In yesterday’s “Key Matchups” article, I argued that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should implement a high-variance strategy, i.e. blitz often, to increase the Cowboys’ chances of reaching the postseason. That same high-risk/high-reward mentality should extend to the offense as well. Let’s take a look at how Jason Garrett can be aggressive moving forward. . .
Keep airing it out deep to you-know-who.
The Cowboys aren’t throwing deep at a very high rate this season, but recently made a switch in the passing game to find Dez Bryant downfield. The change came in Week 8 against the Giants, and it was an obvious one. Think about this: Bryant’s deep ball rate—the percentage of targets that came at least 20 yards downfield—was only 5.9 percent in the Cowboys’ first six games. Since Week 8, the rate has skyrocketed to 34.1 percent. The average distance of his targets has also increased from 10.2 yards over the first six games to 14.7 yards over the most recent five. It’s really no wonder that Bryant has averaged 100 yards and nearly a touchdown per game since the transition.
Giving up 6.8 net-YPA—the 10th-highest mark in the NFL—the Eagles’ pass defense is susceptible to the big play. Bryant should have opportunities to make a few on Sunday.
Don’t try to establish the run.
We hear it all the time; “You have to run to set up the pass.” Well, you don’t really. Since 2008, the Cowboys have won over 50 percent more games when they pass the ball over 58 percent of the time through three quarters as compared to throwing it less frequently. The numbers get skewed in the fourth quarter when the ‘Boys are leading and thus run out the clock, but the fact remains that they’re an effective passing team with the league’s worst running game. At 3.5 YPC on the ground, Garrett should abandon the balanced strategy that has led to early deficits. Sitting at 5-6, they need to just come out throwing. You’d be surprised how effectively early passing efficiency—and a lead—can set up the run. Plus, while it’s commonly thought that you can run on the Eagles, their run defense has been more efficient on a per-play basis than their pass defense.
Garrett’s play-calls have been painfully obvious this year. When he wants to pass, Romo drops straight back to pass. When he wants to run, Romo gives a straight handoff. We’ve seen very few counters, draws, play-action passes, and other “deception” plays. Actually, counters and draws make up just 17.3 percent of all rushing plays—in comparison, straight dives and powers comprise 75.4 percent of runs—so what you see is basically what you get. And the difference between Romo’s play-action rate—the lowest in the NFL—and the next-ranked quarterback—Philip Rivers—is the same as the gap between Rivers and the next 15 quarterbacks. Wow.
Garrett has shied away from such plays because he thinks it puts his offensive line in a vulnerable position, but the Cowboys now need to take on the risk of negative plays to secure the upside that comes with using deception in their play-calling. That’s particularly true against an Eagles defense that relies on speed, and thus could get themselves out of position on misdirection plays.