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Running the Numbers: Cowboys-Eagles Film Study

At 6-6, the Cowboys are remarkably the top team on the outside of the playoff bubble and, pending the results of tonight's game, potentially just one game back of the NFC East lead. Let's take a look at how they overcame a slow start to take down the Eagles in Week 13:

  • The running game was obviously a huge part of the Cowboys' success on Sunday night. DeMarco Murray's final stat line read 23 carries for 83 yards, a 3.61 yards per carry average (YPC), but that doesn't tell the whole story. Murray lost 10 yards on his final three carries when the Cowboys were running out the clock, so his efficiency was really about one yard greater per rush. And, of course, you don't need stats to show you the massive difference between Murray with the ball in his hands as compared to any other running back on the roster.
  • The final run/pass ratio was 32/30, but the Cowboys actually came out throwing the football. Of their 32 designed runs, 20 came in the second half. In the first half alone, the 'Boys called for a pass on 62.5 percent of their plays.
  • Head coach Jason Garrett called four play-action passes on the night, two of which went for touchdowns: the 23-yard scramble pass to Dez Bryant and the 28-yard strike to Miles Austin. The first was really all Tony Romo, but the latter play-action touchdown was set up beautifully by Garrett. Just before that play, the Cowboys had run the ball on five straight occasions. Four of those runs came from a Double Tight I/Strong formation, the same formation Garrett called on the play-action score to Austin. Dallas gained only nine yards on those four carries, but they showed the same look multiple times. The last of the runs from the formation was on first-and-10, suggesting Garrett knew he wanted to take a shot off of the look a few plays before it even happened.
  • Another way Garrett set up the play-action pass to Austin was keeping Witten in to block. Witten stayed in to block on only two other passes all night, both of which were screens. The Eagles surely understood that Witten has been in a route on more passes than ever this year, so when they saw him stay in to block, it really confirmed what the formation suggested – that a run was on the way. But, they were wrong.
  • Overall, Romo was 3-for-4 for 51 yards and two touchdowns on his play-action passes, good for a passer rating of 156.3. Romo owns a 99.9 rating on play-action this year.
  • The Cowboys were really able to gash the middle of the Eagles' defense through the air. I track the location of every pass, and 54.1 percent of Romo's passing yards actually came on throws between the hashes. That included a 28-yarder to Witten down the seam, a 36-yarder to the tight end on a post, and of course, the 28-yard Austin touchdown.
  • Romo's final touchdown pass to Bryant came on a smoke screen, but Garrett had actually dialed up a running play. Romo made a sight adjustment when he saw the cornerback on Bryant playing off, and the receiver powered his way into the end zone.
  • On two occasions, you may have noticed Romo faking an end-around to a wide receiver following a handoff to the running back. When the receiver motions into the backfield like that, it's called a "ghost" or "ghost motion." The Cowboys haven't run it often this year, but it has seemed to help hold defenders in the limited situations in which Garrett has called for it; the 'Boys have averaged 8.0 YPC on four plays with ghost motion this season.
  • Whether it's due to fear of a Romo injury or something else, we just don't see quarterback sneaks from the Cowboys. They've run only one sneak all season, and that was actually a mistake on first-and-10. In short-yardage situations, sneaking the ball could potentially help the Cowboys keep drives alive.
  • Excluding the last-second kneel-down, the Cowboys ran only eight drives all night. That's their lowest total on the season; they had averaged 11.4 drives per game coming into Sunday night. It's not necessarily a bad thing and shows why using total points as a barometer for offensive success is a huge mistake. Not only does the success of a defense play a major role in total points, but offenses built around sustaining long drives, typically by running the ball, will naturally score fewer points than those that seek big plays. That's why points-per-drive is a much more effective way to judge an offense than total points. A team like the 49ers and their 24.1 points-per-game is far superior to the Lions' 25.0 PPG; the Niners, for example, have run 141 fewer plays than Detroit.
  • The Eagles did a poor job of disguising their defensive intentions. Of the Cowboys' 62 offensive snaps, Philadelphia disguised their look just three times. Actually, the Eagles lined up in a conservative alignment and didn't blitz on nearly every play. I counted only three (yes, three) blitzes from the Eagles all night, just 4.8 percent of snaps. Philly rushed four or fewer defenders on the Cowboys' final 34 plays.
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