Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What is a Splash Play?

I get this question an awful lot.  So much so that I will write an entire essay on it soon.  In the mean time, here is the list:

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Marinelli Report - Week 17 - Eagles

The Marinelli Report

When we put the finishing touches on analysis for the 2017 Cowboys season -- and try to sort out just how well the defense played -- I think we should consider a few of the following numbers:
-- The Cowboys were 9-0 when they held opponents under 21 points.
-- Therefore, they were 0-7 when the opponent scored 21 or more points.
-- They were eighth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed. In a league where games saw the average team gain 334 yards per game, the Cowboys allowed 318.
-- Dallas was eighth against the run (per game), 11th against the pass (per game) and 10th in yards allowed per play. Flirting with top-10 status in all of these departments is pretty solid.
-- The Cowboys also were second in negative plays! That is a huge development that we will explore a bit later. Sixth in conceding explosive plays, second in opposing field position (not really a defensive stat, but it does really matter), and second in the entire league at winning on first downs.
-- They were 13th in the NFL in points allowed. League average was 21.7 allowed per game, and the Cowboys conceded 20.8. Right about at the average. They also finished with 21 takeaways, which was slightly off the league average of 22.
-- Dallas was average in sacks per pass attempt (16th) and first downs allowed (16th). Rushing yards per play, it ranked 18th.
-- Finally, the Cowboys were at the bottom of the league in interception rate (27th); third-down defense (29th); successful plays allowed (30th); against third and short (32nd); and second-down rushes (32nd).
That all adds up to about what you would expect.
Decent defense. Promising developments at some spots. Still lacking a few premium playmakers, but there are some pieces in place that suggest there is some good stuff happening below the waterline.
The Cowboys missed starts of significance because of the following: David Irving missed eight games (four to suspension/four to injury), Orlando Scandrick missed five, Sean Lee missed five, Anthony Hitchens missed four and Chidobe Awuzie missed about 10 (if we consider him a starter, which I think we should). Add in one absence for Jeff Heath, and this cumulative total of 33 missed starts (out of a possible 176 for defensive starters) may not sound like anything extraordinary, but in a hard-capped league where depth is rare, 81 percent attendance is not considered excellent. For instance, the Minnesota Vikings have the best defense in the industry -- but also the healthiest. They had 98 percent attendance from their 11 starters this season, which certainly demonstrates some luck that their offense did not receive.
But for the Cowboys, it seems rather clear. When you don't have blue-chippers all over your defense, you need those you do have to stay on the field. A dependence on Lee was likely the difference between making and missing the playoffs this year, from a defensive standpoint. And, without question, losing a destroyer like Irving for all of September and all of December pretty much sunk their ship.


I really don't want to spend too much time on the defensive play from Sunday. The Eagles had no quarterback play at all and did not seem too concerned about anything other than getting the game over with. The Cowboys certainly padded their stats for the year and left feeling great with a shutout.
They ended the year with seven different performances in which the opposition did not even pierce the 300-yard mark, which is some very impressive work, to be fair.
Again, this shows you how no linebacker finished in the top seven in snaps. That is a real issue because the defensive line is not trying to get high snaps, but rather a deep rotation. We are used to defensive backs dominating snap counts, but not this much. And Irving played significantly fewer snaps than Taco Charlton and Benson Mayowa.


Just when you thought the Cowboys hardly blitzed, they took it down even further and further this season -- 17 percent is a new low, even for a team that already never blitzed. In a league where the average sits at about 30 percent, blitzing is just not something Rod Marinelli is interested in doing.


Not sure we have ever seen this, but the drop from DeMarcus Lawrence to the rest of the team was absurd in 2017. It didn't help that the next two players -- Irving and Lee -- each missed significant time. It also may demonstrate that the Cowboys have a lot of players on defense, but not a lot of playmakers. So when you are missing your two difference-makers, the defense becomes ordinary very, very quickly.
The story of the 2017 Cowboys defense is this: It had three playmakers and two missed significant time.
Therefore, you need to find more playmakers for this defense to have a chance to improve.
By the way, your only consistent playmaker who had consistent attendance in 2017 is now out of contract.


