Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Marinelli Report - Week 4 - New Orleans

How is the Cowboys defense doing what it is doing?  And can they keep doing it for 16 games?

These are 2 legitimate questions as we head into Week 5 against the Houston Texans.  Because on Sunday night, the Cowboys defense hung in there and stopped the Saints when it mattered on several occasions.

New Orleans and their elite offense had 4 full possessions in the 1st half.  They totaled 22 snaps for 106 total yards in those 4 drives that resulted in 0 points, 2 punts, a missed field goal, and an interception.  The interception gave the Cowboys the ball with a short field and allowed them to add to their intermission advantage, which would stand at 24-0.

How was this accomplished?

Great question.  Heavy blitzing early in the evening and then dropping 7 and 8 as the lead was in hand.  Also, to be honest, Drew Brees was just erratic.  Was that because the Cowboys were getting to him and moving him off his spot?  Maybe.  He was hurried a lot, but only hit 5 times, and barely touched most of the night.  Was it a bad night or did the Cowboys force a bad night?  Probably a bit of both.

There is no question that once again we are impressed by this team's defensive motor.  They fly to the ball and rally around the action very well.  This is a defense of fighters and high-motor players who want to get in on the ball.  Credit the scouts and coaches for knowing what type of players they need to target.  The question remains whether they are high enough in premium talent and whether motor alone can win over the long samples.

Now, in the 2nd half, the Saints mounted a rally, gathered statistics that made it look like they accomplished quite a bit offensively, but this game was won and lost in the early going, as the Cowboys ambushed a strong opponent in their stadium for the first time in ages.

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So, now, back to the 2 questions at the top of the page:  How is the Cowboys defense doing what it is doing?  And can they keep doing it for 16 games?

If only our memories had a date search.  Because, at the present, we remember the 2013 Cowboys defense as one of the most wretched collections of underachievers our eyes have ever seen.  But, what did we think 365 days ago?

Luckily, my blog keeps archives. I can revisit exactly how I felt when I sat in front of this very computer and put my thoughts on the screen about the early returns from the 2013 Cowboys defense after a handful of games. Here I was on September 23, 2013:


Perhaps, these jockeys are reaching this group of Cowboys defenders in a way Rob Ryan wasn't.  Or, maybe we are seeing a different approach to losing players to injury and "next man up".  We likely need to let this season develop more before making any bold proclamations, but the early returns are quite impressive.
I have been assured by many from around the league that these two guys - and Marinelli in particular - can routinely pull off projects like Hayden and Selvie.  They describe him as a coach who will absolutely push defensive linemen to be the very best version of themselves that they will ever be.  And have you ever seen Jason Hatcher look like this?  I cannot believe he has been here since 2006 and we are just starting to see what they must have hoped he would become back then.  

And if we consider the things that a Kiffin defense is known for: splash plays, pressure on a QB, and getting off the field on 3rd Downs, we would have to feel pretty strongly that this version looks promising.  
I always thought Rob Ryan was handcuffed by the personnel issues he was handed and then the injuries that took away huge weapons like Sean Lee and Bruce Carter last season.  And that is true, but the takeaways never happened and the team was horrendous on 3rd Downs.  They have been in the bottom 3rd in the league at getting off the field on 3rd Downs since they were last in the playoffs in 2009.  So, to see them 5th in the league through 3 weeks, especially without Spencer or Ratliff in the lineup is fantastic.  
Wow.  Do you mean to tell me that on October 1 of last season, we felt pretty pleased about where the Cowboys defense was after 4 games?

Yes.

So, just to pound this point home, let's compare the 2 seasons with only September statistics.  These are the numbers allowed by the Cowboys defense through 4 games.  Stop me when you are staggered.


2013 - Sept (4 Gms) 2014 - Sept (4 Gms) Increase/Decrease
1529 yards 1519 yards -10 yards
85 pts 86 pts +1 point
84 1st Downs 78 1st Downs -6 1st Downs
16-49 33% 3rd Downs 21-45 47% +12% 3rd Down
8 Takeaways 8 Takeaways No Change
14 Sacks 5 Sacks -9 sacks
27:54 TOP 26:23 TOP -1:31 TOP

The yardage and the points against are nearly identical.  The Cowboys defense allows 1.5 fewer first downs per game, but are actually significantly worse on 3rd Down.  The takeaways are identical and the Cowboys defense is on the field 91 seconds less per game than they were last year - but even last year, the Cowboys offense was averaging 32 minutes of possession in September.

The most notable difference between Sept 2013 and Sept 2014 is that last year's defense - the squad that causes all of these feelings of impending doom - was way better at 3rd Down defense and 3 times as capable of getting sacks (at this point. Admittedly, Denver was about to change everything).

Now, the 2013 team still had Peyton Manning, Matt Stafford, the Eagles twice, Drew Brees, the Packers and the Bears waiting for them down the stretch.

The 2014 team has Brees and the Saints out of the way, no Lions or Packers on the schedule, but it does have Andrew Luck, the Eagles twice, the Seahawks, Jay Cutler and his giant receivers, and 12 more games before we know what they can do.

In other words, keep peddling as fast as you can.

DEFENSIVE PARTICIPATION: We are finally getting to a point where injuries are an issue.  Mo Claiborne is, at worst, a competitive CB in the NFL.  Whether he has met your expectations or not is not the question.  He has played and played ok for 3 years and now he is gone for the season.  That hurts. Attrition is a real thing and that injury is in a spot that can be exposed as I try to figure out what the plan is at 4th corner - Tyler Patmon, you are the next man up.

Otherwise, the defensive line rotation had Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey playing the most at 44 of 63, with George Selvie 36, Nick Hayden 31, and even Jack Crawford 28 playing more than Henry Melton's 24.  In fact, Anthony Spencer had 23, to demonstrate that Melton's health isn't helping his attendance record at this point.  Ken Bishop flashed a few times on his 21 snaps to round out the 8 man group.

Linebacker is the issue right now, as they can't seem to get Durant/Carter/McClain out there for a full game together.  One returns, another gets lost to injury like Bruce Carter who will miss Houston and most likely, Seattle.  Hitchens did not play on Sunday and Wilber had 1 snap.  They do have 5 linebackers who can play a bit, so while not ideal, they can handle some short-term absences here better than in the past.

Now, Carr 63, Wilcox 63, Church 57, and Scandrick 63 make up the big 4 with Claiborne down in the secondary and all are playing all the time and playing reasonably well.  But, it does get thin in a hurry.  Heath played 7, and there were no other corners.  For the Cowboys to stay alive after that injury for 50 minutes with only 3 corners left was pretty impressive work, for sure.  Thanks, Pro Football Focus for the exact math on the snap counts.

WEEK 4 VS NEW ORLEANS - DEFENSIVE NUMBERS


Run Plays13
Pass Plays46
Avg Starting PositionO24
3rd Down Conversions4-10, 40%
4th Down Conversions1-2, 50%
Yards Per Play7.4
Yards Per Pass Attempt7.3
Red Zone TDs - Drives2-3, 67%
Takeaways3

Lots of yards and lots of stats, but if you pay attention to 2 spots - 3rd Down defense (40%) and takeaways (3) - and you see all you need to see.  The Cowboys are 10-2 under Jason Garrett when they get 3 takeaways.  The only 2 losses at New England in 2011 and at Detroit in 2013.

