Friday, November 19, 2010

Game Plan Friday: Defense vs Detroit


It was a strong effort from the Defense in some regards on Sunday in New York, but we should be careful not to get too carried away. They allowed 480 yards to the Giants, and there were several more missed opportunities for Eli and his crew that were either dropped or called back due to penalty.

Paul Pasqualoni is now running the show, and we see a departure from the Wade Phillips 3-4 and a bit of a return to the Bill Parcells 3-4. This would mean a few things. For instance, it was clear that the Cowboys were not blitzing almost at all against the Giants. It is bring 4, and drop 7. This should allow for more zone coverage (although there were moments of man to man with a safety over the top - the Hakeem Nicks TD that was called back in the 4th Quarter was McCann locked in man with Hicks) and fewer spots for a QB to throw. A quick look at the two Giants games show you the difference it makes not to have man situations all over the field where Eli can slice and dice you.

It also means that we should understand that the sack bonanza of 2007-2009 might be gone. Now, in fairness, 2010 was not getting any sacks either as Anthony Spencer (3 sacks) is back to a largely anonymous QB rusher most weeks, and it appears to be DeMarcus Ware (8 sacks) and a bunch of guys. The Cowboys rank 21st in sacks, and Phillips' scheme is completely predicated on getting to the QB. If you can't, then you have to have great coverage guys, and the Cowboys just don't have that right now. So, although you will likely not notice drastic changes, keep an eye on how often they rush 3 or 4, and how seldom they ask anyone else to rush. The truth of the matter is that your LBs in the middle - James and Brooking - are just not suited to get there anymore, and are better if they can get some shallow depth for the pass defense, and react against run plays in the gaps.

So, the Cowboys get back to surrendering yards and hopefully getting the ball by having 11 hats fly to the football and cause collisions and make plays. If you can get takeaways, you can give up a ton of yards and win. But, there is the fine line. Must get the football. They did against the Giants and that was the reason they won. Not because they had the Giants offense smothered.

Now, this week, they play an offense that doesn't resemble the Giants in any way. They have a beast at WR, a back-up QB, a running game that usually can't run, and a RB group that often doesn't have much of a chance. Sounds like they resemble the Cowboys offense, right? They do.

The Lions also have a 2-7 record going for them, but they have had no such incidents as Jacksonville or Green Bay as it pertains to the issue of buying a roll of stamps and mailing it in. In their 7 losses, there are 0 games in which they could not say they gave it everything they could. They have had issues with injuries, especially at the most vital QB position, but through it all, they have almost won every week. "Almost" doesn't count in the NFL, but there is no doubt that this game is not considered a "lay-up" by any means.


1) - Stop the Megatron YAC - The average team in the NFL has 1,000 yards in YAC (Yards after catch) at this point of the season. The Detroit Lions are #1 in the NFL with nearly 1,500 YAC. One obvious reason is that they have arguably the most difficult player to tackle who plays WR in the entire NFL - Calvin Johnson. After striking out with several top picks going to WRs in the decade (Charles Rogers or Mike Williams, anyone?), they have hit the jackpot with Georgia Tech's Johnson. He is absolutely the best in the business, and despite never really seeing a consistent QB on the other side of his passes has put up amazing numbers. So, enter the Cowboys secondary, who in their best weeks still have trouble wrestling Hakeem Nicks to the ground. I think the next time Terence Newman will be healthy will be 2011, and Bryan McCann may have a big heart but I cannot imagine him trying to tackle Megatron. This should be a real key.

2) - Get There With 4 - The Lions have pretty poor QB play for the most part with Shaun Hill, as he doesn't trust his arm or his offensive line enough to push the ball too far down the field. They will attempt to take what you give him and that means getting the ball out. Eli Manning sat in a pretty comfortable pocket last week, because as we said the new Cowboys brain trust either doesn't believe in the blitz or doesn't believe that these players can execute a blitz well enough to make it worth their while. Therefore, the ability to close in on a QB will be vital with merely the front 4 rushers. Shaun Hill may not be able to pick you apart with the proper time, but we know that Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are around the next corner. Time to establish some help for DeMarcus Ware. I do sympathize for Ware a bit, as people are finding fault in him despite 8 sacks in 9 games for the situation in which he gets his sacks. He is a premier rusher and what he needs is some help from Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, and anyone else who can do it. Comfortable QBs make comfortable throws. I agree with the premise

3) - Turn the Ball Over - Do you know what a real bad combination is? When your offense has the 6th most giveaways in the NFL and your defense gets the 21st most takeaways. Lots of giveaways and few takeaways will get you a 2-7 record on a regular basis. As you can see from the chart, the Cowboys are 3-6 on the turnover game, so with the exception of that extremely odd night against the Giants when the Cowboys lost their QB, every game they have played has followed the turnover battle perfectly. Win the turnovers, win. Lose the turnovers, lose. No stat correlates more, and that is why we keep it. Look for no adjustment in that truth this week.

Cowboys TurnoversOpponents Turnovers
GameFumbles LostINTSGiveawaysFumbles RecINTSTakeaways+/-
L @ Wash101000-1
L vs Chi1230 00-3
W @ Hou0001 23+3
L vs Ten033000-3
L @ Min022101-1
L vs NYG202235+3
L vs Jack044101-3
L @ GB224000-4
W @ NYG011123+2

Table Tutorial

4) - Fight To The End - Ah, such a simple mantra, right? But, this in a season where we have seen the defense not always fight valiantly, I feel compelled to remind them of the stretch from Game 6-8 where they were described by many as gutless and shameful for the way they battled at times. I know it is the ultimate insult and surely something that many of them would dispute, but I think it is fair to remind them of this reputation the last time they played at their home stadium in front of their generally adoring fans. It cost their coach his job, and they must face that reality. There will be a time in these 2 home games in 5 days where they are going to need to show some resolve and fortitude and I am very interested to see if that 4th Quarter stand will go their way. They played with great passion on Sunday against the Giants and again, that was both refreshing and frustrating. When you only play once a week, shouldn't you always be full of passion and fight? Let's hope that troubling trait does not emerge again from this defensive unit that might be banged up, but still has most of the bodies that started the season. We know the Lions are there to fight for 60, so the Cowboys better be, too.

Please check out TC Fleming's piece where he examines the Lions' Pistol in great detail. Always good to read the wonderful work from Mr Fleming.

Summary: Again, this is one of the easier tests of the season on paper. Calvin Johnson is amazing, but the offensive line is a tick below average. They have the worst rushing offense in the NFL. They have a backup QB who is not very good at all. The bottom line is quite clear, the Cowboys should get to 2-0 under Jason Garrett. HOWEVER, they are 0-4 at home, and have lost to at least a few teams that everyone thought was pretty beatable when they took the field. If there is one thing we have learned in 2010, it is that nothing should be taken for granted by the Dallas Cowboys. They seem to bring out the best in all of their opponents.

Bob Sturm is host of BaD Radio on The Ticket 1310 AM Mondays through Fridays at 12-3 p.m. He also hosts The Ticket's Cowboys pregame show. Follow Bob on Twitter at Bob offers his exclusive analysis after games on

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