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Fun with Dallas on Third Down

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  • Fun with Dallas on Third Down

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    by Aaron Schatz
    I’m working on a sidebar for ESPN The Magazine about how boom-and-bust running backs often leave their teams in third-and-long situations. So I went and did a sort on average yards to go on third down this season. Normally when I say “third down,” I mean “third down and the occasional fourth down.” This time I did just third down because most fourth down opportunities are short-yardage.

    Here are the teams with the fewest yards to go on third down this year:

    IND 5.0
    HOU 5.4
    BAL 5.5
    NE 5.7

    That makes sense. The Colts have a great running game. The Texans and Patriots love to throw short timing routes on first down to get a few yards. The Ravens love to throw those routes if they are in second-and-long.

    Here are the teams with the most yards to go on third down this year:

    DAL 8.6
    SF 8.3
    KC 8.0
    MIA 7.8

    OK, Miami and San Francisco have horrible offenses this year, Kansas City is getting nothing from Larry Johnson, so those make sense. What is Dallas doing here? How is that offense playing so well when they are constantly stuck in third-and-long?

    If you have access to the DVOA Premium Database, you can sort 2007 stats by down, so you know the answer. Here are the top third/fourth down offensive DVOA ratings so far this year:

    DAL 90.0%
    PIT 44.9%
    ARI 44.1%
    NE 43.5%
    NYJ 43.1%

    Wait. Here’s passing only:

    DAL 133.1%
    NYJ 61.6%
    NE 61.3%
    DEN 56.3%
    SEA 53.0%

    Wow. That is a serious, serious gap.

    Now, I am not saying that Tony Romo is doing it with smoke-and-mirrors. I am not saying that Dallas won’t win the NFC. I am not saying that Dallas won’t still be one of the top three offenses in the league by the end of the season. I am not saying that Dallas will lose to New England in two weeks.

    However, that third-down performance is totally and completely unsustainable, and when it comes back to earth, the Cowboys will not look as formidable as they do now. No team has ever put up a third-down passing DVOA over 100%. Only three teams have ever been over 75%: the 1999 Rams (76.4%), the 2004 Vikings (88.7%), and the 2006 Colts (93.1%).

    Two more notes:

    1) The Colts are 12th on third downs (22.2% DVOA). The “third-down rebound effect” does not exist during the season the same way it exists between seasons, but given the Colts’ history, I think it is safe to say that they are going to be better than this on third downs when the season is over. Which means their offense is underperforming right now. Yikes.

    2) Why are the Cowboys in third-and-long so much? Let’s look at rushing on first downs:

    Julius Jones: 30 carries, 104 yards
    Marion Barber: 22 carries, 202 yards

    Seriously, what will it take for the Cowboys to actually let Barber start?

  • #2
    YAWN...we need some new content around here. Hasn't this topic been covered in probably 3-4 other threads?

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    • #3
      While Barber is still probably much better, that statistic also includes at least one of his long runs. The problem we have is that we aren't getting a lot of push early in games with our O-line. They are getting a ton of credit, and they should in some ways, but they really aren't getting the early movement we will have to have if we are going to sustain this pace against good teams. I want to see more from them.

      As for our "unsustainable" rate on 3rd downs, I think those numbers are skewed by a few freak circumstances in the first few games. We put ourselves in a TON of 3rd and longs because of penalties, as we were the highest penalized team in the league going into last week. We all know that Romo has an uncanny ability to find a way to get 3rd and longs. He's been doing it consistently since he assumed the starting role, so I don't see it slowing down too much.

      However, you can bet the farm that if we don't start doing better on 1st down in the run game, then we are going to have some ugly games at some point this year. Really ugly.
      Originally posted by 21ST
      He was protecting his self
      Originally posted by tjsunstein
      From what? His leg?
      Originally posted by Paranoidmoonduck
      That leg has had it out for him since day 1.
      "We're the quiet guys, the guys before the storm. And then we hit you."

      DeMarcus Ware

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      • #4
        I know I'm going to take a lot of crap for this post, but oh well.

        In the 90's during the Cowboys championship runs, the run game was always setup by the passing game. Emmitt ran a lot better in the second half of games. That was because the defense was on their heals due to the passing game. The O-line then was able to take advantage of this and push the defenses around. Granted we had a much better o-line and rb then, but the comparisons are fairly similar. By no means am I comparing JJ to Emmitt, but I simply feel the two situations then and now are somewhat similar.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by leroyisgod View Post
          I know I'm going to take a lot of crap for this post, but oh well.

          In the 90's during the Cowboys championship runs, the run game was always setup by the passing game. Emmitt ran a lot better in the second half of games. That was because the defense was on their heals due to the passing game. The O-line then was able to take advantage of this and push the defenses around. Granted we had a much better o-line and rb then, but the comparisons are fairly similar. By no means am I comparing JJ to Emmitt, but I simply feel the two situations then and now are somewhat similar.
          Thank you for bringing this up. I've been thinking this myself. That was what made the 90s Cowboy offense so deadly--they were balanced and not afraid to go against (then) conventional wisdom using the running game to set up the passing game. The biggest difference between then and now is that Emmitt was better at making something out of nothing than JJ is.

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