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.
38 receptions. 596 yards. Nine drops.
Rather eye-popping numbers for a No. 1 wide receiver–just not ‘eye-popping’ in the manner in which Cowboys’ fans would hope.
Has Roy E. Williams’ production to date warranted him keeping the starting job this season? Of course not. Is his stay in Dallas about the money? The Cowboys would be lying if they said Williams’ contract isn’t at least partially the reason he will be on the roster in 2010.
So why are we supporting Williams’ return as the starter in 2010, particularly when one of the Cowboys’ major problems over the last few years has been supplying players with jobs they have not earned?
Call us crazy, but we think Williams is going to turn it around in 2010. The man has been jeered basically non-stop since he arrived in Dallas. We would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of Cowboys fans who yearn for Williams to even return to the squad in 2010, much less remain the starter.
It isn’t as if these criticisms are unwarranted. Even Williams knows it. In a recent interview with the Star-Telgram‘s Clarence E. Hill, he said, “I felt like I didn’t do anything last year. I dropped balls and what not. I didn’t think my name would be on top of the drop list ever in my life. It was a humbling experience. It showed me I better get my life together.”
Those are the words of a man who has lost confidence. Williams’ struggles the last two years are not due to a lack of talent. Let that soak in. Roy E. Williams is an immensely talented wide receiver with outstanding body control and, believe it or not, top-notch hands. We would go as far as to say he has some of the best hands in the entire NFL. Surprising for a man with nine drops last season? Confidence, or a lack thereof, can do amazing things to people.
“I better get my life back together,” Williams stated. Not his game. . .his life. Being successful in life is about knowing who you are and having confidence in yourself as a person. A player must be confident in life before he can be confident on the football field. Right now, Williams is neither.
Thus, Williams primary offseason priority shouldn’t be running routes, or catching balls, or hitting the weight room (of course none of those things are discouraged, Roy). No, Williams should do whatever he can to regain his confidence. His mojo. His swag.
And what is the best way to regain one’s ‘swag’? By competing of course–a task Williams is relishing this season. “I’m here to fight for my job,” Williams has claimed. “I’m ready to battle. I think I will win. That’s my mentality.”
And battle he will. Some insiders have already proclaimed that Williams will have to hold off undrafted second-year receiver Kevin Ogletree to retain his starting job. This competition may be just what Williams needs to thrive.
True champions aren’t those who perform well when everything is going according to plan, but those who flourish in the face of adversity. This is undoubtedly a time of adversity for Williams.
So get that swag back, Roy. Be cocky. Be brash. Talk smack–and then back all of it up on the field.
Come September, we will find out if Roy E. Williams has truly regained his confidence. We will find out if he is ready to compete. Most importantly, we will find out if he is a true champion.
Never bet against a man who has nothing to lose.
We hear it all the time when discussing Ole Miss athlete Dexter McCluster.
“He’s too slow.”
“He’s too small.”
“The Cowboys already have three running backs.”
The first two complaints are legitimate concerns which NFL teams will have to factor into their grade for McCluster (although he proved his speed at his Pro Day and football is quickly becoming a ‘small man’s game’).
However, the last criticism (and that which we hear most often from fans) is unjustified. Yes, McCluster can play running back and Dallas is loaded at the position.
Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t think the Cowboys should trade or release any of their backs. So how would there possibly be room for McCluster? Because any return man as potentially devastating to the opposition as McCluster can and should make the roster regardless of their position.
Would you like your return man to play a position where he can have a huge impact? Sure. Last time we checked, though, there aren’t too many left tackles returning kickoffs (now wait…does Raiders returner Gary Russell count?).
Further, McCluster can have a huge impact at positions other than running back. Remember, he is a tremendous slot receiver with the potential to take the ball to the house every time he touches it. The NFL is evolving in such a way that these smaller, quicker players are becoming in vogue. McCluster is nearly the same weight of DeSean Jackson when he was drafted.
In a way, McCluster’s offensive prowess is a bonus for the Cowboys. The team was so unsatisfied with Patrick Crayton’s return ability last year that they signed return specialist Allen Rossum at one point. Rossum of course got injured on his first touch, but the point is that any player who figures to contribute on offense or defense will instantly be providing more than Dallas had planned for Rossum.
Who would you rather have on your team: an aging return specialist or a dynamic athlete will sensational return ability who can play the slot, run specialty plays (Wildcat, end-arounds), and even handle a few carries a game?
The National Football Post is reporting that Ohio wide receiver Taylor Price will meet with the Cowboys. The visit will begin tomorrow and will be of the two-day variety.
Price’s 4.41 forty-yard dash at the Combine was the second-fastest of any wide receiver, trailing only Clemson wide receiver/track star Jacoby Ford.
We see a player like Price as a more likely addition to the wide receiver corps than players like Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, and Demaryius Thomas. With Roy Williams in the midst of a $45 million deal and Miles Austin set to get paid in the near future, it just wouldn’t be a sound business decision to implement another fairly large first-round contract into an already expensive position.
