Thursday, December 08, 2011

X's and O's Breakdown - The OT Screen

In the words of the late, great Michael Hutchence, "Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked."

Blitzing, and more specifically, fire zone blitzing is a staple of the Rob Ryan defense. We have discussed this at some length in past entries, but usually it is when it works to perfection - such as the study we did when he had Buffalo all confused a few weeks ago.

But, of course, sometimes when you blitz, the other team has figured you out from their film study or they just lucked into a perfect call at a perfect moment. Regardless of how the Cardinals walked the Cowboys right into a trap on the final play of Sunday's game, the truth is on the film for all to see.

Larod Stephens-Howling is known as the "hyphen" in Arizona, and surely is one of those water-bug types that if they can get into the open field, the opponent is going to have a hard time containing him and bringing him down. Another note worth considering is that the Cardinals have a notoriously difficult time executing screen plays. Perhaps that is why the Cowboys felt that this was not going to be a major issue entering the action on Sunday.

The Cardinals are on the 1st Drive of OT, and are facing a 1st and 15 after a penalty. The Cowboys scheme for fire zones vary, but just know that it means the Cowboys are overloading their blitz to one side of the field, while the weakside edge LB will drop into a zone instead of rushing. In this case, that LB is DeMarcus Ware, and the normal genius of such a concept is that the opponent has 2 guys assigned to block #94. So, the premise is simple: Blitz more guys from one side than can be blocked, and rush almost nobody from the other-side which leaves the LT and sometimes LG just standing there with nobody to block.

From the Cardinals standpoint, if they can somehow have a play on that attacks the blitz side, it can go for miles (which it did). If they call the screen to the opposite side, Ware will be standing there and ready to devour the play as he will be unblocked.

Look at the diagram of how the Cowboys defense is to deploy in this situation:

And here is how it looked in presnap from the same view from the coaches film:

The Cowboys are trying to drop 2 LBs (94 and 56) into the shallow zones on either side. Of course, Bradie James is highlighted in green on the diagram (and is standing on the Cardinals logo on the film) because it is rather clear that he busts on this play and gets "caught up in the wash" as he tries to get out wide to the side that the play is about to go. Let's credit #70-Rex Hadnot for getting a very impressive hold on James that keeps Bradie from getting to where he is supposed to go on this play. Also, we should perhaps blame Bradie for attempting to get too cute as he tries to give the impression that he is blitzing for a split second too long. The concept is for Bradie to occupy a blocker with his first step or two, but he has to bail before anyone can get their mitts on him because he has that entire half of the field on the defensive left. It is going to be a long run with no contact, but once Hadnot touches him, this play is doomed. With Sensabaugh and Newman in man coverage, they will have their backs to the play for most of the play, so this is Bradie's play or likely nobody.

We can certainly question the Cowboys thinking their slowest LB could beat the "hyphen" to the edge, but they tried it and the picture below will attest to the fact that the result was ugly:

Sean Lee is a very fast inside LB, but at 4.6, he is no match for a 4.35 guy like Stephens-Howling. Lee diagnoses the play and peels off as fast as he can (and is actually quicker to get there than James), but he will not be able to run him down from behind.

The Cardinals do not even attempt to block Anthony Spencer which is either a horrible decision if Spencer can grab Kevin Kolb or a brilliant one if Kolb can slip past 93 long enough to dump the ball off to hyphen in space. It works like a charm. This demonstrates why mobility for a QB has almost nothing to do with "straight-line" speed and more to do with understanding how a side step can buy you another few tenths of a second.

From the time of the catch, the play is doomed. The Cowboys only real hope is that Terence Newman can get around Andre Roberts to bring down Stephens-Howling near the 45. Once Newman is dealt with quite easily, it becomes a comedy of missed tackles and less-than-inspired efforts to bring him down inside the 20 which speaks to the knowledge that the game is already lost once the play goes deep inside FG range.

Is it a horrible call from Rob Ryan? This is the nature of all of football. Call a blitz on 1st Down when few would expect it is a great idea when it works (a sack is a drive ender if the Cardinals are looking at a 2nd and 22)- and a horrible plan when it fails. Asking Bradie James to get to the flank in time against Stephens-Howling sounds like a very poor plan, unless you are playing the odds that the Cardinals hadn't used him hardly all day long. One does wonder how a speedy inside LB like Bruce Carter would do in the same situation, but that clearly isn't close to happening as Carter has not exactly forced his way onto the field yet (11 snaps against Seattle, 13 against Buffalo, 0 at Washington, 0 vs Miami, 0 at Arizona).

So, perfect call against your blitz or reckless play call from Rob Ryan? It is a results-based business, so in this case, Ryan was caught with his hand in the cookie jar and his players were unable to bail him out.

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