SPLASH PLAYS

First, a reminder of what a splash play is: 

What is a splash play? Well, for purposes of this blog I believe a splash play will include the following: A sack, a pressure that forces a bad throw, and big hit on the QB, and a batted ball that may lead to an interception opportunity. Again, you can see how this leads to subjectivity, but a subjective breakdown is better than no breakdown at all, I have decided. In addition, a splash play will include tackles for loss, a big hit for a short gain, or a stop which is an open field tackle where a player is pulled down on 3rd down short of the marker because of an exceptional effort from a defender. An interception is clearly a splash play, but so is a defended pass that required a great effort. A major hit in the secondary could be a splash play, but I believe that the outcome of the play will determine that. Sorry, defensive backs, but standing over a guy who just caught a 15 yard pass because you think you hit him hard will not generally pass the test on this blog. So, stop doing it. 
I am trying to be careful about handing out too many splash plays per game. I am trying to be picky, but too extreme in either direction. When I log a splash play, I will put time of the game on the chart so that if you want to review the same game and challenge my ruling, you are welcome to do so. Also, if multiple players deserve recognition on a single play, we will try to see that as well. 
Basically, we are trying to assign a value to making plays on the defense. We don't want to just see sacks and interceptions. We want to see broader definitions of splash plays to assign credit to those who help the Cowboys get off the field in important situations. These rankings will not deduct for negative plays at this point. There are simply too many occasions where we are guessing, and for now, I want to avoid that for this particular idea.  
A splash play is a play that makes a major difference in the game. And by keeping it all season long, we will see which defenders are play makers and which are simply warm bodies. We already have our thoughts on both categories, but let's see if we can dig a bit deeper and actually have numbers to back up our claims.
SPLASHES VS NEW ORLEANS WEEK 4

Q-TimeD/D/YdPlayerPlay
1-6:412/3/O41Chuch/CarrStop No Gain
1-4:353/2/D45Scandrick3rd Down Stop
2-12:421/10/O35T Crawford Big Pressure
2-9:593/9/D30Church3rd Down Stop
2-5:042/2/O28CarterPass Defended
2-5:042/2/O28DurantInterception
2-4:031/10/O20Melton/SelvieTackle For Loss
2-3:262/10/O20ScandrickPass Defended
3-13:461/10/O30T CrawfordPass Batted Down
3-13:412/10/O30T CrawfordHolding Penalty Drawn
3-11:541/10/D12ScandrickPass Defended
3-11:203/10/D12HaydenHeavy Pressure
3-5:391/10/O39MoorePass Defended
3-5:043/2/O46CarterPass Defended
3-2:452/8/D27R McClainFumble Forced
3-2:452/8/D27WilcoxFumble Recovered
4-8:032/15/O35MoorePass Defended
4-2:271/10/D48Melton Sack
4-2:002/14/O48Durant/J CrawfordFumble Forced
4-2:002/14/O48MooreFumble Recovered

20 splash plays!  That is a lot for 1 game.  In fact, it is a season high.

2014 SEASON TOTALS

PlayerTotalPlayerTotal
1. LB Bruce Carter              7.510. LB Justin Durant2.5
2. CB Sterling Moore712. CB Morris Claiborne      2
3. LB Rolando McClain6.512. DT Nick Hayden2
4. DT Henry Melton4.514. DE Jeremy Mincey1.5
5. CB Orlando Scandrick415. DE Kyle Wilber0.5
5. DE Tyrone Crawford415. LB Cam Lawrence0.5
7. S JJ Wilcox3.515. DE George Selvie0.5
7. S Barry Church 3.515. DE Jack Crawford0.5
9. CB Brandon Carr3
10. LB Anthony Hitchens2.5
Team Totals                 56

The rankings are starting to shake out a bit.  On the plus side, Bruce Carter, Sterling Moore, Rolando McClain, and Henry Melton.  On the down side, I wonder what is going on with George Selvie?  He was dominant in the first half of 2013.  He still flashes, but he isn't getting there with the same explosion.

Career Totals
2013 Totals
2011 Totals

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PASSING CHART

During the Marinelli Report, we attempt to chart how the opposing quarterback fared against the DAL pass rush (unlike Decoding Linehan, when we chart drive progression). The key in the bottom end zone defines how many rushers came during a given throw. Each line entails where the ball was thrown from, trailing to the (general) point where it was caught.  Dotted lines are incomplete passes.

Week 4 Summary




PRESSURE REPORT

This segment of the defensive study is simply to find out how well the Cowboys are doing at getting pressure on the opposing QB.  We have spent a good part of the offseason talking about Monte Kiffin's philosophy that, like so many of the great 4-3 schemes, is based on using blitz as a weapon, not a necessity.  If you use the blitz as an ambush weapon that is always threatened but only used at the perfect times, you can often get free runs at the QB.  If, on the other hand, you must use the blitz because your normal pressure is not getting it done, then the offense usually is waiting for you and prepared - so even 6 rushers don't accomplish much.

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS ALLOWED (+20 Yards)

Q-TimeD/D/YdPlayRushers
2-11:271/10/O47Brees to Colston, +224
3-12:121/10/O42Brees to Stills, +464
4-14:001/10/O26Robinson Sweep, +624
4-10:452/10/O41Brees to Cadet, +315

SACKS AND INTERCEPTIONS


Q-TimeD/D/YdPlayRushers
2-5:042/2/O28Durant INT off Carter tip4
4-2:271/10/D48Melton Sack on Brees4

PERFORMANCE AGAINST THE BLITZ

Each week we calculate how opposing quarterbacks fare against the Dallas blitz. Consider this the raw data behind the passing chart.

Wk 1 - Colin Kaepernick: 4/8, 74 Yds, 1 TD, 1 SACK
Wk 2 - Jake Locker: 3/6, 22 Yds
Wk 3 - Austin Davis: 4/7, 42 Yds, 1 INT
Wk 4 - Drew Brees: 6/8, 68 Yds, 1 TD

2014 Total: 17/29, 206 Yds, 2 TD, 1 INT - 89.1 QB Rating

BLITZ REPORT

Each week we monitor how often the Cowboys send pressure on passing plays.  Week 1 showed an aggressive defense trying to get the ball back to attempt to generate a rally.

Pass Rushers Against New Orleans - 46 pass rush/blitz situations:

Wk 1 - SF: 9/21 - Blitzed 33.3%
Wk 2 - Tenn: 6/38 - Blitzed 15.7%
Wk 3 - STL: 7/42 - Blitzed 16.6%
Wk 4 - NO: 8/46 - Blitzed 17.3%

2014 Total: 30/147 - Blitzed 20.4% 

2013 Totals:  140/673 - 20.8%
2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%

The scheme and the personnel call for limited blitzing and playing coverage to protect the soft personnel.  Marinelli has to be very selective how he employs the blitz and did a very fine job at times on Sunday.

I think it is interesting that he chose to blitz early and on early downs.  On 1st Down against the Saints, Rod sent the blitz 5 times.  On 2nd Down he sent it 3 times.  But, on 3rd Down?  No blitzes at all.  Kind of the Anti-Rob Ryan.


Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6+ RushTotals
1st Down3 -
15%
12 -
60%
4 -
20%
1 -
5%
20 -
43%
2nd Down4 -
22%
11 -
61%
2 -
11%
1 -
5%
18 -
39%
3rd Down3 -
42%
4 -
57%
007 -
15%
4th Down1 -
100%
0001 -
2%
Totals11 -
23%
27 -
58%
6 -
13%
2 -
4%
46


And, here are the full season numbers to date:



Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 RushTotals
1st Down3 -
4%
45 -
72.5%
12 -
19%
1 -
1%
62 -
41%
2nd Down5 -
10%
33 -
67%
7 -
14%
4 - 8%49 -
32%
3rd Down6 -
15%
28 -
73%
1 -
2%
3 -
7%
38 -
25%
4th Down1 -
50%
1 -
50%
002 -
1%
Totals15 -
9%
107 -
70%
20 -
13%
9 - 5%
151


SUMMARY:  Now that the dust has settled for a few days of great feelings, it is worth noting that the Cowboys defense is starting to slide statistically in quite a few categories.  They are getting gashed on 1st downs, are now 20th in 3rd Down rate, and are now 32nd in the NFL in yards per play surrendered at 6.49 a snap.

They are 3-1 and that is awesome news, but the season is young.  As much as we think the offense is for real, I must also confess that the ominous signs of minimal pressure on the QB and attrition are not going to go away.

Just last week I wrote the following about how this 2014 season might hinge on 2 players defensively:  Rod Marinelli must get Bruce Carter and Mo Claiborne back to what we thought they were to have any chance.

Then, Claiborne was lost for the year and Carter dropped in pain late in one of his better performances in years.  Let's hope I was wrong about how important those two are.  The defensive line is bolstered by the return of Spencer, and seeing DeMarcus Lawrence and maybe even Josh Brent on the horizon.  That unit might actually be ok, although, whether those new names can increase pressure on the opposing passers is speculative at this point.

If they can continue to make a few plays and get a few takeaways, everything will be fine.  But, we saw in 2013 that the stream of takeaways can stop without warning.  They had 8 last September, 11 last October, and then just 6 in November, and 3 in December.  That surely was enough to cost them the division and the playoffs.

None of us - especially me - have any idea what is around the next corner.  But, hopefully, reading this today will remind us all that it is a very long haul.  4 weeks is great.  But, the remaining 12 will write the narrative for 2014.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Decoding Linehan - Week 4 - New Orleans

I hear the phrase "it has only been ___ weeks" over and over again from the pundits this time of year.  Yes, it is early, and yes, early September excellence is no promise of similar results in December.  We get it.  But, we also know that we can only collect and analyze evidence that exists.  And in 2014, we have 4 weeks of material to dissect and sort through.  The findings are quite interesting from a Dallas Cowboys standpoint.  

As we mentioned yesterday, the Cowboys have run the ball more than anyone (130), they have more yards than anyone (660), which in turn equates to the most yards per game by anyone (165 per).  

But, we did not mention that the Cowboys are 7th in 1st half runs, 2nd in 1st and 10 runs, and 3rd in overall run percentage with 51%.  Yes, their run/pass balance is actually 51/49.  There is no way that is sustainable, but who ever thought we would see this for even 4 weeks?

Here is another one for you to ponder:  The Cowboys are #1 in the NFL through the 1st month in 10-yard runs.  They are also #1 in the NFL in 20-yard runs, but since there are so few of those, I like the volume of numbers that separate the league in the 10-yard category.  

Here is a chart that shows how bad the Cowboys have been at this category over the last 4 seasons.  Basically, while the average NFL team has about 195 10 yard runs, the Cowboys have 152 from 2010-2013.  That shortfall of 43 is substantial and demonstrative of a team that simply was so discouraged by its own running situation that they almost stopped trying altogether.

Well, the investment in the offensive line is proving to be an amazing development that is making everything better.  The Cowboys are already using Play Action at a rate that is off the charts for a Jason Garrett/Tony Romo offense, and that only works over the long haul if you have a proper run threat that is troubling the defensive brain trust.

Well, look above at that blue line.  I included 2014 (the green line in 2014 is the PROJECTED league average only), even though it is an obvious misrepresentation of the season because THEY HAVE ONLY PLAYED 4 GAMES!  That is right, the blue line is almost already at the 2012 level, and is well beyond half way to 2011 and 2013.  Can they keep up this pace?  Who knows.  But, even if they don't, they will destroy pretty much every year on this chart by simply playing league average the rest of the way in.  

Incredible.

Here is a play that can't wait until Xs and Os Thursday.  This might be the best example of the Cowboys zone running dominance we have seen so far.  It also reminds you that DeMarco is great and all, BUT, he is also running without getting touched quite a bit.  Which, is what you love to see.  This play is certainly the stuff that coaching clinics are made of:


The whole objective of the zone blocking scheme is to create a seam.  However, the defense plays a role in selecting the seam.  You move them (often laterally) and when one of them breaks their form, you use it against him and turn block him from the play.  In this case, Ronald Leary does it to #94 - Cameron Jordan.  Then, Tyron mows out 93-Galette with a small amount of assistance from Witten.

That leaves the combo block with Frederick and Martin on the Nose tackle.  If you notice, the combo block is not because Martin cannot handle the block on his own.  Rather, it is done by Frederick to allow Martin a chance to step over and get leverage that he didn't have at the snap.  If Martin tries to block 95-Deaderick without Frederick's help, the angles are wrong.  So Travis pops him back towards Martin, then once Martin is in position, Frederick leaves to go clean up #50-Lofton at the 2nd level.  You seriously cannot do it better than this.


The first time Murray is actually touched is at the 7 yard line - 21 yards down the field.  And as this area high school coach tweeted me, it is perfect.  



Offensive Participation: In this game, the perfect attendance of the 7 who are "always on the field" continued: Smith-Leary-Frederick-Martin-Free-Witten-Romo.  They are each now 277 for 277 on the season.  If that continues, the team success is bound to continue as well.  Next up are Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, and Terrance Williams playing most of the rest of the snaps.  So, that generally leaves 1 spot that is swapped between Cole Beasley, Gavin Escobar, and James Hanna from play to play.  Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle combine to play 10 snaps and try to give Murray a brief spell.  Otherwise, this is an offense that has had great health and they certainly hope to keep it that way.  All snap numbers courtesy of PFF and they include all snaps including plays that were not official because of penalties.


STATS FOR WEEK 4 AGAINST NEW ORLEANS


Run Plays32
Pass Plays30
Avg Starting PositionD31
1st Down R-P19-10
2nd Down Avg to Go7.00
2nd Down R-P8-12
3rd Down Avg to Go5.53
3rd/4th Down R-P5-8
3rd Down Conversions8-13, 61%
4th Down Conversions0-0
Yards Per Play7.1
Yards Per Pass Attempt8.3
Red Zone TDs - Drives3-3, 100%
Giveaways0


I realize that sometimes on these blogs I don't spend enough time telling you what "good" is and I need to improve upon that.  Today, let's spend a moment on the Average yards to go on 2nd Down.  Last week, I said that the Cowboys had a nice low number on Average yards to go and someone was shocked to hear that averaging 6.1 on 3rd was actually very good.  It is.  

