Cowboys' Running Game: Analysis Through Week 3
In my game plan for the Cowboys against the Bucs, I suggested Jason Garrett call more counter runs. I’ve tracked every Cowboys play since 2009, and the Cowboys have averaged a staggering 7.2 yards-per-carry on counters. DeMarco Murray and the offensive tackles excel on counters, but Garrett simply isn’t dialing them up. He didn’t call a single counter against Tampa Bay, and the ‘Boys have run only one all season (compared to an average of two to three a game since 2009). I just don’t get it.
The Cowboys’ running game as a whole has been anemic through three weeks. Passing is the team’s bread and butter, but an efficient running game sure can make things easier on Tony Romo and the offensive line. An effective running game can set up playaction passes, of which Garrett has called only eight all season.
To see how the ‘Boys might be able to get back on track on the ground, I wanted to break down how they’re performing on certain types of runs and in various directions in 2012. Below, I’ve listed the efficiency on each type of run and with each lineman at the point-of-attack. Note that to be at the point-of-attack, a run needs to be to the hole directly to the left or right side of a lineman. Runs labeled as occurring behind Nate Livings, for example, have been in either the ‘1’ or ‘3’ hole.
- Dive: 8 for 41 (5.13 YPC)
- Lead Drive: 18 for 46 (2.56 YPC)
- FB Dive: 1 for 0
- Draw: 6 for 29 (4.83 YPC)
- Lead Draw: 3 for -1 (-0.33 YPC)
- Power: 10 for 28 (2.80 YPC)
- Stretch: 2 for 3 (1.50 YPC)
- Toss: 2 for 52 (26.0 YPC)
- Counter: 1 for 5
You can see that not too much is working for the Cowboys. Dallas has run two toss plays, but the average is skewed heavily by the 48-yard run from DeMarco Murray against the Giants. Historically, the Cowboys haven’t been great on toss plays.
Interestingly, the Cowboys are far more efficient without a fullback on the field. When the offense runs from pass-oriented personnel packages or formations, they typically find success. That’s a trend I’ve noticed from Dallas and the NFL every year I’ve broken down plays.
If I were calling plays for the Cowboys, I’d call a whole lot more outside runs from spread formations and a whole lot fewer inside runs from tight formations. The lead dive from formations such as “Double Tight Strong” has been beaten to death. It isn’t working. Counters, draws, and tosses can be the Cowboys’ best friends.
- Smith: 18 for 79 (4.39 YPC)
- Livings: 24 for 62 (2.58 YPC)
- Cook: 20 for 31 (1.55 YPC)
- Bernadeau: 17 for 51 (3.00 YPC)
- Free: 10 for 32 (3.20 YPC)
Smith is outperforming every lineman in the running game, but even the 4.39 YPC behind him isn’t outstanding. As a comparison, the Cowboys regularly averaged 5.0 YPC behind offensive tackles Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo.
We’d expect the efficiency behind the interior linemen to be the worst, but these numbers aren’t going to cut it. Anything above 4.0 YPC behind a guard or center is acceptable. Needless to say, 1.55 YPC is not.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.
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