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Cowboys Offense Part One: There's Only One Ball, Who's Gonna Get It This Year?

Today begins a multi-part series on the past and possible future distribution of touches in the Cowboys offense.  Part One outlines the general parameters for running and passing touches.

Offensive coordinators are the football equivalent of mama birds, bringing worms back to the nest.  They have a lot of hungry skill position players to feed, all of whom make their hunger well known.  Some, like Terrell Owens, peeped to the press.  Others may not but still want their touches. 

And we shouldn't want it any other way.  Michael Irvin, no shrinking violet he, once said of a receiver draftee who was criticized for being greedy, "if a guy doesn't want the football in his hands all the time, I don't want him on my team."  To quote Gordon Gecko, greed, in a skill-position player, is good.

Garrett's job is to ensure the most worthy get theirs the most.  And which Cowboyis are the most worthy?  Some seem self evident.  Miles Austin deserves his touches.  So does Jason Witten.  But in what measure? 

How many touches should the receiver targets get in relation to the backs?  And what of those three talented backs?  What blend of running and receiving touches maximizes their distinct sets of skills? 

We have lots of questions to address this week.  Today, I want to begin at the beginning.  How many touches does Garrett have at his disposal?

Here's a chart of Cowboys offensive plays from the three-season Garrett Era:

Year Total Offensive Plays Number QB Runs Tot. Att. Plays/Avg. Game
'07 951 36 915 - 57
'08 948 30 918 - 57
'09 986 35 951 - 59


I've listed total offensive plays, and listed total QB runs, which I then deduct to find the total attempted plays, which stands for plays where Tony Romo handed off to a back or receiver running a reverse, or attempted a pass to one of his targets.

As you can see from category two, there are on average roughly two plays per game where Tony Romo has to scramble.  He'll sometimes make good things happen with his legs, but the Cowboys don't call on their quarterbacks to run very much at all.  Think of the last time Dallas ran a designed run for him.  A quarterback sneak.  A rollout designed for Romo to run for yards, rather than pass?  It's hard to do isn't it?  That's because it does not occur often.

Let's end part one with two conclusions:

1.  The Cowboys successfully run just under 60 offensive plays per game.  That total went up last year, probably due to a defense which was better at getting off the field.  The total isn't exactly 60, but to keep things simple as we consider how the touches should be apportioned, let's say Garrett has 60 plays per week to divvy up.

2.  Offensive calls are a zero sum game.  If you add some touches to a new target, you're taking touches away from an older one.  If you think Dez Bryant should see lots of throws this year, how are you going to budget for it?  Are you keeping the number of pass plays constant?  Are you taking runs away from the backs to get Bryant his, while keeping Austin and Witten and the other wide outs satisfied?

Or do you plan on keeping the total passes constant, which means that a healthy diet of throws for Dez means some passing food comes off some veteran plates.  Do you take a throw from Miles and a throw from Jason and a couple from Roy to feed the new -- and big -- baby bird? 

There's plenty to think about, but think Garrett must do.  If he hopes to get Martellus Bennett more involved this year, the OC will need to budget throws for him. The same goes for Kevin Ogletree.  If he wants to get Felix Jones more touches, somebody else will have to go without.

Decisions, decisions.

Wednesday:  How many passes will Garrett call in 2010, and for whom?

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