So, allow me to say that on 2nd Down, the NFL generally averages about 7.9 yards to go.  Now, keep in mind, it is because of all of the penalties and sacks and so forth that often make that number go up, but 7.9 or 8.0 is usually the number at the end of the season.  So, the Cowboys again were at 7.0 this week, which means that they were way ahead of the chains and for the season have a 7.16 average yards to go on 2nd down which ranks them 5th in the NFL - and 2nd in the league for the best "2nd and 6 or less" percentage at 47%.  Again, these are fantastic developments.

PASSING CHART

This season, we're attempting to track both passing and drive progression. John Daigle has designed a fantastic chart.  Each color, for instance, represents the possession number listed in the key. If you were to start from the bottom and work your way up, you would be tracking that possession from beginning to end. The dotted-lines are incompletions. Large gaps between throws are mostly YAC or carries.

Week 4 Summary

Whether "statement" and "momentum" drives actually exist is topic for another day. For now, follow along the light blue possession.



























































DRIVE STARTERS - The 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. How committed is he to the run or pass when the team comes off the sideline? We track it each week here -

Wk 1 - San Francisco: 5 Run/5 Pass - 50% Run
Wk 2 - At Tennessee: 8 Run/3 Pass - 72% Run
Wk 3 - At St. Louis: 7 Run/2 Pass - 77% Run
Wk 4 - New Orleans: 9 Run/2 Pass - 81% Run

2014 Total: 32 Drives - 29 Run/12 Pass - 70% Run


Wow.  Look at these numbers compared to the last 3 years!

2013 Total: 176 Drives - 84 Run/92 Pass - 47% Run
2012 Total: 173 Drives - 76 Run/97 Pass - 44% Run
2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run/102 Pass - 44% Run

* This statistic doesn't count the 1-play kneel down drives.

SHOTGUN SNAPS

Shotgun snaps are fine on 3rd Down and in the 2 minute drill. But, we track this stat from week to week to make sure the Cowboys aren't getting too lazy in using it. They are not efficient enough to run it as their base, and with a 15%/85% run/pass split across the league, there is no way the defense respects your running game. When shotgun totals are high, the Cowboys are generally behind, scared of their offensive line, or frustrated.

Wk 1 - San Francisco: 41 Shotgun/63 Total Plays - 65% Shotgun
Wk 2 - At Tennessee: 30 Shotgun/76 Total Plays - 39% Shotgun
Wk 3 - At St. Louis26 Shotgun/50 Total Plays - 52% Shotgun
Wk 4 - New Orleans: 26 Shotgun/62 Total Plays - 41% Shotgun

2014 Total: 123 Shotgun/251 Total Plays - 49% Shotgun

Here is a reader tweet on this very topic:



Again, it helps to have a massive lead (vs Tenn and vs NO), but there is clearly intent to how the Cowboys are lining up and trying to maul you physically.

Below are the season totals for past seasons, but thru 4 games in 2013, the Cowboys were at 61% with 151 shotgun snaps out of 246 total.  This year, they are at 123/251.  So, easy math there, in 2014 they have had 5 more opportunities, but have been in shotgun 28 fewer times!  Pinch me.  They finally are running an offense I have been campaigning for since Terrell Owens was on the team!

2013 Total: 566/945 - 59.8% Shotgun
2012 Total: 565/1038 - 54% Shotgun
2011 Total: 445/1012 - 43.9% Shotgun

TOTALS BY PERSONNEL GROUPS


(Before you study the data below, I would recommend that if the numbers for the groupings are unfamiliar, that you spend some time reading a more expanded definition of the Personnel Groupings here.)

PackagePlaysYdsRunPass3rd/4thYdsRunPassFD/TD
1110699-451-24131-30-01/0
122213715-857-52000-00-00/0
133193-190-0151-50-01/0
21000-00-0000-00-00/0
22000-00-0000-00-00/0
23121-20-0121-20-01/0
S014241-33-21131-30-00/0
S02160-01-6000-00-00/0
S11171393-3814-1017551-216-344/0
S123350-03-352270-02-270/1
S13000-00-0000-00-00/0
Other1120-01-12000-00-00/0
Totals6244332-19230-25113955-348-617/1

* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.

So much dedication to balance and variety that there is almost nothing to complain about.  It puts me in an odd position.

PLAY-ACTION PERFORMANCE

Wk 1: 1/5, 9 Yds, 3 INT, 1 FD
Wk 2: 4/5, 39 Yds, 1 Sack, 2 FD
Wk 3: 3/3, 88 Yds, 1 TD, 2 FD
Wk 4: 6/8, 76 Yds, 1 TD, 4 FD

2014 Total: 14/21, 212 Yds, 2 TD, 3 INT, 1 Sack, 9 FD

In review, look at the Week 1 totals, then take only the last three weeks into account: 13/16, 203 Yds, 2 TD, I Sack, 8 FD.  Amazing.  I wrote a long piece in August about the Cowboys and the Run/Play Action Passing combo, and it might be worthy of checking again if you get the chance.  It is really something how things clicked in the final 6 games of last year and they have kept going.  The epiphany of the New Orleans humiliation last November and the bye week would be an amazing story to hear Jason Garrett tell some day.

BLITZING ROMO

Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 32 Pass Situations vs New Orleans

With Rob Ryan, it is never how often he blitzes (you will notice his blitz rate isn't shockingly high), it is how many he sends when he does blitz.  He loves the big blitz with 6 and 7!  Dangerous and deadly all at the same time.  And Romo burned him on his own stove.

Wk 1: SF Blitzed Dallas 1/40 - Blitzed 2.5%
Wk 2: Tenn Blitzed Dallas 12/33 - Blitzed 36.3%
Wk 3: STL Blitzed Dallas 11/23 - Blitzed 47.8%
Wk 4: NO Blitzed Dallas 11/32 - Blitzed 34.3%

2014 Total: Opponents Blitzed Dallas 35/128 - Blitzed 27%
2013 Total: Opponents Blitzed Dallas 210/616 - Blitzed 34%



Pass
Rushers
3
Rush
4
Rush
5
Rush
6
Rush
Totals
1st
Down
1 -
10%
5 -
50%
1 -
10%
3 -
30%
10 -
33%
2nd
Down
1 -
9%
7 -
63%
2 -
18%
1 -
9%
11 -
36%
3rd
Down
07 -
77%
2 -
22%
09 -
30%
4th
Down
0000
Totals2 -
6%
19 -
63%
5 -
16%
4 -
13%
30


*These totals do not include the two instances New Orleans blitzed seven rushers.






Pass
Rushers
3
Rush
4
Rush
5
Rush
6
Rush
Totals
1st
Down
4 -
9%
28 -
68%
5 -
12%
4 -
9%
41 -
32.5%
2nd
Down
7 -
14%
29 -
61%
8 -
17%
3 -
6%
47 -
37%
3rd
Down
3 -
7%
22 -
57%
10 -
26%
3 -
7%
38 -
30%
4th
Down
0000
Totals14 -
11%
79 -
62%
23 -
18%
10 -
7%
126


Thanks to John Daigle for his work on the charts and graphs.

