Cowboys Offense vs. Lions: By the Numbers, Going Short and Getting Burned

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Another Week With Little in the Receivers Cupboard

Personnel Packages
                          1st half,  2nd half,  total
Basic:            27 plays, 10 plays — 37 plays
Heavy:            5 plays,  14 plays — 19 plays
Spread:          6 plays,  13 plays — 19  plays

What you might expect of a typical Garrett game.  50% base sets, 25% heavy and 25% spread formations.  It’s how we get there that matters.  Look at the first half splits.  Only 15% spread sets.  And that was the case through the 3rd, when Dallas ran 14 plays from the heavy set and just six from spread.

This was on pace to be a Jason Garrett ’07 special.  Throw early, get a big lead, bring in the extra blocker and hammer in the second half.  This was true even after the first pick-six and up until the second.  Then, a 27-3 game was 27-17 and Garrett went back to the more basic sets, which worked so well in the first half.

In that first half, Dallas moved very well, pass and running, with one primary package, the 12, often with Jason Witten flanking a tackle and Martellus Bennett splitting into the slot.  It gave a 3 wide out look, but kept the Lions in base and discouraged stacking the box.

Dallas didn’t use spread sets much early.  Not once in its first three series, which produced heavy yardage, 10 points and a turnover on downs at the one.  Only 11 of Dallas first 67 plays put three receivers on the field.  When the Cowboys successfully worked a seven-play 2-minute drill at the end of the first half, driving to a short Dan Bailey field goal, all seven plays were run from the 12 package.  More on this shortly.

Running plays, by side:
Left — 10 attempts, 42 yards, 4.2 YPC
Middle — 6 attempts, 52 yards, 8.7 YPC
Right — 11 attempts, 22 yards, 2.0 YPC

by type:
edge  :  9 carries, 34 yards, 3.8 YPC
draws:    4 carries, 47 yards,  11.8 YPC
Isos:        6, carries, 12 yards,  2.0 YPC
Toss/sweeps:  2 carries, 4 yards,  2.0 YPC
Reverses:   1 carry, 5 yards
Counters:  5 carries, 14 yards,  2.8 YPC

A little better, but still very much a work in progress.  The draw play was the big play in the run arsenal.  More continuity is needed, and may come with more reps.  Thirteen runs went for 5 or more yards, but eleven carries went for two yards or less.  Still a boom-or-bust group, though it is improving.

Passing Distribution
Bryant:   5 attempts, 3 completions, 37 yards
Robinson:  11 attempts, 7 completions, 116 yards
Witten:  10 attempts, 8 completions, 94 yards
Jones:  7 attempts, 5 completions, 19 yards
Choice:  5 attempts, 4 completions, 23 yards

A standard superior week for Jason Witten, and a big week for Laurent Robinson.  That’s a great story and a sad one at the same time.  Great in that Dallas seems to have found a player to fill the three man rotation when Miles Austin and Dez Bryant get back up to game shape.

Troubling in that Laurent Robinson was Dallas’ primary wideout in any game.  Kevin Ogletree has faded away.  The team talked a good game about his practice habits and readiness, but aside from that nifty fake-reverse throwback pass to him near the goal-line on Dallas’ opening drive of the 3rd, Ogletree wasn’t part of the game plan.  Only two balls were thrown his way.  Dallas put him on the field for just a handful of plays in the first half, choosing to use Martellus Bennett as a slot man over him.

Go back to the preseason.  This site, the big media sites and most every Cowboys forum anywhere asked whether the Cowboys might pursue a veteran to add receiver depth?  It was obvious then that Dallas was at best three deep, and that relied on the shaky assumption that Ogletree could handle his job.  The team goes light, Austin and Bryant take turns missing games with injuries, and Dallas’ lack of a number three limits them.

Last week’s meltdown has obscured a disturbing fact.  In the Washington game, Dallas didn’t have a number one or even a number two quality receiver target.  They escaped with a win because a Jim Haslett sell out blitz gave a lame Dez Bryant and a battered Tony Romo room to complete a 3rd-and-21 bomb to kick-start the winning drive.

 Against Detroit, Robinson played the Miles Austin role.  He did a remarkable job, but after he hurt his foot making a lunging 2nd-and-6 catch, Tony Romo did not complete a single pass to a wide receiver over the last 22 minutes of the game.  Robinson was limping.  Dez Bryant was aching.  Ogletree was wherever he was.

All the downfield completions in that span were to Jason Witten.  He’s a great tight end, but you can’t sustain a passing attack around a tight end, unless you have the 2000 Ravens defense and their running game on your side.

Dallas has gone three games with no more than one healthy, quality receiver on the field at any time. It’s had Bryant and Austin together for all of 20 minutes this season.  Last week, the Cowboys were relying on  a waiver claim, whom they had already cut once, to be the go-to-guy on 3rd downs.  Laurent Robinson looks like a keeper 3rd receiver, but why has it come to this?  Why has Dallas gone so short at this position, when it’s trying to break in a new offensive line, and while Tony Romo’s ribs and his head have taken their respective physical and critical beatings?

How can a team with playoff aspirations walk such a tightrope, by choice?  I thought the idea was to take pressure off of Romo, not pile more upon him.

Notes:

– In case it isn’t clear, Felix Jones is the bell-cow back.  Dinged shoulder and all, he got 21 touches.  This was a heavy week for the running backs, with Jones and Tashard Choice getting 34 chances, and 31 touches between them.  Given the poor health at receiver, that’s to be expected.

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com