Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cowboys E-Mail 2/19

Spending a fair amount of time this week digesting Rob Ryan topics that are flooding the mailbox ( and the Twitter account (@bobanddan) from all of the legions of Cowboys fans. Why not spend a few minutes today on those various thoughts?

I love this hire. I know many of you have been very skeptical about his track record and the question about whether some of us are under the spell of thinking anyone with the last name of "Ryan" is a defensive genius. If he was so great, how come he has never had a "great defense" under his command?

Well, first, let's all accept one simple fact - it takes players to have a truly great defense. Buddy Ryan designed the "46" defense in Chicago and then was given Head Coaching jobs in Philadelphia and Arizona because of his genius. The thing that he could not bring with him from city to city were the Hall of Fame caliber players he had on defense. Mike Singletary and Richard Dent for starters. Plug in guys like Dan Hampton, Gary Fencik, Steve McMichael, Wilbur Marshall, and Otis Wilson, and some might argue that you can run nearly any scheme you want and it will work out pretty well.

Rex Ryan has a great defense in New York. He also has Shaun Ellis, Bart Scott, Darrell Revis, Antonio Cromartie, David Harris, and Calvin Pace. Great scheme and great players.

Conversely, let's list the stars that Rob Ryan had in Cleveland last year with his defense. No players remotely close to Pro Bowl status, although rookie CB Joe Haden did go as the 4th Alternate. Ahtyba Rubin shows promise. TJ Ward is a rookie safety that I would love to acquire (although his pass cover skills do concern many) and beyond that he has a defense that is an amazing collection of retreads from all over the league. Chris Gocong, Scott Fujita, Abram Elam, and Sheldon Brown all played enormous roles in Cleveland despite being cast away in their last gigs.

So, let's start there. He had very little to work with. But, you don't hire a guy for what he didn't accomplish. You hire him because he does the most with what he has.

And, I am spending time lately pouring over Browns games to makes sure I don't like this hire JUST because he has one of the most entertaining press conference deliveries in the league. I love the brash talk and the ego-filled bravado, but there has to be some substance behind it.

What is his philosophy? On Thursday, he announced in his own style, "We are going to sic' em from the word go".

But is the proof in the film?

Let me show you some totals from a previous post just to make sure you are aware of Rob Ryan vs Rex Ryan vs Wade Phillips vs Dom Capers vs Dick LeBeau. Not to be too much of an advocate for Rob, but if you take the talent on these 5 defenses that all run the 3-4, I believe 32 out of 32 GMs would likely tell you that Cleveland had the least talent on their defense.

Here are the Defensive Back blitzes for last season:

Total DB Blitzes 2010

New York Jets351
Green Bay183

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He blitzed way less than his brother and way less than he wanted to, but he did what he could with what he had. 145, or about 9 DB blitzes a game. Wade averaged about 3 a game. If there are 60 plays in a game, that is a difference, as Rob Ryan is blitzing 15% of the time with DBs, instead of the 5% for Wade.

Compare his blitzers with what Dallas has in the defensive backfield-

Cleveland's DB Blitzes 2010

Abram Elam40
TJ Ward27
Eric Wright22
Mike Adams13
Ray Ventrone14
Sheldon Brown12
Joe Haden11
Others 6
Total Blitzes145

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In taking apart arguably the Browns finest defensive effort against New England in Week 9, I was looking for Down and Distance scenarios to see where he would bring the CB or S Blitz. That day he ran 11 of these:

2nd and 8; 3rd and 9; 3rd and 3; 4th and 1; 2nd and 15; 3rd and 15; 2nd and 8; 2nd and 17; 1st and 10; 1st and 15; 2nd and 15. All over the place. You don't know when they are coming. It isn't just the predictable 3rd and long. In fact, on 3rd and long, he was just as likely to rush 2 as he was to rush 6 or 7.

Here is what Ryan did on 3rd and long when he had a lead. Check these pictures out:

I don't even know what to call this. It looks a bit like the "Psycho" concept that Dom Capers had, which meant 1-5-5 (1 Defensive Lineman, 5 Linebackers, 5 Defensive Backs) and it is not designed to bring pressure as much as it is to cause confusion.

Imagine you are a center and you are trying to identify the pass rush and call out a protection. But, there are no players lined up anywhere on the defensive line! They only sprung this on New England late in the game (about 4 times), because they didn't want the Patriots to have a chance to diagnose and adjust. They ended up rushing 2 and dropping 9 twice. Crazy idea that worked.

Here is another one. Same concept - create confusion, but now, the Patriots are trying to get their reads and the Browns front 6 are all still basically huddled up until the ball is snapped and then they all run to their spots. Risky, but confusing.

It should be noted that a lot of this is slight of hand. It is best when you are Rex Ryan and you have superior talent and you have confusion. But, if you are Rob Ryan, you had to try to confuse because that was your only chance. It should also be noted that Tom Brady did burn them a fair amount on this day. But, the Browns got the win and rocked the league that day. You could even say that the Browns gave the Jets the playbook to stop the Patriots in the playoffs based on what we saw that day in Cleveland.

Someone suggested to me that in the last few years it was easy to game-plan the Cowboys because you had a great handle on what they were going to do on defense. If you could execute, you were going to be fine. They weren't going to ambush you with some concept you have never seen before.

Those days are over. I love the hire. Yes, they need better personnel, but I think they have an inventive mind now running the 3-4 the way it was meant to be run. Controlled chaos.

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