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Mailbag: First Down Calls Getting Too Predictable?


Why is our first-down offense consistently so predictable with running the ball? Why not sprinkle in some quick passes to at least make second and thirds downs easier to convert? – Josh B./Tarrytown, NY

Kurt: Indeed, why not? Let's take a look at what the 14 teams who made the playoffs did on first-and-10 this season. In those situations, the Cowboys called designed run plays 58 percent of the time, which tied the 49ers for the highest percentage in the group. Dallas then averaged 4.15 yards off those runs, which doesn't seem too bad, but that ranked 11th out of the 14. (San Francisco was third at 4.95). So they were running the ball more often, but with less success. And while the Cowboys ranked 13thamong the contenders at 6.17 yards when passing on first-and-10, those two extra yards gained would sure seem a good reason to take to the air more often on first down than just 42 percent of the time. Whether they will actually change their game plan now that the playoffs are here, though, remains to be seen.

Nick: Well, I can't really compete with the research there by Kurt – good stuff for sure. But I did look up the stats on this last game and it looks like the Cowboys had 25 first-down plays. Nine of them were runs and 14 were passes. So that doesn't seem like am issue for this week, but maybe you're right about it for the entire season. But what I've always been told about run/pass splits, is that it really doesn't need to be 50-50. You don't want it to be 80-20 or something outrageous. But to me, you need to figure out if your team is better at the draw, or play-action pass. The Cowboys seem to be a better team at the play-action and so therefore, you're probably going to run the ball a little more on first down. That sets up the bigger pass plays, more than the passing plays will set up the draw. Either way, figure out how to move the ball against a Tampa defense that is the reason they're even in the playoffs.

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