Despite every loss counting the same, there certainly seems to be a psychological difference between 2-3 and 3-2. Had the Cowboys come out victorious in Baltimore, we might be talking about if this team is on its way to an NFC East crown. Instead, the Cowboys sit in last place in the NFC East and still have three of their next four games on the road.
Nonetheless, there's plenty to learn from the 31-29 loss in Baltimore. Here are a few of my film study notes:
- I thought the Cowboys might have some success rushing toward the edges of the Ravens' defense, but they really had their way with Baltimore regardless of where they ran. On inside runs – lead dives, isolations and so on – Dallas running backs toted the rock 31 times for 164 yards (5.29 YPC) and a touchdown. On the 11 runs outside of the tackles – powers, stretches, and tosses – the backs totaled 62 yards (5.64 YPC).
- With the way that the rushing attack was clicking, there wasn't much of a reason to stray away from it. However, I would liked to have seen some play-action passes after the running game had been established. I counted the Cowboys as running only three play-action passes all day, all of which came in the first 20 minutes of the game.
- On the season, Tony Romo has completed 13 of his 16 play-action passes for 219 yards and a touchdown, good for a passer rating of 139.6. Play-action passes are a great way to leverage big chunks of yards from a strong running game. If you continue to run the ball again and again, even if it's working, you put yourself in a position in which you must continually beat the defense. Had the Cowboys generated a quick score off a play-action pass, perhaps they wouldn't have even needed to attempt a field goal at the end of the contest.
- Unfortunately, we didn't see many downfield passes from Dallas. Only one pass, the third-and-5 incompletion, traveled at least 20 yards. On the season, only 19 of Romo's 187 attempts (10.2 percent) have traveled that far. While opening up the offense with deep passes is admittedly a high-variance strategy, it could lead to big plays that would allow the Cowboys to finally "steal" a victory as the Ravens did on Sunday.
- We saw a whole lot of tight end James Hanna on Sunday, primarily because Garrett wanted to utilize big personnel once he saw that the running game was on fire. Hanna didn't receive a snap until the end of the first quarter, but Garrett ended up calling 13 three-tight end sets by the end of the contest. In comparison, I tracked the 'Boys as utilizing only four three-tight end formations throughout the entire first quarter of the season.
- Of the Cowboys' 79 offensive snaps, 50 (63.3 percent) came in Baltimore territory. That's an absolutely unbelievable number. Through their first four games, only 30.4 percent of the Cowboys' offensive snaps were in the opponent's territory.
- For whatever reason, the Ravens didn't send as much pressure as many were anticipating. I counted 22 blitzes from the Ravens, meaning they sent five or more rushers on just 27.8 percent of snaps. Romo passed on 17 of those blitzes, completing 11 throws for 106 yards and an interception, good for a passer rating of 57.5. The Ravens had success with their blitzes despite not disguising them very well. I counted them as hiding their intentions on six blitzes. One was a run, and the other five were passes for 40 yards.
- It was great to see Romo and Dez Bryant connect on some back-shoulder throws. Both touchdown passes came on the same type of option route that allows Romo to purposely throw behind Bryant, as did the two-point attempt. With a running game that has historically been poor in short-yardage situations, developing that back-shoulder throw could be extremely valuable for the Cowboys in the red zone.
- The Cowboys have averaged an amazing 7.2 YPC on over 100 counters since 2009. Against the Ravens, we saw just the second counter all season. You can't blame Garrett for utilizing a downhill attack against a Ravens defense that was clearly overmatched, but the Cowboys won't dominate every front seven like they did on Sunday. At some point, you'd think bringing back those counters could increase rushing efficiency.