Running the Numbers: Breaking Down Cowboys-Chargers Film

Heading into Saturday night's tilt with the San Diego Chargers, the Cowboys were looking to get the bad taste out of their collective mouths, at least offensively. Although the first-team offense managed only three points through one quarter of play, I think they were able to accomplish their goal. Even without Jason Witten, the crispness with which the offense was run was superior to that in Oakland.

The pass protection, in particular, was much improved over a week ago. That allowed Tony Romo to once again throw the ball downfield with frequency. Of his 13 pass attempts, four of them traveled at least 10 yards, and three exceeded 17 yards in length. Romo has also thrown the ball at least 20 yards on 15.8 percent of his 19 total preseason passes—up from 6.6 percent in 2011.

Here are a few other points of interest I caught after analyzing the film:

  • The Cowboys' first-team offense motioned on nine of their 20 plays.

The offense averaged 5.8 yards-per-play when motioning against the Chargers and 4.4 yards-per-play when not running pre-snap motion. The overall motion rate has been 37.4 percent since 2009, with over half of those coming in the first quarter of games.

  • The Chargers blitzed Romo three times.

They showed blitz before the snap on all three plays. Romo recognized all of them and turned them into positive gains: a five-yard out to Dez Bryant, a 10-yard slant to Bryant, and a 10-yard swing pass to Jamize Olawale.

The slant to Bryant came on a fourth-and-1 play at the Chargers' 40-yard line. The 'Boys surprisingly lined up in a Shotgun formation and Bryant was able to beat his man inside for the conversion.

  • Romo checked out of two plays.

He did the same against Oakland. Both plays were runs, one of which was a draw. Over the past three seasons, Romo has checked to a run on about 60 percent of his audibles. Over half of those runs have been draws.

As I explained last week, the Cowboys typically use a "kill" call to change plays at the line of scrimmage. If Romo called two plays in the huddle, he can "kill" the first one if he doesn't like the defense, letting the offense know to run the second play. He often "kills" to the draw when he sees the linebackers far off of the line. The draw itself is called by Jason Garrett.

  • Jason Garrett dialed up two strong-side dives from "Double Tight Strong."

I've studied this formation (and small variations of it) extensively in the past. Since 2009, when the offense lines up with two tight ends on the same side of the formation and a fullback in the backfield, they run a strong-side dive 69 percent of the time.

Sometimes those plays are in short-yardage situations, but other times they aren't. The average distance-to-go for a first down on the dive plays has been just over six yards, and greater than 40 percent of them have come on first down.

On Saturday night, the two runs went for a total of -2 yards.

  • The play clock isn't running down.

This season, I decided to track the time remaining on the play clock before the snap of the ball. I did this because, as you probably noticed, the Cowboys have let the play clock run down quite a bit over recent years. With just one second left on the clock, opposing defenders may have been able to get a jump on the snap.

Of the 31 plays run by the first-team offense this preseason, not a single one was snapped with fewer than four seconds on the play clock. I think there's an obvious effort being made here to get the calls into Romo in a timely manner, get the players lined up, assess the defense, and still snap the ball with time to spare. This small change could pay big dividends for Dallas in 2012.

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