It may not be what you’d like to hear, but Dallas is unlikely to address the WR spot until the middle or late rounds of the draft (if at all). A player with incredible return ability might be the exception.
A few weeks ago we examined offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s play-calling trends on 2nd down. Our results shocked us perhaps more than any we have gathered this offseason.
The graph to the left displays Garrett’s tendencies. Notice the disproportionate amount of times Garrett called a run play on 2nd down after a pass play, and vice verse. On 2nd and 3 to 7, for example, Garrett dialed up a run just 29.5 percent of the time following a run on 1st down. In the same exact situations, though, he called a run 76.5 percent of the time after 1st down passes.
Clearly a coordinator’s play-calling tendencies should not be based solely on the previous play-call (regardless of that play’s result). We concluded Garrett fell victim to the idea that “alternating creates randomization.” In his attempt to “mix it up,” Garrett actually became incredibly predictable with his calls. True randomness has no regard for previous happenings. As we have shown, however, Garrett allowed previous plays (not simply the result, but whether it was a run or a pass) to affect his current call.
After publishing that study, we received some criticism that our stats were meaningless without knowing the tendencies of other play-callers from around the league. These criticisms, though, are unjustified.
We are not simply analyzing the percentage of run or pass plays in certain situations. If that was the case, then yes, we would need to know league-wide tendencies to draw meaningful conclusions about Garrett’s own trends.
Instead, we are analyzing the percentage of runs/passes after a certain type of play. Let’s look again at the above graph. On 2nd and 3 to 7, Garrett was 2.95 times more likely to run after a 1st down pass than after a 1st down run. We are not critiquing how often Garrett called a run in general during those situations–that information is meaningless to us.
Since the down and distance on 2nd down is exactly the same regardless of the 1st down play-call, we would expect a truly random play-caller to dial up a run after a 1st down pass the same percentage of the time as after a 1st down run, regardless of what that specific percentage may be. Thus, it is the overall run/pass percentage that would require the knowledge of others’ play-calling tendencies to be meaningful, but not the percentage of runs/passes in a specific down and distance following a specific type of play.
Nonetheless, we were still curious as to the play-calling trends of other coordinators in similar situations. We had a feeling that, because humans perform so poorly in generating random sequences, we would see that others fall victim to the same fallacy as Garrett, i.e. that “mixing it up” will produce randomness.
Of course, it would be impossible for us to study film on every 2nd down play for every team for the entire 2009 season. Luckily, we came across similar statistics on AdvancedNFLStats.com (a tremendous site that we highly recommend). The numbers are listed just above.
The data consists of 14,384 plays, so the sample size is obviously large enough to draw meaningful conclusions. During those plays, teams ran approximately 50 percent of the time after a 1st down pass, but just 28 percent of the time after a 1st down run.
We contrasted these results with Garrett’s 2009 2nd down play-calls (shown to the left). Notice that Garrett calls a 2nd down run after a 1st down run at basically the exact same rate as other coordinators around the NFL. His 2nd down run ratio after a 1st down pass is also incredibly similar to the league-wide average (54.3 percent to approximately 50.0 percent).
So, is this evidence that Garrett is justified in his play-calling? Not at all. Remember, opposing offensive coordinators are not involved in a zero-sum game (meaning the success of one does not necessarily cause the failure of the other). Offensive coordinators around the league can collectively perform well, or collectively do poorly. In the case of 2nd down play calls, it is the latter.
Further, not all teams suffer from this randomization fallacy at the same rate. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, have done a tremendous job or randomizing their plays over the last few years (graph below). Notice that their 2nd down run/pass ratio is nearly the same after a 1st down run as it is after a 1st down pass. The closer these bars come to matching, the closer a team is to reaching the Nash equilibrium, and the more successful they will be on offense.
Thus, the failures of other coordinators around the NFL do not justify the failures of Garrett. His success is independent of that of other offensive coordinators. As we wrote in our initial study of this topic, “If the Cowboys want to maximize the productivity of their potentially explosive offense, Garrett is the first person that needs to change. Unfortunately, if his play-calling does not become less predictable, neither will the team’s fate in the playoffs.”
We aren’t backing off from that statement.
In Part I of this segment, we profiled the soon-to-be rookie offensive players we think will become the cream of the crop in the NFL. Now we take a look at the defense.
DT: Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska), Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma)
This was really a no-brainer. The top two defensive tackle prospects are head and shoulders above the others. They both have the talent to play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4.
Sleeper: Jared Odrick (Penn State)
No one seems to be mentioning Odrick as a potential Cowboys’ draft selection–except us. If he can overcome some character concerns (which we believe are unjustified), he can cash in his ticket as a Pro Bowl player.
DE/OLB: Brandon Graham (Michigan), Sergio Kindle (Texas)
Graham is a personal favorite of ours because of his ability to not only rush the passer, but also effectively halt the run. He is probably a better fit for Dallas’ scheme than Kindle. Both players will likely be taken before the 27th pick.
