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Cowboys Offense: Is Balance The Key?

In spite of running only eight called run plays in last week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys demonstrated true balance, as almost perfectly illustrated on their final scoring drive.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There has been extensive talk this week about the Cowboys supposedly unbalanced offensive attack in last week’s game against the Vikings in which the Cowboys attempted 51 passes and only 9 runs (one of which was a Tony Romo scramble), with many suggesting that the Cowboys can not expect to produce on offense without "balance". Tony Romo debunked those statements on Thursday, essentially saying what many around here have said for a long time, that the number of times you run the ball doesn't really impact whether you’re going to win or lose.

As I've said before, I don’t believe that true balance on offense has anything to do with run/pass ratio. I've written and talked about the topic of balance here before, so I don’t want to expand on my take on the issue too much here, so I’ll start my analysis with a tidbit from a quote given by Mike Leach to on the topic earlier this year.

"There's a whole myth about balance, and it's really stupid. The notion that you hand it to one guy half the time, and then you throw it to two other guys the other half of the time, and maybe you connect, maybe you don't. There's nothing balanced about it. There's two skill positions left out."

"Balance, whether you run it or throw it, is getting contribution from all the skill positions… [if] you're giving it to the back 40 times. There's nothing balanced about it. It doesn't even add up to balance. We try to be balanced based on contributions by all the skill positions." - Mike Leach

Now let us quickly take a look at the Cowboys skill players and their touches in the game versus the Vikings.

Player Touches Carries Targets Total Yards Yds/Touch
Murray 10 4 7 50 5.00
Witten 8 10 102 12.75
Bryant 6 11 64 10.67
Beasley 6 9 68 11.33
Dunbar 6 3 3 11 1.83
Williams 2 7 33 16.50
Harris 2 2 13 6.50
Randle 1 1 3 3.00
Hanna 1 1 21 21.00

So in 63 offensive plays, the Cowboys were able to get 5 players 6 or more touches, while targeting a 6th player (Williams) 7 times in the passing game. That, my friends, is balance. When you consider the fact that Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams all had at least one dropped ball, it becomes evident just how truly balanced this Cowboys attack is.

Now let’s look at the Cowboys 90-yard scoring drive in the final 2:44 of the fourth quarter of the Vikings game, starting with a breakdown of targets, catches, and yards on the drive.

Player Targets Catches Yards
Witten 2 2 16
Harris 2 2 13
Beasley 2 2 27
Williams 1 0 0
Bryant 1 1 36

Now let’s look at the areas on the field that were targeted on the drive, all the passes were relatively short throws, featuring good runs after the catch, something I wrote about last week. So we’ll only be looking at left, middle, and right areas for this break down.

Left Middle Right
4 2 3

We see that on the 9 plays of the drive (one was a throwaway out of bounds by Romo) , they were split almost perfectly between the three horizontal areas of the field.

If you were a defensive coordinator and I was your advanced scout, and I came to you to give a report on a team you were about to play, and I said, "Well coach, an example of what they like to do, on one series in their last game, they ran 9 plays, to 5 different guys, completed 89% of their passes, spread evenly to all areas of the field, and scored a TD in 2:09." You would be very worried about facing that team.

So when you stop thinking about balance as a 50/50 split between runs and passes, and start thinking about it as using all of the weapons available to you to distribute the ball to try to attack a defense all over the field, you can see that this team has the ability to be extremely well-balanced, and potent, given they don’t stop themselves with drops, penalties, or missed blocks.

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