SUMMARY:  Forgive me, but in the interest of time, I did not spend too much time on Tony Romo this week.  In short, he was very, very good.  He diagnosed blitzes, he made throws, he did not risk interceptions, and overall he was absolutely the type of player that looks like a QB1 capable of leading his team to a division win.

Of course, there is so much more in that equation, but if your QB is at that level (and not nursing a back injury that is ending his career) then my fears of the last several months are quieting down.  This was not the case after SF and Tenn, but these last 2 weeks have been "Top Shelf Romo".

If he is going to do that, and if the zone blocking is going to do what we saw above, and the tactical decisions made by the man with the call sheet are going to remain on point, and if the health continues....the sky is absolutely the limit for this offense.

I believe that they finally came to grips with the idea that they are not best suited for the Saints/Packers/Patriots template (and by the way, those teams are not as suited for it as they once were, either).  Rather, the physical pounding style of Seattle or San Francisco which starts with a huge and powerful line, a running game that is unforgiving, and then when you adjust to deal with it, the aerial attack begins against a lesser-popualated secondary.

It is physical, smash-mouth, toll-taking football and it wins in this league - in any era.  It took us a while to get here and it won't always be sunny mornings and pretty flowers, but for now, you can absolutely see that the league is noticing some things on film that are going on down in Dallas.

You are not relying on 1 guy to carry you.  You are relying on 6 guys up front.  And then, the next wave is a QB with lots of weapons.  It protects your defense and it wears out your opponent.  And if you study this offense over the course of many years, you know I am not always feeling this cheery about the Cowboys offense.  But, I must confess, I haven't been this optimistic about the possibilities in a long time.  The pieces are finally falling in place.

Let's see how the league responds.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Morning After: Cowboys 38, Saints 17 (3-1)



It is difficult to measure what occurred last night in Arlington with any sort of clarity as it pertains to previous Cowboys' teams and similar victories to the 38-17 mauling of the New Orleans Saints.  This 2014 side destroyed a favored contender in front of a national TV audience that expected anything but that result when the evening began.

In fact, as the season has now turned 1 month old, you could certainly make the case that the Cowboys are, at 3-1, one of the surprising success stories of the young season (if, in fact, that means anything in the big picture).  Most did not see this coming, and I will be the first to admit that I belong in that category of people who study this sort of thing closely and already might be willing to concede that I might like a "do over".

The Cowboys victory was a rare thing in this era - a thunderous win over an opponent that was favored on the big stage of the national tv audience.  Especially at home?  A search for wins of over 2 Touchdowns in the post-Aikman era finds almost nothing to compare last night against, save for the 24-0 win over Philadelphia to end the 2009 season and to clinch the NFC East.  But, even in that game, the Cowboys entered as the favorites.

Regardless of whether or not this moves quickly to the top of the list of demonstrations of strength from the Garrett/Romo era, the point has to be that (before the Saints are discredited by those who wish to undermine the accomplishment), this win was about as attention-grabbing a win as the Cowboys have had in a long, long time - and for very good reasons.

This is a team that does not destroy very many opponents that have a reputation for being legitimate contenders.  This is a franchise that does not physically impose its will on its opponents.  This is a fan base that almost doesn't know how to respond to something positive happening before its very eyes after all of these years.

And from the open of last nights' proceedings until its drama-less conclusion, the Cowboys served notice to anyone who is willing to consider the possibility, that they plan on making this a much better season than the prognosticators considered possible.

Whether they can actually pull that off is a discussion for another day, but today, we consider just how many ways the Cowboys crushed a team that is wandering back to New Orleans with all sorts of self-doubt about how good it really is.

The biggest questions entering into this game were clearly about the ability to measure up to the New Orleans offense.  Could the Cowboys defense slow them down a bit and more importantly, unlike in previous seasons, could the Cowboys offense actually demonstrate the ability to match up and produce on a night where they would have to do so?  In other words, it is one thing to be statistically ranked in the conversation for having an elite offense.  But, it is quite another to be productive on a stage where you must or you will lose - similar to the task in front of them in New Orleans, last November - something they failed at miserably.

This offense, with its new coordinator Scott Linehan, absolutely has the attention of the league now.  No matter how cynical anyone was about the Cowboys A) having the intention of running the ball and then B) having the ability to actually do that, we sit here on the Monday morning after Week 4 in the NFL and the Cowboys have run the ball more than any team,  have more yards rushing than any team, and somehow average 165 yards per game on the ground.  That makes them 1st, 1st, and 1st by NFL rank.

Given that they ran the ball the 31st most of any team in the NFL in 2013 and averaged just 94 yards a game, hopefully everyone can forgive the cynicism, but many of us needed to actually see it to believe it.  And again, the stats are nice, but what happens when the other team sits on your run and tries to make you prove it?  Well, as you saw, 190 yards on the ground, and passes to defensive backs who had no safety support that ended up as touchdowns because the Cowboys receivers were taking candy from babies on back shoulder fades.

It sounds so easy and yet the Jason Garrett designed offense has been talking about this for years and years and never come close to pulling it off.  To hear Cris Collinsworth tell it last night, this was all a grand design to build a giant offensive line that took years of patience and understanding.  In reality, it was massive salary cap mismanagement that had them gut their aging offensive line, but regardless, they now have a young and capable group that are running the zone stretch with such precision that Alex Gibbs is somewhere watching with tears in his eyes.

Just look at the very first drive of the game - a 12-play, 80-yard masterpiece that we will study more on Tuesday.  For now, know that there was a perfect blend of runs and passes, shotgun and under center, multiple personnel groupings, and a varied approach that saw positive yardage on 11 of the 12 plays and only saw 2 3rd Downs the entire way down the field.  Those 2 seperate 3rd Downs were both converted on 3rd and 2 and 3rd and 3 passes to Jason Witten.  Tony Romo looked athletic himself and with his new found running game doing what we hoped it would for years - take players out of the secondary - he dropped back with many options, all looking promising.

They continued throughout the night with productive drives, scoring on 6 of their 10 drives and getting Touchdowns on 4 of their first 6 drives.  It was amazingly effective with 8 3rd Down conversions and they got 7 all 3 times they were in the Red Zone.

Meanwhile, about that defense.  They were 32nd in the NFL last year and humiliated on national TV in New Orleans last season to the tune of 49 points, 625 yards, and 40 first downs.  

This time, they accomplished the 2 objectives that Rod Marinelli has stated for his defense.  1) get off the field on 3rd Downs as they allowed only 4 of 10 to a team that leads the NFL in 3rd Down conversions at 62% coming into the game.  Teams don't get off the field against the Saints and the Cowboys did.  And then, 2) take the ball away.  The Cowboys had 3 takeaways on Sunday thanks to the playmaking trio of linebackers: Rolando McClain (forced fumble), Justin Durant (forced fumble and interception), and Bruce Carter (tipped pass for Durant's Interception).  They needed players to step up and end drives by making plays, and the Cowboys linebackers are doing just that.  And that should be impressive when you consider that linebacker is where the Saints and their offense were expected to attack most of all.  It didn't happen last night, despite the yardage totals that were largely hollow.

