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FringeNC
12-09-2005, 02:11 PM
Cowboys' offensive line struggling
By KC Joyner
ESPN Insider

The Dallas Cowboys' offense averaged 23 points per game in its first eight games this season. At that point, the Cowboys were headed into their bye week with a 5-3 record after winning three of their last four games. The Cowboys were not only going to get a week of rest, but they also were going to see the return of Julius Jones, who had been out with an injury for the previous three weeks.

In the four weeks since, the Cowboys have struggled. They are 2-2 during this stretch, falling to second place in their division, and are in danger of missing the playoffs. Despite Jones' return to the backfield, the Cowboys' offense actually has scored fewer points per game than it did during the first eight games. What makes this even more amazing is that two of Dallas' opponents over these four games were Detroit and Philadelphia, two teams in the bottom 10 in the league in scoring defense.

Dallas likely will have to win at least three of its last four games to have a reasonable chance of making the playoffs. The Cowboys' final four games include matchups against three teams in the top 10 in scoring offense (Kansas City, Carolina and St. Louis). Does the Cowboys' offense have the firepower to keep up with these teams? I did a metric analysis of Dallas' last four games, and the answer to the question will not warm Cowboys fans' hearts.

The first thing I looked at was run blocking. In this four-game stretch, Dallas has run the ball 125 times for 373 yards, or 3.0 yards per carry. That number is bad enough, but the problem actually goes deeper.

When I track a running play, I track which hole the play was run to and who the primary blockers were on the play. In addition, I track a number of subjective metrics detailing the quality (or lack thereof) of the block.

I also identify when an offensive lineman is defeated on a block by a defensive player. Larry Allen has been defeated a team-high eight times, followed by Al Johnson and Rob Petitti with six each. Marco Rivera is next with three, while Torrin Tucker and Andre Gurode each has been defeated twice.

That is 27 times that a Dallas lineman has been defeated at the point of attack on a running play. That means that a Cowboys blocker was defeated 22 percent of the time, an average of about one out of every five plays!

On 13 different occasions, Dallas allowed a defender to close in from the back side on a run to make a tackle. That accounts for just over 10 percent of the Cowboys' running plays, and Dallas gained only 28 yards on those 13 carries.

It isn't like this is just one or two linemen struggling in their run blocking. Here is a chart showing how many yards have been gained behind each Dallas blocker when he is one of the primary blockers at the point of attack:

Some of these numbers aren't that bad, but consider these factors:

Out of Tucker's 42 yards, 28 came on two runs, leaving 14 yards on the other seven runs.

Johnson had 25 blocks at the point of attack for 114 yards in the Detroit game. Factor those out and Johnson has 17 POA blocks for 58 yards (3.4 yards per carry).

Factor out a 6-POA block/43-yard performance for Allen in the Philadelphia game and he has 32 POA blocks for 105 yards (3.3 yards per carry).

As if all of this wasn't enough, this group is also giving up penalties and sacks. Johnson has had three holding calls against him (one in each of the last three games). Petitti has given up two sacks, Tucker has given up three, and Rivera has given up one.

This isn't the kind of problem a team can normally fix this late in the season. Every Dallas lineman is being beaten with a fair amount of consistency and some are being beaten at an alarming rate. Tucker is a backup who had to take over for the injured Flozell Adams in the middle of the season, and Petitti is a rookie, so there are some extenuating circumstances, but that really doesn't matter at this point.

This analysis shows that things really look bad for the Cowboys. Carolina and San Diego both have very good defensive lines, and Kansas City has Jared Allen, a defensive end who is having an All-Pro year. And that doesn't include having to go to Washington to play Gregg Williams' blitz-happy bunch. If Bill Parcells can coach this team to three wins in these four games with this offensive line, it will be quite an accomplishment.

KC Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider. He has a Web site at http://thefootballscientist.com.

Ari Chi3fs
12-09-2005, 02:17 PM
the football scientist, eh?

Chief Henry
12-09-2005, 02:25 PM
The dude needs a life.