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The 2010 Cowboys Run Blocking, Part III: Lacking Direction?

In today’s post we’ll look at how well the Cowboys’ offensive line did when running the ball in different directions. As in the previous post, we’ll do this based on Adjusted Line Yards courtesy of, and mix in the occasional stat from elsewhere.

One thing to keep in mind as you look at the stats after the jump: It is very tempting to equate i.e. "runs off left tackle" with a single player, in this case Doug Free. However, on each run there are usually two and sometimes three linemen blocking at the "point of attack", on off tackle runs there might be a TE or FB chipping in as well. So while Doug Free would likely have been involved in the majority of runs off left tackle, the stats that we'll look at below are more a reflection of the ability of the entire offense to run off left tackle and less an individual grading of each lineman.

First up, runs off left end

Rank Adj. Line Yards NFL Avg. % of runs NFL Avg.
2009 3 5.21 4.20 11% 11%
2010 20
3.45 4.08 17% 12%

In 2009, running off left end showcased the offensive line’s run blocking ability. The Cowboys ranked third in the NFL and generated one full yard more than the average NFL team. That was huge. And yes, that was Flo’s side.

The numbers this year have dipped significantly. But I repeat, a run to the left end doesn’t necessarily mean Doug Free had the key block. In fact, quite often the key block on these runs is the RG taking out the backside linebacker who is flowing toward the play. Now imagine Leonard Davis lumbering along to throw a block on a linebacker. Not a pretty picture.

But the fact remains, runs to the left end is where the decline vs last year is the most pronounced for the Cowboys, and while Flo had become a liability in pass protection and with penalties, there wasn't much complaint about his run blocking abilities.

Off tackle runs to the left side

Rank Adj. Line Yards NFL Avg. % of runs NFL Avg.
2009 4 5.03 4.14 15% 13%
2010 12 4.61 4.21 15% 14%

Runs to left tackle remains a good option for the Cowboys, and with everything else quite shaky on this line, you've got to wonder why the Cowboys don't run this way more often. The combination of Free and Kyle Kosier - when he's healthy - seems to be one of the few bright spots on this line.

Runs up the middle

FO bunch up all the runs listed middle, left guard, and right guard into one "up the middle" stat because their research to date shows no statistically significant difference between how well a team performs on runs in these directions.

Rank Adj. Line Yards NFL Avg. % of runs NFL Avg.
2009 13 4.19 4.08 52% 50%
2010 21 3.73 4.00 48% 50%

The Cowboys never were great running the ball up the middle. Last year's ALY were slightly above average, this year they are slightly below average. I was quite surprised to see that the Cowboys were running up the middle so much last year, given that almost every option looked better. This year, they might as well run it up the middle. It's not like they'll make all that much more progress anywhere else.

Off tackle runs to the right side

Rank Adj. Line Yards NFL Avg. % of runs NFL Avg.
2009 15 4.16 4.08 13% 15%
2010 23 3.61 3.97 15% 15%

This is the lowest ranked direction for the Cowboys. Again, it’s not the point here to isolate individual players with these metrics, but in terms of pure run blocking, the Colombo/Davis co-production was never a bright spot on this line, and to be honest, I don't know how badly Barron's one game affected these stats. The saving grace: it appears we're not running that way all that much

Lastly, runs off right end

Rank Adj. Line Yards NFL Avg. % of runs NFL Avg.
2009 6 4.80 4.05 9% 11%
2010 4 6.00 4.29 5% 10%

Runs off right end were highly successful plays for the Cowboys in 2009, with almost a yard more than the NFL average, and are even more successful this year, although this may be a function of the sample size here. 5% of 143 running back runs (according to FO) are 7 runs. If one of these was a long one it would definitely screw with the average. I think the fact that the Cowboys are apparently trying to avoid this side is an even bigger indication of what to think of running this way than the stats are.

In summary, none of this is terribly impressive. Or as BTB-member Dire Wolf remarked:

"They have three glaring holes in the OL. The right side, the left side and the middle, other than that they’re pretty good."

So, if you're the OC, what do you call? Left, right, up the middle? Or perhaps a pass? Similarly, if you're the running back, and you know that as soon as you hit the hole it's going to collapse, what are you going to do? Dance around and look for another hole, lower your head and just try to bulldoze through or run sideways as long as you can in the hope of turning upfield if a defender happens to trip?

So many questions, no answers.

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