Wednesday, May 11, 2011

X's And O's Breakdown - Meachem for 55 yards

Over the last few weeks, it has been suggested to me by many of you that we should break down some different moments from the season. As you may or may not know, I am interested in the lockout from the standpoint of knowing the new rules for free agency or other things that may impact the Cowboys or the NFL, but I am not interested or frankly qualified to write about the negotiations. So, I gladly leave that to the experts and prefer to continue to talk football strategy and tactics in an effort to learn more about this awesome game.

So, yesterday, I asked you - the readers - to tell me what you want broken down. With the use of video and some chalkboard items, as well as my efforts to try to track down expert breakdowns, we should be able to analyze some of the big plays from the season - both good and bad.

Many of you have already responded. I will try to do these as often as I can (a few a week). If you want particular plays broken down, that will be quicker, but some of you have already responded with larger points of discussion and research and those will take a while longer if they are selected for our study. But, please, feel free to participate. and are two great places to find me - as well as the comments below.

OK, here is #1. From Morgan, who wrote the following:

Thanksgiving game against New Orleans:

Meacham beats Newman deep for 55 yards. It appeared the Cowboys were in a Cover 2 Man Under coverage, but for some reason Alan Ball was lined up as the SS, rather than the FS. It looks like Ball bit on the underneath play to the TE in the slot and left Newman alone.

This play bothered me. It seems like Newman should be playing press, but has a 10 yard cushion. In this coverage, isn't the safety required to play deep and not bite on a TE underneath?

This is certainly a play that is fresh in everyone's memory and you can make the case it is one of those 2 or 3 plays that if the Cowboys can do what needs to be done, they actually can still make a playoff run (as goofy as that seemed). The Week 1 game at Washington, Week 2 home to Chicago, Week 5 at Minnesota, Week 16 at Arizona and this game were all contests that easily could have been put in the win column if the Cowboys could have made a simple play here and there. This is the NFL. Every team has games that can turn on one moment.

And for Thanksgiving 2010, this was that moment.

The Cowboys fought their tails off to get back into this game and actually could have sealed things a bit earlier if Roy Williams doesn't fumble after a long run. But, this is the defense's chance to get a stop. Drew Brees must go the entire field in just a few minutes. If the Cowboys get a stop, they win.

3rd and 10. 2:25 to play. Ball at the New Orleans 33. The Saints love "11" personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) and why wouldn't you when you can put Marques Colsten (Scandrick) and Devery Henderson (Jenkins) to one side, David Thomas (Brooking) and Robert Meachem (Newman) to the other, and have Julius Jones in the backfield. This allows plenty of stress on the Cowboys defense from a coverage standpoint.

To counter, the Cowboys have a 4-man pass rush with 7 dropping into coverage in their nickel defense. Morgan is right that the coverage here looks like 2-deep, man-under. The premise here is that everyone plays tight man underneath, and you will have safety help over the top. Simple right?

Ok, here is what I see. To Drew Brees' left, he has Colston and Henderson running two verticals against Scandrick and Jenkins. Sensabaugh is helping Scandrick over the top because Colston is Colston.

But, Brees doesn't even look to that side of the field. Because he likes David Thomas (3 targets, 0 catches on the day) and Robert Meachem (0 targets all day until this play) against Keith Brooking, Alan Ball, and Terence Newman. Those two receivers are also going to be running double verticals right in Balls vision, and the second he steps one direction, Brees is going to the other guy.

Now, we can see why there are three different reasons this play works so easily for the Saints.

1) - The Saints are really, really talented. Sean Payton wasn't born yesterday and when Brees and Payton need a play, they know who and where to attack. Even in 3rd and 10, it appears that the Cowboys are just out-manned. Colston has had 9 passes, Lance Moore 7, and Henderson 5. But, when he needed a play, he threw it to the side of the field that is opposite all of the action.

2) - Alan Ball is in a very bad spot. Any choice he makes is going to be wrong. I know it is fun to blame Alan Ball for everything, and he did have a very poor year. But, on this particular play, he should err on the side of the deepest threat. But, what you see here is 4 vertical routes. And, if you are Alan Ball, you see that on 3rd and 10, you also want to protect the sticks. There is not :30 to play, there is 2:25 to play. A 1st Down is a killer here, so he is realizing that Thomas on Brooking is a bad spot in the middle of the field. Keith Brooking is a willing LB, but in 3rd Down coverage against a receiving TE, you can understand Ball shading that direction once he sees Thomas on a vertical route and trusting Newman on the flanks against a player who has not had a ball thrown at him all day.

3) - Terence Newman played the route very poorly. The question of why he is not in "press coverage" is a fair one, but I think that we have to consider that Newman hurt his ribs back in October against the Giants. He spent much of the back half of 2010 looking old and easy to beat (see DeSean Jackson 2 weeks later). Part is that he is not the cover corner he used to be. Part is that he never knew if he could count on his safety for help (there is no question teams were attacking Alan Ball). And Part might simply be that he was trying to help the team by playing hurt. Honestly, in the NFL against the teams that they were playing (Green Bay, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Indianapolis) you don't need 2 corners. You need 4. And the Cowboys needed Newman to go if he could go.

So, what do we learn here? We learn that perhaps the Bruce Carter selection makes all the sense in the world. If you want to play nickel (5 DBs) instead of dime (6 DBs), then you better have a LB who can run down the seam with David Thomas or JerMichael Finley or Brent Celek or Chris Cooley. Brooking can not do that. We are told Carter can. Of course, we were also told that Jason Williams and Bobby Carpenter, could, too. We shall see.

But, if Carter has Thomas locked down, now Ball (or another safety) is helping over the top with Newman and this pass is not an issue. It is a fascinating play where on tv, Newman gets the blame. And he may deserve part of it. But, Ball needs to be there. And maybe he is if he is not too worried about Brooking.

This leads us back to one of the best things about football. You can see why you need 11 guys doing their jobs and not worrying about others doing theirs. And, you can see (like the Lakers this past week, too), if you don't believe in your mates' ability to do his job, then everything falls apart.

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