We have known this for weeks, but here are your annual splash play champions since 2011, when I started tracking this number. We wondered if we would see our first 40-splash season, but Lawrence fell just short, tying DeMarcus Ware's 2011 season. But, look, he did it in 209 fewer snaps! That is clearly our tiebreaker, so, in the history of the splash play index, we have a new top season ever.
I don't believe there is any chance Lawrence goes anywhere this offseason. He will either get a long extension or get franchised. We should not rule out either because the Cowboys certainly could talk themselves into a short-term solution, but I would just get that four-year, $60 million offer out there and get it over with.
Lawrence is very good and Irving is right there with him. It is up to them to put their suspensions behind them and give this team a full 16 games next year and beyond, because those two, along with some nice pieces -- Charlton for one -- should have the defensive line in a spot where it just needs a run-stopper in the middle to bring it all together.
The D-line was one of the league leaders in negative plays. Lots of sacks and tackles for loss all season long. Really great stuff up front, but it was surrounded by too many situations when the opponent was able to recover and move the chains by kicking the Cowboys' rear on third downs.
The wild card remains Randy Gregory, but I will not discuss that at this time because there is so much unknown.
At linebacker, you have Hitchens without a deal and Lee in a familiar spot for him: one of the best in the sport for 10 games a year. It is a weird proposition and his is an odd career to evaluate. But, wow, does he make a difference when he is on the field.
And then you have the wild card of the linebacking corps, Jaylon Smith. He improved as the season went on and played a lot of snaps. It is reasonable to think his 2018 will be that much better, but if ever there was a wild projection, it would be that.
Then, in the defensive backfield, you have optimism stirred by Awuzie's final month and Jourdan Lewis' season. I have always rated Awuzie higher, but both are quite capable. Byron Jones is still a piece, albeit with a lower ceiling than we hoped for, it appears. Scandrick's future is in question, as his body has been through plenty and he is getting up there in age. They can still use a playmaker back there if the draft smiles down on them. Perhaps getting an "ace" back there (your own Earl Thomas-type) could make the whole rotation make sense.
You have pieces on defense. You need more. It is a league of extraordinary talent beating ordinary talent every week. The Cowboys simply need a little more extraordinary to bring this side of the ball together.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Marinelli Report - Week 16 - Seattle

The Marinelli Report

If you are wondering, the answer is Nov. 11, 1966.
Fifty-one years ago and some change is how long it had been since the Dallas Cowboys managed to lose a game to an opponent that produced as little offense as the Seahawks did Sunday, when they took a vital game with high stakes after generating just 136 yards of total offense.
I was wrong in assuming it had never happened before in Cowboys history. Just not in my lifetime. But evidently, it happened twice in the 1960s. And the most recent time -- that day 51 years ago -- was a day in which the Eagles beat the Cowboys 24-23 and generated all of their points off three special teams plays. Two Timmy Brown kickoff returns and Aaron Martin's punt return accounted for all three of the Eagles' touchdowns and overcame the fact that the Eagles had 80 total yards of offense as they took down Don Meredith and the Cowboys.
The other occasion was even longer ago, in 1965, as Craig Morton took the loss in Milwaukee against those Green Bay Packers, who generated all of 63 total yards to beat the Cowboys 13-3 in one of the more forgettable meetings between the two rivals.
But if you are asking if it had ever happened in a Dallas Cowboys home game, the answer is no. Before Sunday, the Cowboys had never lost a game in which their defense had allowed so few as 136 yards. For that previous record, you had to go all the way back to 1961, when the St. Louis Cardinals took the win in the Cotton Bowl against your Cowboys with 193 yards of offense, two Bill Stacy interception returns for touchdowns and the aid of five Cowboys turnovers from Eddie LeBaron and friends.
That is how rare Sunday's result was.
The Cowboys defense allowed very little. Here is a look at what should be a victorious defensive drive chart:
As you can see, the Seahawks did put together two successful drives -- both started by Cowboys turnovers -- that were taken into the end zone. Add to that a third touchdown on the Dak Prescott pick-six, and you see how the Seahawks won something rather uncommon: a game in which their offense did not move the ball all day long. But in games where they are minus-3 in the turnover battle, the Cowboys lose almost every time (as would everyone else). The Cowboys are now 11-113 in games all-time when they take a minus-3 in the turnover battle. Can't do that and survive.
... Which leads us to the actual issues of Sunday for the defense. If you are going to choose between giving up yardage or taking the ball away, we certainly know the correlation stats. Takeaways are how a team wins football games. Yardage is generally just yardage. And while we properly place most of the blame on the offense for the way the season has deteriorated, we should take careful note of this defense not generating any takeaways for the fifth time this season. That doesn't lead the league -- Miami has actually had seven games with no takeaways -- but it has led to losses. As a league, regardless of any other factor (quality of the opponent, site of the game, etc.), teams win just 26 percent of the games in which they generate zero takeaways. The Cowboys, now 1-4 in those games (they beat Arizona), are at 20 percent.


