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Tracking The Cowboys Offensive Line, Formations And Play Calling

Head Coach Jason Garrett is fielding criticism for his play calling, but he wasn't the only one with a hand in developing this offensive line.
Head Coach Jason Garrett is fielding criticism for his play calling, but he wasn't the only one with a hand in developing this offensive line.

Lost amidst all of the quick reactions to the last two losses that sent the Cowboys to 2-3, has been the play of the young offensive line. Many fans want to point the finger at Jason Garrett for his play calling, and I'm not here to persuade or dissuade you from that stance. I simply will attempt to shed some light into the elephant in the room, that the Cowboys offensive line is the glaring weak link of this ball club.

I've been ironing out the kinks on a tracking chart over the last two games, that will hopefully give us insight into exactly how the game unfolded. At this point, I'm ready to roll it out to help analyze the offense's performance. Plays can and most often get categorized under multiple categories. Here are the ones that I tracked:

Negative Negative Positive Overall
Bad Romo Bad Vision Abv Avg Pass Play Success
Miscommunication Dropped Pass Positive Line Play (pass)
Quest. Play Call Offensive Penalty Positive Blocking (run)
Blocking Mistake Fumble Good Vision/Fight

Bad Romo: Negative plays that have to be assigned to the quarterback. Miscommunication: negative play where it's unsure of who was at fault, QB or WR. Blocking Mistake: Run or Pass. Bad Vision: RB missing an obvious lane. Good Vision/Fight: Includes broken tackles and making the right read for successful run. Success: Gaining 40% of necessary yards on 1st, 60% on 2nd, 100% on 3rd and 4th downs. The rest: Self-explanatory.

Follow the jump for the skinny.

First some notes on how I chalked up the results of the plays. Of course, feel free to ask anything in the comments that you don't think I've been clear on.

  1. Quick throws where the D doesn't really have a chance to get to Romo do not go in the positive blocking ledger, but can fall into the blocking mistake column.
  2. Blocking mistakes can be on anybody, but most notably this refers to the offensive line and tight ends with blocking responsibilities from either on the line or the H-Back position.
  3. If a defensive lineman or rusher gets his hands on the ball, I'm chalking that up to a blocking mistake, and then it is subjective on whether Romo's pass was also at fault. For instance, the first pass of the 2nd half (play #40) counted as both a blocking mistake and ‘Bad Romo'
  4. Good run blocking means that the runner has 0 or 1 defender to beat to make it past the line of scrimmage.

Now, on to the game analysis.

  • Jason Garrett called 74 plays on Sunday; 41 pass attempts, 24 rushing attempts, two sacks, six offensive penalties and one 12-men-on-the-field on the defense.
  • The Cowboys success rate, as defined above, was exactly at 50% (counting defensive penalty as success), 37 for 74.
  • Here is a breakdown of the Cowboys use of various formations, and their success in doing so.
# times 1 1 11 2 27 25 7
Success 1 0 5 0 19 7 5
Suc. % 100% 0% 45% 0% 70% 28% 71%
  • As you can see, the Cowboys played the majority of the game in either the Deuce formation (2TE, 1RB) or Three-wide, with alarmingly different results. The deuce formation was used in so many ways, it was dizzying. Both tight ends in the slot, one inline with one in the slot, one inline with one as the H-Back, etc. etc. In total, Garrett called the two-TE sets 35 times, with 24 successful plays (69%).
  • "Bad Romo" and/or miscommunications affected six plays in total. Five plays were clearly attributed to Romo (Play # 6, 40, 49, 62 and 66) and two were miscomm. (#6, 28). Yes, play #6 was the interception where under pressure, Romo threw off his back foot in between two receivers in the same zone and right to the defense. Play #66 was the at the New England goal line, tied at 13, when Romo threw the ball at Choice's feet instead of looking at Dez one-on-one along the left sideline.
  • The offense was called for six penalties, and they were all either holds or false starts on linemen. Drive killers against a team like New England just can't happen. I can't stress enough how much penalties hurt the team, along with Tashard Choice's hair-yanking fumble, so here's the recap.
Off. Penalty Infraction Effect on Drive
1 Phillips hold on 1st & 10 No effect. Cowboys gained subsequent 1st down.
2 Free hold Pushed Cowboys to 2nd and 18, punt after 3rd down sack.
3 Kosier hold negated Def. PI in end zone, would have put ball on 1 yard line
4 Free false start 3rd n 9 goes to 3rd and 14, play call safe draw to set up first field goal
5 Smith hold No effect. Changes 2nd and 3 to 2nd and 13, but Romo scrambles for long 1st down
6 Smith false start Changed 3rd and 13 to 18 while trying to run clock. Team could have gone for a 3rd and 13, but 18 was a give up draw call.

  • On the scoring drive right before the half, the Cowboys drove 92 yards on 10 plays. 90% of those plays would be considered ‘successes' .As a matter of fact, on the two drives bookending the half, the Cowboys were ‘successes' on 17 of 19 plays.
  • I counted two questionable play calls, these are plays where I wonder if they had any chance of success, or were the right call for the situation. None of us, save for the handful of coaches we have as members, can really say whether or not these were the right calls. The first was the shovel pass to Choice on play #67 and 3rd and goal, tied at 13.
  • The second questionable call was the second run call while trying to run out the clock. It is only questionable to me because of how bad the run blocking had been throughout the game and the front the Patriots were showing (eight up). The idea to run the clock and force New England to use their timeouts definitely falls under the category of playing not to lose, but I don't see how you can really fault Garrett for leaning in this direction. This play fizzled, because ...
  • The Cowboys had 23 'Blocking Mistakes' out of their 74 offensive snaps. That's over ONE THIRD of their plays! Now, here's where some forgiveness leaks in for Garrett's passive playcalling on that next-to-last drive. Romo was throwing off his back foot, constantly. There was even a play where I tweeted ' I'm gonna need u 2 keep your eyes open when you throw it Tony '. Romo admitted that he had to take a pre-game shot for his ribs which aren't fully healed and you could see that he was a bit skiddish in the pocket on several plays, falling away from the pass even without pressure in his face.
  • On the next-to-last drive, the run blocking was atrocious. On 1st down, the one where any reasonable coach would call a run to get the clock moving, Phil Costa was steamrolled by blitzing linebacker Gary Guyton. Completely reverse-pancaked. On the 2nd down play, Guyton put a wicked-good spin move on Kyle Kosier, while Martellus Bennett looked completely disinterested in stopping his man. Both plays stuffed rookie DeMarco Murray in the backfield.
  • On 74 snaps, the Cowboys totaled 23 blocking mistakes, 10 QB/WR errors and one fumble. It must really be difficult calling plays for guys who make play-killing mistakes 46% of the time.
  • The total tallies are as follows:
Category Count
High Quality Pass Plays 15
Dropped Passes 4
Positive Line Play(pass) 16
Positive Blocks (run) 5
Good Vision/Fight 20
Bad Vision by RB 1

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