Sleeper: Jason Worilds (Virginia Tech)
Worilds is our #44 overall player, but he could move up even further. He had the best 10-yard split of any defensive end at the Combine.
ILB: Rolando McClain (Alabama), Brandon Spikes (Florida)
Despite all of the criticism Spikes is receiving, we still look at him as having first round game tape. What else really matters? We view both him and McClain as better fits in a 3-4 scheme where they will have to participate less in sideline-to-sideline pursuit.
Sleeper: Micah Johnson (Kentucky)
Another 3-4 guy, Johnson’s forty time, like Spikes, was atrocious. However, if he checks out medically, he is worth a risk late in the draft due to his athleticism and play-making ability.
CB: Kyle Wilson (Boise State), Devin McCourty (Rutgers)
Wilson and McCourty just look the part. They have tremendous hips and fluidity, and both will also help you out in the return game. McCourty’s size and speed may even give him the highest upside of any CB in this class.
Again, another cornerback who can return punts and kickoffs. It is AOA’s combination of size and speed that we love though. He will have to show teams he is capable of playing with the big boys.
S: Eric Berry (Tennessee), Earl Thomas (Texas)
Fairly standard selections here. Berry and Thomas are simply the two best safeties in this draft–hands down.
Sleeper: Major Wright (Florida)
Wright has been slowly crawling up draft boards, even reaching the top five safeties in NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock’s rankings. Is his centerfield ball-hawking ability enough to make up for his poor tackling? Wright is a high risk/high reward selection.
With the 2010 Draft approaching quickly, we know a lot of you cannot seem to acquire enough draft-related information and predictions. Today, we are detailing which prospects from this class will wind up being considered the best at their position once their careers are all said and done. In Part I, we take a look at those players on the offensive side of the ball.
QB: Tim Tebow (Florida)
Tebow seems to polarize analysts and fans like no player we’ve ever seen. Yes, his mechanics are off and he isn’t your “prototypical” NFL quarterback, but we know he is going to work as hard as he possibly can to succeed.
Sleeper: Jarrett Brown (West Virginia)
Brown may have the strongest arm in this draft. He has the skill set of Jamarcus Russell without the poor attitude.
RB: C.J. Spiller (Clemson)
People will argue that Spiller will never be an every-down back in the NFL, but who is anymore? He is lightning in a bottle, reminiscent of another C.J. who was drafted two years ago.
Sleeper: Lonyae Miller (Fresno State)
Never heard of Miller? He was Ryan Mathews backup at Fresno State. At 221 pounds, he ran a 4.43 and posted 26 reps at the Combine.
WR: Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State), Arrelious Benn (Illinois), Demaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech)
Notice all three wide receivers we listed have prototypical size and speed (perhaps with the exception of Bryant’s long speed). The dominant wide receivers over the last decade generally tend to be of this body-type. Our favorite: Demaryius Thomas.
Sleeper: Dezmon Briscoe (Kansas), Mardy Gilyard (Cincinnati)
Briscoe is another huge pass-catcher, but Gilyard is undersized–a likely slot receiver at the next level. Both recorded poor forty times at the Combine, likely causing their stock to slip.
TE: Jimmy Graham (The U)
We aren’t nearly as thrilled about this tight end class as some other people. We are low on Jermaine Gresham, Aaron Hernandez, and Dorin Dickerson. Graham may just be more athletic than all three.
Sleeper: Tony Moeaki (Iowa)
Moeaki is a late-round prospect, but watch out for this guy. At his Pro Day, he recorded a 4.68 forty and a 36.5 inch vertical, all at 245 pounds.
OT: Russell Okung (Oklahoma State), Trent Williams (Oklahoma)
Due to the Cowboys’ likely interest in an offensive tackle, we have studied a lot of tape of the top prospects. Okung and Williams stand out as having the most consistent film of any we’ve seen.
Sleeper: Vladimir Ducasse (UMass)
We love Ducasse. His versatility to play possibly four (or even more) positions should vault him up draft boards. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him go in the early second round.
OG: Mike Iupati (Idaho), Jon Asamoah (Illinois)
Iupati will have to overcome a tendency to hold defenders, but he can also be dominant at times. Asamoah may actually be a more likely prospect for Dallas later in the draft, assuming Iupati doesn’t drop to the 27th selection.
Sleeper: Marshall Newhouse (TCU)
Newhouse has been rising up boards since the Senior Bowl. He has the sort of size (326 pounds) Dallas covets in their linemen.
C: Maurkice Pouncey (Florida)
Sleeper: Matt Tennant (Boston College)
Tennant doesn’t display the versatility of Pouncey, but he could be an option in the later rounds for the Cowboys.
- Eagles QB Donovan McNabb could be involved in a big-time trade.
- There is a lot of talk of Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant falling to the Cowboys’ 27th overall pick.
The ‘Boys playing cards
- Dallas could be a good draft away from a championship.
- Scout.com’s Draft Muncher is an excellent tool to uncover mock draft trends.