The Cowboys took the ball away 3 times and did not give the ball away all night.  That +3 in the turnover margin is notable since in the last 25 years of Cowboys football, they are 33-4 when they are able to get to +3.

Sometimes the narratives of the pre game shows and the talk all week are right on the money about how a game will go and then there are weeks like this one.  So much talk about Jimmy Graham and Drew Brees and what the Cowboys would do against a "real opponent" after impressive wins against the Titans and Rams (for largely different reasons).  Now, they destroy the Saints with Graham and Brees hardly factors at all and we then move on to reason why the Saints aren't very good after all.

This type of logic fuels the league, but if you boil it down to our annual discussions at this time of year about which teams are actually good and which are only propped up by perception and myth, we arrive at the idea that no wins are impressive for teams you root against.  Only a win against the Super Bowl champion at their stadium would impress some fans.  Well, guess what?  These Cowboys have a chance to go to Seattle in 2 weeks.

As for my stance on the Cowboys, if that matters, I will tell you that I am not certain about whether there is sustainability here, as sometimes it only takes one injury to stop the train.  But, they look like they have the pieces on offense to keep this going if health remains on their side, especially with Tony Romo looking like he is in a pretty good spot again with his arm and more importantly, his brain.

The defense looks like it has very little flash, but an awful lot of intestinal fortitude and battle which can go a long way.  It does appear that the depth is being tested and the injury news on Morris Claiborne is anticipated to be very bad (ACL tear) and would cap off a nightmare week for the young CB from LSU.  Most expect that 16 games will reveal that this defense needs top personnel additions, but for now, they have certainly not let this team down through 4 games.  And, with Anthony Spencer joining the side with DeMarcus Lawrence on his way, optimism is actually alive.

The rhetoric today will be predictable.  Many will mock the celebration as people getting way ahead of themselves, but I think it is reasonable to allow a team to be judged on what it has done.  And, at 3-1, there is nobody saying this proves anything for the rest of 2014 - except that those of us who thought they might very well be 1-3 at this point might want to hold off on any declarations of imminent disaster.

This team has put themselves in a very nice position as we head to October, and we know that with the exception of that trip to Seattle, they will spend the entire month at this very same home stadium. They will have an opportunity to deliver a message to Philadelphia that this division will be a battle all the way to the holidays and as San Francisco seemed to show yesterday, the Eagles may not enjoy a physical, grinding offense running right at them.

In other words, it appears the plot might be thickening.

Excellent.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

2015 NFL Draft Top 100 Watch list - Version 2

The following names are the 127 who qualify for Top 100 consideration at this point according to a number of resources who cover this sort of thing.  Take it all with a grain of salt, but I like to have this list while I watch college football to begin the big fat notebook:

Collins, Landon S Alabama
Cooper, Amari WR Alabama
Kouandijo, Arie G Alabama
Yeldon, TJ RB Alabama
Hill, Austin WR Arizona
Flowers, Trey DE Arkansas
Strong, Jaelen WR Arz State
Coates, Sammi WR Auburn
Dismukes, Reese C Auburn
Wright, Gabe DT Auburn
Drango, Spencer T Baylor
Goodley, Antwan WR Baylor
Oakman, Shawn DE Baylor
Petty, Bryce QB Baylor
Ajayi, Jay RB Boise St
Beasley, Vic DE Clemson
Crawford, Corey DE Clemson
Jarrett, Grady DT Clemson
Sambrailo, Ty T Colo State
Tomlinson, Laken G Duke
Hardy, Justin WR E Carolina
Darby, Ronald CB Fla State
Edwards, Mario DE Fla State
Erving, Cameron T Fla State
Greene, Rashad WR Fla State
Jackson, Tre G Fla State
Matias, Josue G Fla State
O'Leary, Nick TE Fla State
Williams, Karlos RB Fla State
Williams, PJ CB Fla State
Winston, Jameis QB Fla State
Fowler, Dante DE Florida
Humpheries DJ G Florida
Orr, Leon DE Florida
Davison, Tyeler DT Fresno St
Harper, Josh WR Fresno St
Smith, Derron S Fresno St
Floyd, Leonard LB Georgia
Gurley, Todd RB Georgia
Jenkins, Jordan DE Georgia
Wilson, Remik LB Georgia
Greenberry, Deontay WR Houston
Davis, Carl DT Iowa
Schreff, Brandon T Iowa
Dupree, Alvin DE Kentucky
Gaines, Charles CB Louisville
Mauldin, Lorenzo DE Louisville
Parker, Devante WR Louisville
Collins, Jalen CB LSU
Collins, LaEl OL LSU
Mills, Jalen CB LSU
Diggs, Stefon WR Maryland
Dorsett, Phillip WR Miami
Flowers, Ereck T Miami
Johnson, Duke RB Miami
Perryman, Denzel ILB Miami
Calhoun, Shilique DE Mich St
Cook, Connor QB Mich St
Drummond, Kurtis S Mich St
Waynes, Trae CB Mich St
Funchess, Devin TE Michigan
Ryan, Jake OLB Michigan
McKinney, Benardrick OLB Miss St
Prewitt, Cordy S Mississippi
Godron, Markus DE Missouri
Ray, Shane DE Missouri
Abdullah, Ameer RB Nebraska
Gregory, Randy DE Nebraska
Koyack, Ben TE Not Dame
Riggs, Cody CB Not Dame
Russell, Keivarae CB Not Dame
Stanley, Ronnie T Not Dame
Bennett, Michael DT Ohio St
Heuerman, Jeff TE Ohio St
Spence, Noah OLB Ohio St
Green-Beckham, D WR Oklahoma
Striker, Eric LB Oklahoma
Tapper, Charles DT Oklahoma
Thompson, Tyrus T Oklahoma
Williams, Daryl T Oklahoma
Gwacham, Obum DE Ore State
Mannion, Sean QB Ore State
Nelson, Steve CB Ore State
Armstead, Arik DE Oregon
EkreOlomu, Ifo CB Oregon
Fisher, Jake T Oregon
Grasu, Hroniss C Oregon
Mariota, Marcus QB Oregon
Covington, Chris DT Rice
Cann, AJ G So Carolina
Davis, Mike RB So Carolina
Robinson, Corey T So Carolina
Anderson, Henry DE Stanford
Carter, Alex CB Stanford
Hogan, Kevin QB Stanford
Lyons, Wayne CB Stanford
Montgomery, Ty WR Stanford
Peat, Andrus T Stanford
Richards, Jordan S Stanford
Eskridge, Durrell S Syracuse
Hickey, Sean T Syracuse
Fields, Devonte DE TCU
Johnson, AJ LB Tennessee
Diggs, Quandre CB Texas
Reed, Cedric DE Texas
Shipley, Jaxson WR Texas
Harrison, Jarvis G Texas AM
Ogbugei, Cedric T Texas AM
Hundley, Brett QB UCLA
Kendricks, Eric ILB UCLA
McCarthy, Ellis DT UCLA
Odighizuwa, O DE UCLA
Agholor, Nelson WR USC
Pullard, H P LB USC
Shaw, Josh CB USC
Williams, Leonard DE USC
Harris, Anthony S Virginia
Johnson, Kevin CB Wake Forest
Kikaha, Hauoli DE Washington
Peters, Marcus CB Washington
Shelton, Danny DT Washington
Thompson, Shaq OLB Washington
Williams, Kasen WR Washington
Joseph, Karl S West Virgina
White, Kevin WR West Virgina
Gordon, Melvin RB Wisconsin


