Bryan Broaddus is the film guru here at DallasCowboys.com and he does a tremendous job with it. I've been breaking down Cowboys film for a few years now, but my analysis differs from that of Bryan. Whereas he will break down specific plays for you, showing you the Xs and Os, I focus on objective aspects of the film.
How many counters, draws and play-action passes does the team run? When do they motion, how often do they screen, and how is Tony Romo performing against the blitz? How does the team perform when running behind Tyron Smith, and what is their run/pass ratio on second down? These are the sorts of questions I will answer with my film study throughout the year.
Before diving into the results from the Raiders game, it's important to mention that the Cowboys' preseason play-calling only vaguely resembles that in the regular season. The offense in particular was very "vanilla" on Monday night, meaning they ran basic plays in an effort to enhance player evaluation. Still, there were a few interesting nuggets from the first-team offense alone:
- Of Tony Romo's six passes, three of them traveled at least 10 yards, and two were 18 or more.
This is a great sign. In my article on why the Cowboys should throw the ball deep more often, I noted that Romo's 55.2 completion percentage and 125.4 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards were both second in the NFL in 2011. Despite that, 36 quarterbacks threw deep more frequently than Romo.
You can see Romo hasn't been very close to even the league average in deep pass rate over the past three seasons. With Miles Austin and Dez Bryant outside and his 2011 deep passing success, I have a strong inclination you'll see Romo post a career-high in deep passes in 2012.
- One of those passes was a back-shoulder throw to Bryant.
Every preseason, it seems like the back-shoulder throw is going to become part of Romo's passing arsenal. When the regular season rolls around, the throw vanishes. Romo seems to throw it well, however, and with Bryant's ball skills, maybe Romo just needs to let it loose this season.
Either way, it's pretty obvious the 'Boys need to get the ball to Bryant down the field. He has never ranked higher than 51st in the NFL in deep targets during his career. Despite that, he totaled the fourth-most touchdowns in the league on throws of 20-plus yards in 2011.
- Of the 11 plays run by the first-team offense, there was motion on four of them.
Again, this is evidence of Garrett sticking to the basics in the preseason. The 'Boys motioned on 37.4 percent of plays over the past three seasons, but they tend to bunch the majority of those in the first quarter. The reason is that the team's initial plays are scripted, so the offense had time to practice those plays and the motions all week.
Under Garrett, the Cowboys have historically been far more successful when not motioning before the snap. For whatever reason, the rate of sacks and overall negative plays is about twice as high for plays on which the offense has sent someone in motion as opposed to remaining in a static formation.
- The Raiders blitzed Romo twice.
One of those blitzes was the back-shoulder throw to Romo. The quarterback likely recognized that Oakland was in man coverage after seeing the blitz and knew the cornerback on Bryant would have his back turned to the ball.
Two plays after the Bryant completion, the Raiders blitzed again. This time they didn't show it pre-snap, however, and Romo overthrew Cole Beasley down the seam (although it looked like there may have been pass interference on the play).
Over the past three seasons, Romo has generally excelled against the blitz, although he sometimes struggles if the defense doesn't show the blitz before the snap.
- Romo checked out of two plays.
They were the back-shoulder to Bryant and the incomplete pass to Beasley. The former wasn't a true audible, as Romo recognized a blitz on the left side of the defense and shifted his protection to accommodate it. The second was the patented Cowboys "kill" call during which Romo "killed" the initial play called in the huddle, alerting the offense to run the second one.
Over the past three years, Romo has checked out of right around five plays per game. Almost all of these have been "kill" calls, and around one-third of the checks have been to a draw play.
The Cowboys' upcoming preseason games against the Chargers and Rams will be a great opportunity to see the first-team offense and defense receive extended playing time.