The Cowboys have just released their preseason schedule:
Week 1: Hall of Fame Game (Canton, OH) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Week 2: Oakland
Week 3: @San Diego
Week 4: @ Houston
Week 5: Miami
Don’t forget the Cowboys will have five preseason games this season due to the Hall of Fame game. This should give the coaching staff ample time to evaluate the rookies and second-year players who lost last season due to injury.
The full regular season schedule will be announced at a later date (most likely in mid-April).
We recently studied the Cowboys’ success in 2009 running draw plays. We discovered that, although Dallas is a superb draw-running team, the frequency with which the team ran the play caused their draw efficiency to decline as the season progressed.
In fact, the Cowboys actually averaged over a full yard less per carry on draws than on all other runs. To regain the effectiveness of the draw, we concluded that the Cowboys must run less of them in 2010. In doing so, defenses will be less prepared to defend them and the Cowboys can then reach the Nash equilibrium (the point where the average yards-per-carry will be maximized).
We decided to conduct a similar study on counter plays, with the results shown above. Counter runs utilize misdirection–a running back either hesitates or starts one way before changing direction and receiving the hand-off. Offenses will sometimes even pull linemen to the backside of the play to really confuse a defense.
Notice the incredible success the Cowboys had on counters last season, particularly Felix Jones. Since counters are finesse type runs, it is logical that Jones received the most carries on counter plays and also gained the most yards. His 10.0 yards-per-carry is absolutely ridiculous, particularly with a sample size as large as 22 runs.
Barber also performed fairly well on counters, perhaps because defenses were less inclined to expect a misdirection play with him in the game as opposed to Jones. Thus, Barber’s counter average was higher than his yards-per-carry on other runs.
Tashard Choice’s low average means nothing because the sample size of just three runs is much too small to draw meaningful conclusions.
When comparing the overall counter stats with the numbers from the other types of runs (shown to the right), you can see just how effective the Cowboys were running counters in 2009. They averaged 2.9 yards-per-carry more on counters than other runs, particularly because the opportunity for a big play is so much greater.
Notice the Cowboys had a significantly higher percentage of big plays on counters as well. In fact, when running counters Dallas was 1.5 times as likely to run for 10+ yards, 3.5 times as likely to run for 20+ yards, and an incredible 6.9 times as likely to run for 40+ yards as compared to all non-counter runs.
It is worth noting that the percentage of negative plays on counters was higher than on non-counters, but this is to be expected from a finesse, misdirection sort of play. Counters are generally run in situations when an offense is less likely to be debilitated from a negative play (such as 2nd and 5 as compared to, say, 3rd and 2).
Still, the Cowboys were only 1.5 times as likely to lose yardage on a counter as compared to a non-counter, so the risk was well worth the reward.
Ultimately, Dallas would be well-suited to significantly increase the number of counters they run in 2010, especially with Jones. It may also be smart to replace some of the draw plays with counters, particularly because the two types of run plays are generally called in similar situations.
Q: With all of the talk about a ball-hawking safety, why is there no mention of interceptions from linebackers?
John Coleman, Bassett, VA
A: You are right that the pass defense woes of the Cowboys always get pinned on the secondary, but the back four are not the team’s the only ticket to success. The best defenses work as a single unit, particularly against the pass. The success of the cornerbacks and safeties, for example, is so dependent on the team’s ability to rush the passer. There is a humongous difference between covering a player for three seconds and doing it for five.
Having said that, the Cowboys obviously have one of the best pass-rushing groups in the league. The play of their front seven, in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback, is about as solid as one might hope.
Unfortunately, the linebackers are not nearly as successful dropping into coverage as they are getting to the quarterback. Remember, even Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are in coverage about one-fourth of all plays. Further, Bradie James and Keith Brooking are excellent players and tremendous leaders, but they aren’t Pro Bowl-caliber pass-defenders.
The inside linebackers’ success in pass coverage could increase with the emergence of second-year player Jason Williams. Members within the organization love his speed and athleticism. He may take over for Bobby Carpenter in nickel situations next season and should be able to offer a bit more play-making ability inside.
Overall, you are correct in pointing out that a large component of pass defense is the play of the linebackers. Teams attacked the Cowboys underneath (pass attempts less than 10 yards down the field) more than any other team in the NFL in 2009. If the linebackers can step up their game and perhaps even force a few more turnovers, it should go a long way in aiding the Cowboys’ pass defense as a whole.
Q: What is your opinion on signing Shawn Andrews to a low-guaranteed money but high-incentive contract? If he ever stops acting like a headcase, this could be a low-risk/high-reward move. Thanks and love the site.
David Leitner, Philadelphia, PA
A: You answered your own question by saying “if he ever stops acting like a headcase.” Sure, Andrews is talented, but as we have seen with Roy E. Williams, so much of the game is mental. If a player is not in the right place mentally, he cannot perform well physically.
