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Cowboys Game-Plan Monday: A Coordinator's Got to Know His Limitations...

...and his strengths.

"Dirty" Harry Callahan would appreciate Jason Garrett.  He knows what his offense does well and what it doesn't do well.  It's a fast break offense.  Ball control sounds nice, but is not in the cards.  The offensive line takes too many penalties and gives up too many sacks to go the slow route we came to expect from the Triplets-led '90s bunch.

Last week, I commented in a thread that I chart the Cowboys' drives and saw a lot of TD drives which read like this:

1, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1-TD

In other words, a six-play drive with no 3rd down plays.  Blogger One.Cool.Customer went to the trouble of researching the Cowboys '09 TD drives and confirmed that my profile is accurate.  Of Dallas scores through the Redskins games, he wrote:

TD drives without 3rd downs: 15 (40%). With one 3rd down: 13. With two 3rd downs: 9
TD drives with a sack: 1 (2.7%) → 1st TD vs KC, sacked on 1st and 10 for ‘only’ -3 yards.
TD drives with penalties: 10 (27%). 3 of those drives had 2 penalties during the drive

Let's look at that first line more closely. 40% of Dallas' TD drives though 15 games did not have a 3rd down play.  76% of the team's TD drives had just one or no 3rd down plays and 100%, every one of the team's seven-point drives this year, had two, one or no 3rd down calls.

That's the definition of a fast break offense, ladies and gentlemen.

Garrett, it appears, tries his best to keep his unit out of third down situations, which likely explains blogger DavidH22's finding that Dallas almost never calls consecutive runs.  I think this is by design.  The other two stat lines provide the rationale.

This team cannot overcome sacks, and yet is giving them up at a rate roughly 35% higher than last year.  The team is still taking a lot of penalties, and most of them come courtesy of the offensive line, and yet, Dallas has the firepower to overcome those, mostly because losing penalty yardage saves the down;  if Dallas is in 1st-and-15 or 1st-and-20, it still has three chances to convert and keep going.  If Romo is sacked on 1st down and faces 2nd-and-18, Dallas only has two plays to recover.  If the sack comes on 2nd down, all the worse.

Look at yesterday's three TD drives:

I -- Opening Drive

  • 1st -- pass 82, +5 yds;
  • 2nd -- power rt run, 24, +32 yds.
  • 1st -- 70 offsides
  • 1st -- draw 24, +8 yds.
  • 2nd - 4 wides, pass knocked down;
  • 3rd -- slant 19, flag, interference.
  • 1st -- semi roll, pass 19, INC,. 53 under in bracket coverage;
  • 2nd -- sweep R, 24, +24 yds;
  • 1st -- flanker screen R, 19, +6 yds
  • 2nd -- draw 28, no gain
  • 3rd -- pass middle, 82 +7, TOUCHDOWN

Drive III, 2nd QTR [start, Dall. 10]

  • 1st -- lead draw, 28, +3
  • 2nd -- pass middle, 82, beats 50, +9
  • 1st -- 65 false start
  • 1st -- 3 WR, pass 84 in slot (19 doubled) +19
  • 1st -- toss left 28, +24, penalty, hold on 34; took same penalty on same play in Eagles I
  • 1st -- draw 24, +3
  • 2nd -- deep out R, 19 beats 22, + 40 yds
  • 1st -- flanker screen R, 19, +5
  • 2nd -- power R, 28, +1 yd
  • 3rd -- pump and go L, 84 TOUCHDOWN - 14 yds.

Drive III, 2nd Half, [start, Dallas 36]

  • 1st -- 2 TE L, 24 circle route from shotgun, +14 yds
  • 1st -- rocket pitch 28, L, TOUCHDOWN + 49 yds.

Notice how all three drives fit the profile, and explain the aggressive nature of the game plans.  First, 3rd down plays:  the first drive had two 3rd down plays.  The 2nd had one.  The last had none.

Notice also the regularity of Dallas penalties, which necessitate going down the field.  Andre Gurode put Dallas in 1st-and-15 on the first scoring drive, and Garrett had to overcome a 1st-and-15 and a 1st-and-20 the next time, and did so in two plays or less in two of the three situations. 

When penalties are expected parts of the equation, you get some practice overcoming them. And the Cowboys have become pretty good at it.  And now that Felix Jones is back in good shape, he'll get more touches.  His big-play skills are exactly what the team needs to overcome those regularly-occurring flags. 

A coordinator has to know his limitations.  Jason Garrett knows his.  Fortunately, he has the arsenal to succeed in spite of those limitations.

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