It certainly takes the analysis out of an analysis piece to surmise that you reached just about every objective you would like in a game like this, but people, let's be reasonable here. No team is supposed to lose a game in which the defense allowed 2.5 yards per play. That is just insane. The Seahawks are a very poor offensive team -- no doubt about it -- but this is the NFL, and they have Russell Wilson. You limited them to one drive of substance, one play of 20 yards and sacked Wilson three times. And you still lost.
Defensive reasons for losing? Well, the red-zone defense allowed two touchdowns in two opportunities and you never got a takeaway. Otherwise, there isn't too much to complain about.


You would be hard-pressed to play Wilson much better than this. He is a dangerous playmaker who has speedy weapons that can cause issues, for sure. And the Cowboys limited him almost totally. Almost. He will take shots down the field, but there was almost nothing in this game.




Again, it was the Cowboys defense in a bit of a nutshell. It played well. It played fine. But it didn't generate a play to win the game and, by anyone's measure, was the second-best defense on the field Sunday. It plays hard, it gets things accomplished, it could be worse ... But in the end, it is a defensive unit that is middle-of-the-road. That worked well when the offense was top five. But middle-of-the-road offense and middle-of-the-road defense means a season around 8-8.
And here we are.
Let's check a few videos:
I think Taco Charlton can feel good about the finish to his rookie season. More and more as the year has gone along, he has started to show up a bit more and there are signs that he has a future. I know opinions are all in ink and I definitely had views on draft weekend about the Cowboys taking him, but since he has been here, I have no real issues with his attitude or tools to develop. I think in Year 3, he has a chance to be pretty nice. This shows his size and his power. He closes Wilson down on a four-man pressure that brings a linebacker and drops Maliek Collins into a spy role. Charlton now has three sacks, and we can be optimistic that he can make a run at 6-8 next season.
Here is the "Deacon" package on third down -- three rushers and one linebacker spy who delays his rush. On this, Benson Mayowa gets left tackle Duane Brown nicely. That requires some real strength to grasp on and bring him down in that frenzy, and he made it look easy. Mayowa has just this one sack after six last season, but I still really like his flashes that have drawn multiple holding penalties and caused other plays despite not getting the sacks.
Here is the fantastic sack by DeMarcus Lawrence on Sunday that demonstrates he was not an early-season fluke. He now has 14.5 sacks on the season (admittedly, September and October were his best work), which likely says he has received much more attention as the season has gone along and that it would have been nice to have had David Irving play more this season. Regardless, he is just a half-sack behind the league lead and I bet a sack title would cap off his fine pre-free agency season.
I don't know what your first reaction was when Lawrence ran down Wilson, but this was mine:
Now, that is an obvious reference to some and a confusing tweet to others. So, let's let everyone in on the fun. Here is the Bob Griese sack by Bob Lilly in Super Bowl VI (the very rare Bob-on-Bob sack):
They still haven't posted the All-22 from Super Bowl VI, but it does show you that even with all of this time passing, quarterbacks running backward to try to keep a play alive often goes very poorly.
Now, those two red-zone touchdowns were a big story, so let's view them.
This is Jimmy Graham. He is 6-foot-7, 265 pounds. Jourdan Lewis will try to cover him. He is 5-10, 188. How did you think this was going to go? On the goal line, they are trying pre-snap motion to see if they can get this matchup or if Byron Jones will follow him (which causes its own issues and may not fare considerably better). This is their Dez Bryant fade, but it is even more of a sure thing. If you have a big target on a tiny defender, this is a pretty easy decision for your quarterback to make.
Look at the Cowboys trying to sort through this after the motion. Wilson is thinking, "Are they serious? They are leaving their 5-10 corner out there against him?"
Second and goal from the 6-yard line. This is where you really needed to force a field goal if possible. You can see the Cowboys are going to double Graham here and the Seahawks are going to isolate a rub route to where they find individual coverage. Red-zone defense is really difficult if they have a Graham, because either you double him or you don't. And either decision is going to be wrong because the Seahawks have seen it all. This time, they use Doug Baldwin to the corner and Chidobe Awuzie gets caught sitting on the slant (it appears). Touchdown.
Next week, we finish up 2017. For now, let's put this Seattle game to bed and turn the page.