Andrews has had some problems with depression and we truly hopes he can sort things out for himself. A lot of times people dismiss those sorts of illnesses as less severe than ones with physical symptoms, but that is simply not the case, even for professional athletes (and perhaps especially for professional athletes).
You are correct in assuming Andrews, or any other veteran, would be signed to a low-risk/high-reward deal, but there are other types of risks than financial ones. If the Cowboys only concerned themselves with financial risks and on-field play, T.O. and Pacman Jones would still be in Dallas.
Q: Why don’t the Cowboys bring back Pacman Jones? I know most fans will disagree, but he is still really talented and hasn’t gotten into any trouble in a few years. He could compete with Orlando Scandrick for the nickel job.
Bobby Doler, Louisville, KY
A: We actually recently raised this question to fans on Twitter and Facebook after watching Pacman during Cowboys’ training camp on Hard Knocks. We received approximately 150 “Hell No” answers. That isn’t an exaggeration.
We are not 100 percent opposed to the idea because of Jones’ return abilities. Pushing Scandrick in the slot would be nice, but Pacman could really have an immediate impact on special teams. He showed he still has some speed left after running a low-to-mid 4.4 at his private workout, and while he struggled on returns during his lone season in Dallas, Jones has the potential to be a dominant return man.
Having said that, now is probably not the time to sign a controversial player like Pacman. The Cowboys are extremely close to getting over the hump and competing for a Super Bowl title, and any player that is potentially as big a distraction as Jones is probably not worth the risk.
Overall, the chances of the Cowboys actually bringing back Pacman are about the same as them signing me. . .so pretty good.
Yesterday we detailed why we believe that fans should continue to support wide receiver Roy Williams. He will battle for his job in camp, and during that time we will find out what sort of fight and determination he truly has within him. This season will determine the path of the rest of Williams’ career. Is he a champion? Only time will tell.
Should Williams step up in camp, he will be the Cowboys’ 2010 starting wide receiver opposite Miles Austin. We are so sure of this fact that we have purposely avoided discussing first round receiver Dez Bryant because, well, we just don’t see him as a legitimate option for Dallas. Bryant is simply too talented to fall to the Cowboys’ 27th pick on April 22 (even though we brought up the possibility in a hypothetical scenario).
Further, the Cowboys have so much money tied up in the wide receiver position (we are including Austin’s future deal) that paying another WR big-time money makes little cents (cents. . .get it?).
Dallas is also excited about the future prospects of Kevin Ogletree. The second-year man out of Virginia has turned heads within the organization. Will it be enough to win a starting job in 2010? Drafting Dez Bryant would do nothing less than give Ogletree little opportunity to play for the next five years. Who knows. . .perhaps the answer to the team’s perceived wide receiver woes is already on the roster?
Nonetheless, there are more immediate needs than WR. Yes, we all want Williams to play up to his potential, but we feel fully confident telling you that the Cowboys will not draft a wide receiver in the early rounds of this draft unless he is a dynamic return man, i.e. Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard.
Because Dallas is hosting Bryant, though, and because we can all dream, Bryant is the feature in this edition of our Cowboys “Potential Draft Picks” Series.
Bryant is an absolute beast. There is simply no other way to put it. He is ranked No. 10 in our latest Big Board, and he is only that low due to concerns about his attitude and work ethic.
Bryant is a bit of a mystery to us. He does bone-headed things like show up to his Pro Day with no cleats or (allegedly) arrive late to games. However, one look at the guy lets you know he is a hard-worker. Everybody knows Bryant can play–the question teams must answer will be how much he loves football.
On the field, we are confident in saying Bryant is every bit as talented as Larry Fitzgerald when he left Pitt. That is a gigantic statement, but this kid has gigantic game. His game tape and production are off the charts. He displays top-notch hands and run after the catch ability.
We loved Michael Crabtree coming out of Texas Tech last year, and we will tell you there is really no comparing him to Bryant. Bryant is superior in every aspect of the game–he runs better routes and is even more dangerous once he gets his hands on the ball.
Bryant recorded varying forty times at his Pro Day–from 4.52 (which he ran twice) to 4.68. We are unconcerned about that number. He plays as fast as any receiver in this class and we have yet to see him get caught from behind.
Again, every concern about Bryant is an off-field issue. If he can prove he has the requisite attitude and work ethic to succeed in the NFL, there is simply no way he drops to the Cowboys.
Bryant could go as high as the top 10 (Buffalo?). Even if some teams are scared off by Bryant’s perceived attitude problem, we just cannot see him dropping passed New England’s 22nd selection.
Would Jerry Jones trade up if Bryant makes his way into the 20’s? Perhaps we will get the opportunity to find out.