Breaking Down the ‘Boys: One easy way to improve Cowboys’ running game

Discussion in 'Fan Zone' started by Gryphon, Nov 27, 2012.

  1. Gryphon

    Gryphon Merge Ahead

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    By Jonathan Bales
    3:12 pm on November 27, 2012

    Jonathan Bales is a special contributor to He’s the founder of The DC Times and writes for and the New York Times. He’s also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People. He can be reached at

    You can follow him @TheCowboysTimes.

    The Cowboys have converted a first down on 75.0 percent of their rushing plays with three or fewer yards-to-go for a first down, ranking them first in the NFL. I searched long and hard for a rushing stat in which the Cowboys excel, and that’s about all I could find (and it’s more likely due to a small sample than anything else). Overall, there’s no doubt that, even with the decreased importance of rushing in the NFL, the Cowboys simply won’t reach their offensive potential until they rush the ball more efficiently.

    There are a variety of ways in which the Cowboys might be able to improve their ground attack, the easiest and most immediate of which is to change the nature of the rushes. The Cowboys have been unbelievably “vanilla” in all aspects of their 2012 offense, and the running game is no exception. Whereas we saw hundreds of counters and draws from the ‘Boys over the past three seasons, the majority of the running plays this season have been dive plays. Here’s the full breakdown:
    Bootleg: 0.5%
    Counter: 2.5%
    Dive: 57.2% (3.27 YPC)
    Draw: 14.8% (4.36 YPC)
    End-Around: 1.5%
    Power: 18.2% (2.95 YPC)
    Sneak: 0.5%
    Toss: 4.3%
    Trap: 0.5%

    You can see that “straight runs”—dives and powers—comprise 72.0 percent of the Cowboys’ rushes. Dallas has totaled 3.2 YPC on such rushes, suggesting they might not be the best bet for the offense. It’s true that dives in particular are often used in short-yardage situations, but probably not to the extent that you think. Of the Cowboys’ 120 dive plays, only 23 (19.2 percent) have been with fewer than four yards-to-go for a first down. In comparison, 67 of the dives (55.8 percent) have come with at least 10 yards-to-go for a first down, suggesting the poor efficiency is due more to the play type and the personnel than game situations.

    The Cowboys have actually been quite effective on all other run types, but they haven’t dialed them up enough for the impact to be meaningful. The ‘Boys have averaged 7.2 YPC on counters since 2009 and over a full yard more on draws than all other runs, but together they make up only 17.3 percent of the offense’s running plays this year. The Cowboys’ tosses have gone for 10.0 YPC, but they’ve run only nine of them.

    Dallas will undoubtedly benefit from the return of running back DeMarco Murray, but the easiest way to improve the running game is to change the structure of it. With more draws, counters, and other “deceptive” runs, the Cowboys will rise dramatically from their current 32nd place rank in rushing efficiency
  2. percyhoward

    percyhoward Research Tool

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    In 2010 when Garrett took over as HC, the way we were able to get yards in the running game was shotgun draws, QB runs, end-arounds, and tosses. We did that because we knew then that we could not run straight ahead, just like we know now. For whatever reason, he hasn't gone back to that strategy that worked.
  3. Risen Star

    Risen Star Likes Collector Zone Supporter

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    He's been doing that since he's been here. Trickery. Deceptive running. Whatever you want to call it. He's scheming around complete crap up front.
  4. percyhoward

    percyhoward Research Tool

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    That's the idea, but we haven't been doing it so much this year, according to Bales' numbers.
  5. Big D

    Big D Well-Known Member

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    Felix does best on tosses and screens but he always seems to be the one running the dive. Genius!
  6. Risen Star

    Risen Star Likes Collector Zone Supporter

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    Yeah, I agree with that. We haven't. But to act like this is something the head coach doesn't already know is misleading. He's well aware of these deceptive runs. He's used them extensively since he's been here.
  7. e41dalasfan

    e41dalasfan New Member

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    I don't know the specific names of running plays , but running felix between the tackles 5 times in a row, and the abandoning the running isn't helping
  8. Bluestang

    Bluestang Well-Known Member

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    The problem with traps, draws, and counters is that you cannot use that as a basis for running the ball.

    These type of plays are change ups to traditional runs. Think of it as a playaction pass but in the sense that you use it to trick the defense when they are already afraid of the run.

    All of these runs are predicated on over-agressiveness of the LBs trying to fill the gaps because they are selling out on the run completely.