=====

And then, the same list sorted by position:


Dismukes, Reese C Auburn
Grasu, Hroniss C Oregon
Carter, Alex CB Stanford
Collins, Jalen CB LSU
Darby, Ronald CB Fla State
Diggs, Quandre CB Texas
EkreOlomu, Ifo CB Oregon
Gaines, Charles CB Louisville
Johnson, Kevin CB Wake Forest
Lyons, Wayne CB Stanford
Mills, Jalen CB LSU
Nelson, Steve CB Ore State
Peters, Marcus CB Washington
Riggs, Cody CB Not Dame
Russell, Keivarae CB Not Dame
Shaw, Josh CB USC
Waynes, Trae CB Mich St
Williams, PJ CB Fla State
Anderson, Henry DE Stanford
Armstead, Arik DE Oregon
Beasley, Vic DE Clemson
Calhoun, Shilique DE Mich St
Crawford, Corey DE Clemson
Dupree, Alvin DE Kentucky
Edwards, Mario DE Fla State
Fields, Devonte DE TCU
Flowers, Trey DE Arkansas
Fowler, Dante DE Florida
Godron, Markus DE Missouri
Gregory, Randy DE Nebraska
Gwacham, Obum DE Ore State
Jenkins, Jordan DE Georgia
Kikaha, Hauoli DE Washington
Mauldin, Lorenzo DE Louisville
Oakman, Shawn DE Baylor
Odighizuwa, O DE UCLA
Orr, Leon DE Florida
Ray, Shane DE Missouri
Reed, Cedric DE Texas
Williams, Leonard DE USC
Bennett, Michael DT Ohio St
Covington, Chris DT Rice
Davis, Carl DT Iowa
Davison, Tyeler DT Fresno St
Jarrett, Grady DT Clemson
McCarthy, Ellis DT UCLA
Shelton, Danny DT Washington
Tapper, Charles DT Oklahoma
Wright, Gabe DT Auburn
Cann, AJ G So Carolina
Harrison, Jarvis G Texas AM
Humpheries DJ G Florida
Jackson, Tre G Fla State
Kouandijo, Arie G Alabama
Matias, Josue G Fla State
Tomlinson, Laken G Duke
Kendricks, Eric ILB UCLA
Perryman, Denzel ILB Miami
Floyd, Leonard LB Georgia
Johnson, AJ LB Tennessee
Pullard, H P LB USC
Striker, Eric LB Oklahoma
Wilson, Remik LB Georgia
Collins, LaEl OL LSU
McKinney, Benardrick OLB Miss St
Ryan, Jake OLB Michigan
Spence, Noah OLB Ohio St
Thompson, Shaq OLB Washington
Cook, Connor QB Mich St
Hogan, Kevin QB Stanford
Hundley, Brett QB UCLA
Mannion, Sean QB Ore State
Mariota, Marcus QB Oregon
Petty, Bryce QB Baylor
Winston, Jameis QB Fla State
Abdullah, Ameer RB Nebraska
Ajayi, Jay RB Boise St
Davis, Mike RB So Carolina
Gordon, Melvin RB Wisconsin
Gurley, Todd RB Georgia
Johnson, Duke RB Miami
Williams, Karlos RB Fla State
Yeldon, TJ RB Alabama
Collins, Landon S Alabama
Drummond, Kurtis S Mich St
Eskridge, Durrell S Syracuse
Harris, Anthony S Virginia
Joseph, Karl S West Virgina
Prewitt, Cordy S Mississippi
Richards, Jordan S Stanford
Smith, Derron S Fresno St
Drango, Spencer T Baylor
Erving, Cameron T Fla State
Fisher, Jake T Oregon
Hickey, Sean T Syracuse
Robinson, Corey T So Carolina
Sambrailo, Ty T Colo State
Stanley, Ronnie T Not Dame
Thompson, Tyrus T Oklahoma
Williams, Daryl T Oklahoma
Flowers, Ereck T Miami
Ogbugei, Cedric T Texas AM
Peat, Andrus T Stanford
Schreff, Brandon T Iowa
Funchess, Devin TE Michigan
Heuerman, Jeff TE Ohio St
Koyack, Ben TE Not Dame
O'Leary, Nick TE Fla State
Agholor, Nelson WR USC
Coates, Sammi WR Auburn
Cooper, Amari WR Alabama
Diggs, Stefon WR Maryland
Dorsett, Phillip WR Miami
Goodley, Antwan WR Baylor
Green-Beckham, D WR Oklahoma
Greenberry, Deontay WR Houston
Greene, Rashad WR Fla State
Hardy, Justin WR E Carolina
Harper, Josh WR Fresno St
Hill, Austin WR Arizona
Montgomery, Ty WR Stanford
Parker, Devante WR Louisville
Shipley, Jaxson WR Texas
Strong, Jaelen WR Arz State
White, Kevin WR West Virgina
Williams, Kasen WR Washington

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Xs and Os - 3 Things From Week 3 To Examine

Late in the week, we finally get a chance to "look at the tape" as Jason Garrett likes to say and examine some plays that we cannot fully digest on TV.  I can't promise that every week we will be able to do this, but honestly, this is my favorite exercise of the week because only here can you fully appreciate how advanced and complex the NFL game can be sometimes.

Here, we are not looking to call anyone out, and we surely want to leave open the possibility of our eyes deceiving us and more than anything, I want to admit that I don't have the benefit of the coaches telling me what coverage they were in.  So, sometimes, this diagnosis will be "pretty sure" rather than "100% sure" even though I am trying to get it right.  I will make calls and try to hunt down the right answer, but I will just admit right here that we will try our best to be accurate but invariably, I will see something wrong.

But, let's pick 3 plays that are interesting but not played out by this point of the week and have some fun talking Xs and Os.  Feel free to tweet me @SportsSturm when a game shows you a play that you would like broken down and I will attempt to include it in this post.

=====

This week, almost all of you agreed that we need to look at this first play, the Pick 6 for the Rams and Janoris Jenkins.  We will also, below, study the huge 44 yard run that DeMarco Murray and the offense broke off, as well as the "winning TD" to Terrance Williams.  

Be advised that the long TD to Dez Bryant was already looked at on Tuesday, and the 4th and 1 stop by Hitchens and the Bruce Carter Pick 6 were handled on Wednesday.  I really enjoy breaking plays down to see what we can learn.

Play #1 - 2Q/6:13 - 3/8/D20 - Romo Interception by Jenkins, Touchdown Rams

This is not good.  And at the moment, it made you wonder if it was the beginning of the end.  Not just Week 3, but maybe 2014, and if you squint, maybe the end of Tony Romo as we once knew him.

As we look back, any reactions we had at the moment may have been hasty, but this is not the type of QB play that you can survive very often.  Let's take a closer look.  

