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Running the Numbers: Film Study Dissects Running Game

With only two road contests remaining all season, it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which a 4-5 team could be sitting so pretty. If the Cowboys can take down the Cleveland Browns in Week 11, they'll be just one game behind the New York Giants for first place in the NFC East. Considering how poorly Dallas has played at times this season, that's all you could really ask at this point. Let's take a deeper look at how the Cowboys were able to take down the Eagles to set themselves up for a potential late-season run:

  • The box score shows 29 designed passes and 25 designed runs, just a 53.7 percent pass rate. I guess the team won because they maintained a balanced offense, huh? As Lee Corso likes to say, "Not so fast, my friends." Romo didn't drop back to pass a single time in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys actually threw the ball on 61.7 percent of their offensive plays through three quarters. Thus, while you'll hear all week about how the 'Boys won because they were balanced and will continue to win when "they run the ball X number of times," you'll know that rushing attempts are only a result of winning, not a cause of it. The Cowboys will continue to win games as they've done in the past –  by passing the football often.
  • I loved some of the things the Cowboys were able to do on the ground, especially early in the game. The offense totaled 47 rushing yards on eight carries (5.88 YPC) on the first drive by whipping out a lead dive, toss, fake-toss fullback trap, counter and draw. The Cowboys ended up running five combined tosses and counters on the night after totaling only seven such running plays through their first eight games.
  • Head coach Jason Garrett also utilized a few delayed handoffs, gaining 29 yards on three variations of the draw play. The Cowboys have now run 27 draws on the season for 114 yards (4.22 YPC). Felix Jones, a player who has always excelled on delayed handoffs, has totaled 67 yards on 12 draws (5.58 YPC) in 2012.
  • With a three-point lead and just over one minute left in the first half, Dallas punted on a fourth-and-1 at the Eagles' 41-yard line. Based on the game situation, the Cowboys could be expected to increase their expected points by going for it if they anticipated at least a 46 percent success rate. Since 2009, the 'Boys have converted on 64.6 percent of plays on third-and-1 and four-and-1, so even with a dwindling clock, Dallas probably could have benefited from keeping the offense on the field.
  • With 1:55 left in the game and an eight-point lead, Garrett handed it to Jones three straight times. The Cowboys seemed content to punt the ball away with 59 seconds remaining on the clock. Although it may have seemed too conservative, it was the smart move. Brian Moorman pinned the Eagles back at their own 11-yard line. The chances of Nick Foles leading his team 89 yards for a score in under one minute were very slim. On top of that, since the Eagles had missed their previous extra point, Philly had to move all the way down the field simply for a shot at sending the game to overtime. If we assume the Eagles had a 50 percent chance of converting the two-point try and a 50 percent chance of winning in overtime, we can multiply the odds of an Eagles touchdown by 0.25 to calculate their true probability of winning the game. Even if we estimate their odds of driving 89 yards for a touchdown at 10 percent, which is very generous, their actual probability of winning would still be only 2.5 percent, or one-in-40.
  • I counted four of Tony Romo's passes as traveling at least 20 yards past the line-of-scrimmage, representing 15.4 percent of his attempts. That's a rate at which the Cowboys could potentially optimize offensive efficiency. Remember, Romo has been sensational on deep looks over the past few years, and the positive effects of deep attempts spread to other plays since defenses need to at least respect the potential for downfield looks. On Sunday, Romo completed three of his four deep passes for 104 yards and a touchdown.
  • Both the 49-yard strike and the controversial 30-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant were on deep passes, and it was certainly a good sign to see Romo give Bryant a chance to make a play when the receiver saw single-coverage. Romo's lone incompletion on a deep pass came early in the game when he missed Miles Austin following a play-action look. I counted it as one of only three off-target passes from Romo on the day.
  • The Eagles really didn't blitz as much as many anticipated, sending five or more rushers on just nine plays. The Cowboys had mixed results on those plays; they ran on two of them for six total yards, throwing on the other seven. Romo was 3-for-5 for 75 yards against the blitz, but he was also sacked twice for -12 yards.
  • The Eagles sacked Romo three times in total. I attributed those sacks to Doug Free, Nate Livings, and Mackenzy Bernadeau. Free and Bernadeau have struggled in pass protection all season, although Livings hasn't been as bad as his sack total (four) indicates.
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