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Running the Numbers: What Went Wrong on Offense?

Posted Oct 3, 2012

The Cowboys obviously need to improve in a variety of areas on offense, but sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what ails a team. We can say the running game needs to improve or the pass protection needs to get better, but which areas exactly must change, and how can the Cowboys implement those alterations? Let’s take a look at some interesting numbers from the Bears game and the entire season to shed some light on the current offensive woes:

  • Defenses are going to continue to disguise their blitzes against Romo until he beats them. Over the past three seasons, Romo’s passer rating is 79.4 when teams blitz after lining up conservatively, and just 70.3 when they show blitz but back out. Since the Giants game, all three of the Cowboys’ opponents have frequently disguised their intentions against Dallas, and it has worked.
  • I’ve tracked opponents as disguising their defensive look on 33.8 percent of snaps, a much higher rate than in previous years. On plays on which the defense has shown a blitz but then backed out, Romo has completed 26 of 37 passes for 305 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions – good for a passer rating of 81.5. When the defense has not shown a blitz but then rushed five or more players, Romo’s 2012 passer rating is only 48.8. He has posted 4.54 yards per attempt, no touchdowns, and one interception on those 24 passes.
  • On Monday night, the Bears disguised their looks quite a bit. It slowed down once they gained a big lead in the second half, but through two quarters, Chicago attempted to confuse Romo on 51.6 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps. Romo threw the ball on 12 of those plays, completing nine passes for 77 yards and an interception (56.6 passer rating). The Cowboys also allowed a sack to defensive tackle Henry Melton when the Bears showed blitz, but then backed out and twisted their defensive linemen.
  • The Cowboys’ offensive line has struggled this season when defenses show a blitz but then send four or fewer rushers, as was the case on the Melton sack. On 41 such pass plays, they’ve allowed four sacks for minus-32 yards. It’s difficult to tell what percentage of Romo’s struggles against defenses that disguise their intentions could be due to throwing in the face of pressure.  
  • Despite the failures of the offense, the Cowboys’ play-action passing game was once again on point. Tony Romo and Kyle Orton combined to complete all five of their play-action passes for 97 yards, good for an incredible 19.4 yards-per-attempt. I’d still love to see more play-action passes from head coach Jason Garrett moving forward. On the season, the ’Boys have completed 11 of their 13 play-action passes for 180 yards and a touchdown, yet they’ve run them at just around half of the rate as in the past three seasons.
  • Yesterday, I posted an analysis of the Cowboys’ running game. In it, I discussed why NFL teams try to “stay ahead of the chains” by increasing their expected points on each play of a drive. Of the 12 designed runs called by the Cowboys on Monday night, only four increased their expected points on the drive. The NFL’s best teams typically have a rushing success rate of around 50 percent, but the Cowboys’ success rate is only 34.3 percent through four games.
  • Although Garrett called an end around and a fake dive-toss, the Cowboys didn’t run any true counters against the Bears. Increasing the number of counters could help out the running game, as the Cowboys have averaged a remarkable 7.2 yards-per-carry on counters since 2009. They’ve run only one in 2012.
  • Even though we didn’t see as many against Chicago, the slant continues to be the Cowboys’ top route on the season. Romo has thrown a slant 24 times in 2012, completing 19 of them for 203 yards (101.9 passer rating).
  • I’ve been telling people that Romo really didn’t play poorly at all on Monday night, but that’s a difficult argument to make when a guy throws five picks. Well, I found a way to quantify it. I track all of Romo’s passes as being either on or off-target. Over the past three seasons, he has averaged right around seven off-target passes per game. Against the Bears, I counted just four: the final two interceptions, an overthrow to Dez Bryant, and an overthrow to Miles Austin. The first three interceptions came on a probable wrong route, a drop, and what was really a fumble. The truth is that numbers sometimes lie, so it’s important that we dig beyond the box score to uncover the stats that are truly worthy of our attention. Romo’s five interceptions aren’t at all representative of his performance on Monday.
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