

Based on these stats, I suggested Felix Jones start, since he had team-best averages on the draws, tosses and counters and had the speed to make these plays explode.  On the flip side, I suggested that improvement on power runs was going to be a big task for Hudson Houck and his linemen.

Dallas has just finished a two game stretch where it has amassed close to 500 yards rushing.  Do we see more interior run muscle in the Cowboys '09 arsenal?  

No.  

I give you the metrics from the Carolina game:

Rush type   Attempts    Yards    YPA  
Draws     14    80   5.7
Counters      5    55  11.0
Toss/sweep       3    28    9.3
Traps      2    12    7.0
End arounds      1    14  14.0
Isolations      2      3    1.5

 

Dallas still can't run an off-tackle play effectively. So, Jason Garrett and Hudson Houck have decided not to bang their running back's heads against front-seven walls.  The team ran two token iso's last week.  It has put dives and stretch plays in mothballs.

The coaches have decided to go all out calling and improving the execution of the plays the line does well.  This Cowboys line, for all it's size, pulls well. It cross blocks well.  All the linemen, even the big tackles, can get out on the perimeter and lead tosses and end arounds. And with a pocket bomb like Felix Jones at your disposal, and shifty backs like Tashard Choice in the mix, this team attacks perimeters.

There is one similarity between the current group and the Emmitt-and-Moose led bludgeon-ball team -- the lead draw.  It worked well for the Triplets Cowboys and it is this team's best interior-running play.  Garrett has added some tweaks to make it that much more effective.  On Tashard Choice's 3rd quarter TD run, Dallas lined up in an I, but Tony Romo faked a pass to his right, before turning and handing the ball to this back, who had an obscenely big running lane, by NFL standards, to prance through.  The pump fake to Jason WItten's side cleared out the linebackers, who assumed Dallas would throw first in close.

The blend might change a bit with Marion Barber returning to the lineup and Jones sitting with a sprained knee.  I doubt it.  This line is what it is. Get used to more shotgun inside the ten.  To more shotgun draws on third and four.

As long as the calls continue to favor the line's and the backs' strengths, and as long as the rush average stays among the league's best, that's fine with me.

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