Friday, January 06, 2012

Viewer Mail

With Cowboys season now in our rear-view mirror, I will use Friday and Monday as some sort of NFL grab bags, with some thoughts on the playoff games and emails from you, our valued readers. Today, I thought we could start with one final piece of data from the Week 16 game, at the New York Giants.

This is our "throw chart" for Tony Romo, which will help as a companion piece to the Decoding Garrett analysis that we put out on Wednesday. As it plainly appears, despite Romo throwing tons of passes, they were all right at the line of scrimmage with very few exceptions. This speaks to the quick outs that are necessitated due to the Giants front dominating the Cowboys OL. With no time, you cannot attempt passes down the field. The defense knows this reality and patterns their coverage on top of it. They push their coverage forward, knowing that Romo's options are limited by his protection. They make the throwing windows smaller, utilize press coverage, and challenge the Cowboys to beat them over the top. This, of course, is impossible, unless they can give Romo time.

Two completions at 10 yards or further down the field. Dink and dunk offense until the line gets properly fixed.

Now, to the email:

From: Shawn Curran
Subject: Rob Ryan's Defense Did Not Increase QB Sacks
Date: January 4, 2012 9:45:52 AM CST
To: Bob Sturm

Hi Bob,

Is Rob Ryan's scheme much to do about nothing? A big smoke and mirrors routine that wows fans and bores NFL offenses? I submit the following data:

Player, 2010 sacks, 2011 sacks

Terrence Newman, 0,0
Mike Jenkins, 0,0
Orlando Scandrick, 2.5,2
Sean Lee, 0,0
Keith Brooking, 0,0
Bradie James, 0,0
Alan Ball, 0.5,0
Abram Elam, N/A,0
Gerald Sensabaugh, 2.0,0
Jay Ratliff, 3.5,2
Anthony Spencer, 5,6

The result in sacks of all this talk about how Rob Ryan would bring guys from all over the field is no different than Wade's defense. Everyone got about the same number of sacks as they did last year while Sensabaugh and Ratliff actually seemed to do worse.

The only player whose sack numbers changed at all was DeMarcus Ware who had a truly great year. But we already know he's capable of 20-sack seasons because he did it under Wade Phillips.

So at the end of the day is this scheme a bunch of hype? I guess you can blame it on the players but it's tough to imagine all the players are so useless that not a single one benefited from a supposedly pressure-packed scheme.

What is your reaction to this data?

- Shawn

Thanks, Shawn, for the well-thought out feedback. I guess this is the point of the blog where I dust of my defenses of Rob Ryan. I have a great admiration for the Ryan's family approach to defense. I know he is his own man, but I think they all believe in similar tactics and have similar personalities, so there is some spill over from Ryan to Ryan. And what is quite true about the Ryan family is that they are so brash that when there is a failure or perceived failure amongst their work, the public loves to examine it and ask the "what is so great about Rob, Rex, and Buddy Ryan after all?"

I believe coaching matters. I believe it matters a lot. And I believe Rob Ryan is a heck of a coach.

But, I also believe that no man has ever won the Kentucky Derby on a donkey. With that in mind, it is tough to measure the impact of a defensive coordinator against another without weighing the personnel. Bill Walsh is a genius. Is he a genius if he is working with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice? Did he make them legends? Or did they make him a legend? If Bill Walsh takes the Cardinals or Packers job when he was hired by the 49ers in 1979, is he just another coach in the encyclopedia?

This is where the question becomes murky.

The Cowboys were a disgrace in 2010. More than a few places have accused the team of the ultimate sin of quitting. They won 6 games all year and gave up the most points in the history of the franchise, 436. They allowed a team as sterile as Jacksonville to come into Arlington and run up the score on the Cowboys. They were an abomination.

Then, the Cowboys offered almost no personnel changes. The marginal swap of Kenyon Coleman for Igor Olshansky at DE (which is one veteran replacement level DE for another) and Abram Elam for Alan Ball which appeared to be an upgrade, albeit a incremental upgrade rather than the big dollar upgrades that were available last summer at safety.

In the draft, they offered little to know defensive support. The one potential impact addition would have been in the 2nd round, but the Cowboys took LB Bruce Carter who was returning from a major knee surgery, and he wouldn't be ready until mid November. Essentially, there was no support at all from the 2011 draft, despite the issues the Cowboys faced in 2010 defensively.

So, everyone was invited back. No free agency strikes. No draft support. No dollar investment in the team aside from discount purchases of players of the Cleveland defense who were not heavily sought after in the league.

Then, no off-season program for Ryan to install his most complex of defensive schemes. If you believe Wade Phillips was vanilla and Ryan was the polar opposite, then surely installation time is imperative to the personnel so that they may get familiar and that it might enter some sort of "second nature" feel for each player.

Instead, it was a rushed camp to figure out where everyone was to go and what to do.

