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It's Not the Play Calling

"No, I don't."

That was Parcells' quick dismissal of a logical question:
Do you think your offensive game plan was too conservative (in Seattle)?

The correct answers would have been:
"Yes, I really screwed up.
"I should have turned loose Sean Payton with the game plan.
"We needed to be more aggressive on offense.
"It was foolish not to trust Drew Bledsoe and his receivers.
-- Randy Galloway, Ft Worth Star-Telegram
"Cowboys Need to Learn Scoreboard Separation"

"Look, he's a young player, fellas. I told you we were going to have a few problems, so when they happen don't act like you're surprised."

-- Bill Parcells on rookie RT Rob Petitti's play

Which of these stubborn men is right?

The tapes do not lie. They say it's Parcells.

A perception has taken hold, in the press and among much of the fandom, that the game plans have swung wildly from week to week. That Parcells wants to win every game 16-13. That he has, for some inexplicable reason, shackled OC Sean Payton. That if the coaching staff would only laminate the Eagles game plan and make it their permanent template, the Cowboys would be 6-1 or 7-0 and on the the shortcut back to glory.

What if I told you they had run the same general game plan the past three weeks? You might not believe it, but the tape doesn't lie. And the game tapes say it's so.

Eagles 1st Half
Passes: 27
Runs: 19
Pass attempts of 15+ yards: 6
Runs of 8+ yards: 3

Giants 1st Half
Passes: 22
Runs: 14
Pass attempts of 15+ yards: 5
Runs of 8+ yards: 3

Seahawks 1st Half
Passes: 19
Runs: 18
Pass attempts of 15+ yards: 5
Runs of 8+ yards: 6

The percentages of passes are greater than the percentages of runs in all three games. In the first two, Dallas went with a roughly 60/40 pass-to-run ratio. In the second game it was closer to 50/50. But the number of down-the-field pass attempts stayed constant in every game, meaning the Cowboys were just as aggressive in their philosophy against New York and Seattle. The increased ratio of runs may have been an adjustment to the fact that Dallas was running better that day than it had in the previous two games.

So why did Dallas have 27 points against Philly, but only seven against New York and Seattle?

"Because they were so predictable," the critics will probably say. "Fox ran a graphic showing Dallas runs 65% of the time on first down."

Don't believe every statistic you read. Or at least try to contextualize them:

Philadelphia 1st half
1st down passes: 11
1st down runs: 10

New York 1st half
1st down passes: 9
1st down runs: 8

Seattle 1st half
1st down passes: 9
1st down runs: 9

That's an ideal mix, one that shows good self-scouting. The Cowboys are roughly 50/50 in their first down runs and pass calls, making them anything but predictable in their tendencies.

I can point to another set of factors that are clearer indicators of why Dallas didn't score early. Factors that deal with execution:

Eagles 1st half
Sacks allowed: 0
Turnovers: 0
Penalties: 2
Plays run: 46

Giants 1st half
Sacks allowed: 2
Turnovers 3
Penalties: 1
Plays run: 36

Seahawks 1st half
Sacks allowed: 2
Turnovers: 1
Penalties: 2
Plays run: 37

When you give up early sacks, you kill drives. When you give the ball away, you kill drives. There is a direct causal relationship between those miscues and plays run. And when you don't have the ball, you can't put it in the end zone. Sacks and turnovers have cost Dallas the equivalent of one long scoring drive in each of the last two first halves.

The tape doesn't lie. The offensive philosophy has not changed. Unfortunately, the Cowboys' efficiency has.

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