    We can't even establish a run game so why would those runs work if the defense is laughing at us trying to run the ball in the first place?
  9. jobberone

    jobberone Kane Ala Staff Member

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    Exactly. Those traps, draws and counters work on LBs who are moving to the ball quickly who don't watch their backside enough. They esp work on defenders trying their best to stop an offense running the ball well already.

    And they don't help the passing game at all because you have no play action. The field really shrinks and you get even more predictable.
  10. Wolfpack

    Wolfpack Well-Known Member

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    What used to drive me nuts was that JG had a big OL and never called dives/isolations and would instead call traps and power pulls in short yardage (which dont typically work). Dallas has been horrible running in the red zone with JG and this is the reason.

    So now he gets to pick the OL he really wants and it is suppose to be lighter faster and more athletic to pull, trap and attack the edge. So now he calls dives and isolation runs?

    Its just amazingly odd?
  11. percyhoward

    percyhoward Research Tool

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    There may be a legit reason that we're not doing it, and I wouldn't pretend to know. But I will say that the mere lack of rushing success isn't the reason, because we've run these types of plays before when we weren't having success running the ball.

    In 2010, in Garrett's first five games as HC, here's what we did on handoffs with QB under center:

    111 rushes for 298 yards
    2.7 avg.

    Here's what we did on all runs that were either QB runs, WR runs, tosses/laterals, or shotgun runs:

    51 rushes for 410 yards
    8.0 avg
  12. Bluestang

    Bluestang Well-Known Member

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    I don't like the idea of running the ball with a QB or WR. That is not very successful in the NFL.

    The root of the problem is the 5 guys upfront and until that changes we can sit here an pipe dream all day about Sean Payton, Mike Holmgren, or "trick" running plays and lead ourselves into delusional dreams.
  13. percyhoward

    percyhoward Research Tool

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    The OL is still the main problem, and I don't know anything about all the Sean Peyton stuff, but those numbers are real. After Garrett became HC, 30% of our rushing plays were those kinds of plays, and they were quite successful.
  14. jobberone

    jobberone Kane Ala Staff Member

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    I say this over and over and it just gets ignored but you must be able to run the ball inside with the QB under center without resorting to draws, counters, traps, reverses etc for you to have a successful offense in this league. You cannot run a vertical offense with optimum efficiency unless you can do that. Can you win without running? Sure but you aren't going to do it as well and consistently as you would with a proper running game. It's just too easy for defenses to load up when you're one dimensional and the field they have to defend is so much smaller.
  15. Tezz

    Tezz Active Member

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    I feel like the Cowboys sometimes abandon the run when they have some success. Felix Jones is more of a change of pace back and I think they miss Murray's ability to run through contact. Also, the Cowboys are in so many catch up situations that running gets taken out of the equation. At the end of the day I think they need to do better at developing mid-late round offensive linemen...

    I will say this though whether it be injuries, weaknesses on a roster every year there will be teams that will compensate for it somehow and give themselves a chance by making the playoffs. 3 of the last 4 Superbowls had a team ranked dead last in rushing...

    GOLDENCHILD1688 Well-Known Member

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    good post. great read
  17. CowboysFaninDC

    CowboysFaninDC Well-Known Member

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    those other types of plays take an experiened and good OL to execute. he has simplified the rushing plays because of the ineptness of the OL. is that so hard to see? when we have tried those other plays they have failed and failed misreably. there is plenty of sampling on that.
  18. burmafrd

    burmafrd Benched

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    nothing knew to anyone that has watched the Boys over the last few years

    With the QB under center we CANNOT run the ball.

    Simply because the O line cannot get it done.

    Now in the Shotgun the D MUST think pass first. That is the only reason we can get anything on the ground.
  19. TheFinisher

    TheFinisher Well-Known Member

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    OLines like the ones we had in the 90s just don't really exist anymore, free agency makes it almost impossible to re-create that in today's NFL. That, and the fact that defensive lineman are much more athletic than they were 20 years ago. The Niners are really the only team that can just line up and run down the defense's throat with any real consistency, but that's due in large part to how they constructed their team. They spent an unusual amount of money and high draft picks to construct that line, and they were able to do it by neglecting positions like QB and WR. We are not cunstructed like that, at least not with this current core of players.

    Garrett is calling plays like he has Larry Allen and Erik Williams on that line, just straight ahead Isos and Powers. He's going to find that's incredibly had to accomplish on a consistent basis if he doesn't change up the scheme.
  20. xwalker

    xwalker Well-Known Member

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    I've got 4 ways to improve the running game:





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