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Running The Numbers: Week 1 Cowboys-Giants Film Study

Before the Cowboys' 24-17 victory over the New York Giants, I told you how important it is for an NFL team to win their first game of the season. Make it a road matchup with a division rival, and there's no way around it: This was a big win for the 'Boys. Let's take a look at some of my film study notes:

  • This win was due in large part to Tony Romo's ability to read the Giants' defense. I counted Romo checking out of plays four times. Those four audibles resulted in one run for nine yards and three passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. The 40-yard strike to Kevin Ogletree and the 34-yard bomb to Miles Austin both came after "Kill" calls from Romo.
  • The Cowboys utilized a formation called "3 Wide I" (below) quite a bit on Wednesday night.

  • Dallas used base "21" personnel – one tight end, two running backs, and two receivers – on each of the five plays they lined up in the formation. They ended up rushing the ball three times for 10 yards from 3 Wide I. Interestingly, Ogletree's second score and the late Austin touchdown both came from the formation. Over the past three seasons, the Cowboys have run the ball from 21 personnel on 89 percent of plays.
  • It's fun to think that the Cowboys win games by "wearing down" defenses with the run, but it isn't true. The majority of the team's success comes from throwing the football efficiently. Rushing the ball effectively can certainly help, but running with frequency simply isn't necessary in today's NFL.
  • I backed up that point last week in my article on a few myths about the Cowboys. Since 2008, the Cowboys have compiled only a .276 winning percentage when they pass the ball on more than 57 percent of their snaps. For the mathematically-challenged, that's about one win every four games. However, when the 'Boys pass the ball at the same rate through just the first three quarters, they have a .636 winning percentage. Once they're already winning, they run the ball late, creating the illusion of a balanced offense.
  • The illusion was on display last night. You'll hear that the Cowboys won the game because they stayed balanced on offense. The only problem is that they weren't balanced at all – through three quarters, head coach Jason Garrett dialed up a pass on 28 of the Cowboys' initial 42 plays (66.7 percent). In the fourth quarter, Dallas ran the ball on nine of their 14 snaps (64.2 percent), fueling the mistaken notion that they stayed balance throughout the game.
  • Surprisingly, the Cowboys used motion on only eight plays all night (14.3 percent). Historically, they've been a superior football team when they utilize static formations, so let's hope that trend continues into the Seattle game next week.
  • In June, I wrote an article urging the Cowboys to throw the ball deep with more frequency. They've been extremely successful throwing the ball 20 or more yards downfield, but only 6.6 percent of Romo's passes traveled that far in 2011 – good for only 37th in the NFL.

  • We'll need to see how the 'Boys offense continues to evolve into the season, but the they took their shots last night. Of Romo's 29 passes, five (17.2 percent) traveled at least 20 yards. He completed four of those for 132 yards and two touchdowns. That's a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
  • I counted the Giants as blitzing on only 13 plays. Dallas ran on four of those for 25 yards. The other nine passes totaled 83 yards, including the 40-yard touchdown to Ogletree. One of the reasons the Cowboys had success on the Giants' blitzes, I think, is that the G-Men didn't disguise them. If you remember, Romo struggles more than the average NFL quarterback when defenses hide their intentions, but he thrives when he knows what's coming.

  • Jason Witten was the hero of this game for me. For a team that gets berated for lacking leaders, I'd respond that Witten is about as inspiring of a leader as you can have. I tracked him as playing 49 snaps; the toughness he displayed undoubtedly rubbed off on his teammates.
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