Bottom line: Did the Cowboys turn into the 1985 Bears with just a few of Rob Ryan's magic potions? Of course not. But, did we see substantial improvement in certain metrics - with the most important being points allowed? Yes, we did.

In 2010, the team allowed 436 points, or roughly 27.3 points per game. This season, despite no additions of note, the team dropped nearly a touchdown per game to 347 points, 21.7 points per game.

So, yes, I expected more. And yes, we should consider a weak schedule. But, in the end, I think Rob Ryan did as much with the same defense that he was left with as anyone could reasonably be expected to do with no offseason.

What we need to recognize is that he was not given enough to work with. He still had mediocre secondary personnel and one legit pass rusher. Until that changes, bring in any coordinator you want. They may not be as brash as Rob Ryan, but I don't anticipate that they will be able to make this defense elite, either, until some elite players are brought in.


From: "Jeff The Pool Guy"
Date: January 3, 2012 8:16:28 AM CST
To: "Bob Sturm"
Subject: Re: Cowboys blog -

This is good stuff, I am so disheartened with the state of the team. My once great franchise is mired in mediocrity and there is no end in sight. There are so many holes to fill and we have the people that created those holes trying to fill them. I am a huge fan of Romo and believe given the talent around him he would win a championship. Unfortunately I don’t think we will ever know if that is true. Here is my list of people that have to be upgraded.

P. Costa
B. James
K. Brooking
T. Newman
O. Scandrick
Spencer (This guy should be an animal) Tony Tolbert was a stud with Haley on the other side. Anybody else will make happy here.

All but 2 of the front seven need upgraded and we need another NT to rest an aging Ratliff.
Two of the CB need upgraded and they re-signed the wrong safety.
3/5 of the OL are terrible and the remaining 2 need to swap sides.

There is no way they can accomplish this. Even if they had a good front office. They have too much dead money and not enough draft picks. They need a whole new interior line. that is ridiculous. We are so far from being competitive with the big boys.

The fact that we have Romo covers up so much garbage. He is the reason we pound inferior teams. But when we play a team that can overwhelm our O-line he doesn’t have time to operate. Even against teams that aren't good he has to be a Jedi and avoid the rush to make plays. If we had an average to below average QB we would be 5-11 at best. Parcells was right within a couple of years of his departure it was like he was never there.

I have all but given up. I am still a fan because I love the Team. But I could not be more disgusted with the way things are run around there. I know it won't change, but man I wish it would. I have a sneaky suspicion that we won't have any real success for the next 3-4 years of which will mark the end of Romo's prime. Then we will be bottom feeders again.

Disheartened in Dallas,

Wow. That speaks volumes. I have almost no issues with anything he said, and I fear his projections are close to the truth. This proud franchise raised the bar for its fan base for years and years (entire lifetimes for many) and now are showing that same fan base what mediocrity tastes like.

It is tough for the diehards to keep brave faces. And with no change in sight for the way they make their mistakes, one has to wonder when the worm will turn. I wish I had some encouragement, but I really don't right now.



Here are some quick picks for the games this weekend:

Bengals at Texans: This will be a fun game to watch in the sense that many people will be getting a close look at these two teams for the first time. My initial thoughts are that the Bengals are not ready to win a game like this and that they have an inflated win total based on schedule and luck. Andy Dalton is a great story and his upside seems promising, but to win a road playoff game does not seem likely to me. I realize Houston has their own issues at QB, but I expect that Houston is going to be electric for this 1st playoff appearance ever and I know that defense flies to the ball. I have Houston 24, Bengals 17.

Lions at Saints: Here is another case of a team with an extended absence getting a chance to go to the playoffs. The sky is the limit for the Lions' future, but I still think Matt Stafford has plenty of room to improve (stats people, grab your torches and storm my castle!). His accuracy on the crucial throws still betrays the young lad, and against the Saints in that stadium, missing any throws will get you beat. The Lions have the firepower, but this is a horrible draw for them. If only they were going to New York, I would pick them. In the Superdome, no way. Saints 42, Lions 31.

Falcons at Giants: Great matchup, and this is the game I am really struggling to pick. I believe that you can make a real case for either team here, but I am affected by looking at that Giants front and their pass rush quite a bit in the last few weeks, and they do look like a fine dark-horse to make a run. I think the Falcons are capable, but it will take a big day from their inconsistent passing attack, so I will follow the home field advantage again to this outcome, Giants 27, Falcons 24.

Steelers at Broncos: And now, the game that looks like a real mismatch. Pittsburgh is the 2nd best team in the AFC right now, and the only team besides New England that I can see in the Super Bowl. But, they are damaged by losing Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Clark. I love the Tebow story and am absolutely enjoying following the Broncos story. But, since Von Miller has been injured, the pass rush is not the same. And without pass rush, Roethlisberger can enjoy a big day. I would imagine getting to 20 points will be plenty, so I have to roll with Pittsburgh 26, Denver 14.

Enjoy one of the best weekends of the year. The Playoffs are finally upon us.

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