It is pretty basic Rams man to man coverage behind a 6-man pressure package on 3rd and long with a single high safety to address any major issues.  That type of typical response to 3rd and long (a big blitz) is why you want to stay out of it as an offense.  The Cowboys want 4 men in routes and that leaves only 6 in protection against 6 rushers.  If your front can sort out the rush, then everything is fine, but once the Rams start twisting and disguising their rush, that is where QBs get tattooed waiting for their receivers to get past the sticks on 3rd and long.

But, sometimes you cannot stay out of 3rd and long and you have to deal with it.  To my delight, it appears in 2014, the Cowboys have finally decided to employ a tactic that has been used against them for the last several years.  Say hello to the widespread introduction to rub routes!  That is the new fun name for pick plays, but there is no better way to beat man-to-man coverages underneath than the criss-crossing routes that make it impossible to stay with your man through traffic.  For whatever reason, the Cowboys were a few season behind on this, but perhaps Scott Linehan thought that was an issue (I am not sure I should credit every new advancement of this offense to Linehan, but I am simply noticing a lot of new ideas under his administration - and I like it).  

Anyway, check out this play and let's talk about it further:



First, what did happen;  if you are the Rams and it is time to discuss what the Cowboys like to do on 3rd and 8, the back shoulder fade to Dez Bryant has to be #1 on the list of things to look for (or #2 after the hook to Witten at the sticks).  You will see that Janoris Jenkins is the only cover man not up on his man, but rather playing "off and soft" about 10 yards down field.  Of course, he is sitting on the route, Romo turns his body to give another cue, and the second that Romo gets to the top of his drop, Jenkins plants his foot and drives on the pass.  The back shoulder fade appears to be telegraphed and the ball location is not to the outside of Bryant, but rather slightly inside.  This is all problematic.

But, there is a bigger problem.  on the inside route combination of Witten and Beasley, we see that Cole Beasley is all alone by himself in the middle of the field as Witten has occupied his man and Cole could walk to a 1st down.  In fact, if Romo sees him, I estimate the gain is somewhere in the 30 yard range.  Once all 3 Linebackers vacate the middle and rush, this has to be where Romo is looking.  Of course, it is fair to point out that if all 3 are not coming on the blitz, then they are looking to drop right into the passing lane of crossers and that is where LB interceptions happen.  So, the edge throw doesn't have that to consider.


Protection-wise, you can see above that the front 6 have done well in squaring things away.  I cannot stress enough how impressive DeMarco Murray is at finding and eliminating the blitzers.  I really think he is nearly elite-level in this department, and it doesn't get discussed enough.  

Romo needs to do better on this route, but as he said in the press conference, credit Jenkins for risking the house to jump this route.  Later in the game, he would try it again and it would cost him a Touchdown, but this is the life of a risk-taking corner.  It better fit the scheme or a team will not stand for that very long.

=====

Play #2 - 3Q/5:34 - 1/10/D30 - Murray left end for 44 yards

If you follow this series, I would remind you that last week play #2 was also a pitch left to Murray that looks a lot like this play.  You should check that out and see how the plays are nearly identical with just one major alteration.  The fake that holds the linebackers last week was FB Tyler Clutts on a FB dive in the middle.  This time, it is a jet sweep to Dez Bryant crossing the formation to the offensive right.


Above, I arrowed Dez and below I identified the Rams who are held by this fake jet sweep.  In order to get the offensive linemen that step to out-leverage their men for a pitch left, you have to buy them a half count after the snap.  And you do that with a fake.  Clutts would not work every week because defenses look at that play and remind their players that Tyler Clutts never actually gets the ball.  Don't fall for that!  Well, Dez racing across the formation cannot be ignored.  So, you can bet the Rams were paying that plenty of attention.


The Cowboys look so sharp tactically this year.  This time, Tyron Smith AND Ron Leary are pulling because the Rams are running their 4-3 with the 1 tech on the play-side.  That means Leary and Smith only have the DE #97 on their side.  Frederick has a much easier time walling off #90, with Martin joining him and eventually taking over on the combo block so Frederick can go look for more victims.

If Witten can get to that DE with a down block (#97) and Harris then takes the man on Witten (#52), then the Rams are in trouble.


Notice Harris above at the moment of the pitch.  Also, notice how many Rams are still looking at Dez.  Now, see big 77 and 65 getting out in front of DeMarco.


Above, they both clean up DBs and Murray will slightly cut back and he is off to the races.  So much so that Travis Frederick surveys the field in front of him and can't find anyone to destroy.

Check the video below to see a few things: 1) what a great job Leary does.  It looks easy, but when that play is happening and you are asking a big guy like Leary to get around the corner and clean up a dive-bombing safety, it is not easy.  In fact, #25 just about ends this play at the turn and Leary does well to both get a piece and to not derail the Murray train.  And 2) it is just fun to watch Frederick run in front of Murray and see that even though Frederick was a very slow runner on draft day with a 5.56 40, it appears he is surviving in the NFL.  

As I wrote in that draft write up 18 months back: On pulling plays, I actually like him in space (by center standards) and this is something the Badgers did plenty with their running game. He can handle himself well and is not the roadblock that you would expect with that 40 time.




Again, a variation of a play that worked in Tennessee looks to be a real solid change-up of the simple zone stretch plays.  The options are endless once you demonstrate you can run the ball.  This is all very exciting.
=====

Play #3 - 4Q/6:21 - 3/2/O12 - Romo pass short middle to Williams, 12 yard Touchdown

Again, I don't think you want to "man up" against the Cowboys this season.  But, here, the Rams tried it and it was one of the easiest TDs you will see.

Let's look at what they want Romo to see in pre snap.  Notice in Frame #1 that the Rams are showing him the single-high safety.  They do this because they want him to see Dez is in man at the top of the screen and then at the snap, the safety will head right for Dez and they will have a chance at another INT. 


Here, a few split seconds later, it almost looks like a different play.  Romo is still yelling for the snap, but now they are in a Cover 2 setup.


But, here is the cool part.  The Cowboys are always expecting Cover 2 with man under.  And Dez was never going to be the primary here.  Also, notice that the Cowboys are doing what many teams do now with a "Beast" like Dez.  They are employing the 3x1 conflict for the defense.  If you want to double Bryant, then understand that you will be shorthanded on the other side with the 3 threats away from Dez.  Detroit does this with Megatron all the time and we saw the 49ers do it with Vernon Davis in Week 1.  If you want to key on their main weapon, then numbers say you can't have much on the other side.


Now, above, look at the concept I really love.  Once you see Cover 2, then you take Bryant and Witten right at the safeties to occupy them completely.  Any opponent is keying on 82/88 on 3rd down or in the red zone.  Let's use that against them.  So, take 82 right at the safety on his side, leaving Williams and Beasley with their corners and that is where we run them at each other and see who loses their man.


Above, it is clear.  Beasley's out made Williams' man step around and there is your easy opening.


Behold.  A throw you could make.  And there is nobody anywhere close to Williams.  


This is why they call the concepts, "man-beaters."

I can't stress how this is going to trouble teams going forward.  You must make Dez your focus, but not to the detriment of all of the other openings he creates.  

Again, this is why you wanted Linehan.  Because he thought all of this through with Megatron.  If these simple concepts were brought to Dallas and applied to Dez Bryant, what could be done with the entire offense?

It seems that we are getting a better idea of what that means with each passing week.