Sunday, September 09, 2012

Splash Plays - Week 1 - At New York

EDIT: Barry Church actually recovered the fumble, not Jason Hatcher. It should now be fixed.

After several years of picking the offense apart - good, bad, and ugly - we have been asked by many Cowboys' fans to expand the coverage to the defense as well. This is something that I have been reluctant to do for a few reasons (with time being chief amongst them), but I am going to try to do this during 2012 and see if it works out for us.

There are normal statistics out there in a number of places, but I wanted to track two things this year in this space on a weekly basis.

I want to look at how Rob Ryan uses the blitz and what happens when he does so. I also want to track splash plays and actually see if reputations are based on substance or style.



What is a Splash Play?

In a short answer, a splash play is a term used in some franchises to describe a defensive big play. For our purposes, it is an interception, a sack, a tackle for loss, a strip of a fumble, a recovery of a fumble, a stuffed run, a defended pass, a batted ball at the line of scrimmage, or a hit that disrupts a play or a player. Essentially, a play that matters from the defense.

You can see how this leads to subjectivity, but a subjective breakdown is better than no breakdown at all, I have decided. In addition, a splash play will include tackles for loss, a big hit for a short gain, or a stop which is an open field tackle where a player is pulled down on 3rd down short of the marker because of an exceptional effort from a defender.

An interception is clearly a splash play, but so is a defended pass that required a great effort. A major hit in the secondary could be a splash play, but I believe that the outcome of the play will determine that. Sorry, defensive backs, but standing over a guy who just caught a 15 yard pass because you think you hit him hard will not generally pass the test on this blog. So, stop doing it.

I am trying to be careful about handing out too many splash plays per game. I am trying to be picky, but not too extreme in either direction. When I log a splash play, I will put time of the game on the chart so that if you want to review the same game and challenge my ruling, you are welcome to do so. Also, if multiple players deserve recognition on a single play, we will try to see that as well. Basically, we are trying to assign a value to making plays on the defense. We don't want to just see sacks and interceptions. We want to see broader definitions of splash plays to assign credit to those who help the Cowboys get off the field in important situations. In my opinion, some pressures are splash plays - some are not. If you force the QB into ending the play, I don't think we should ignore that.

These rankings will not deduct for negative plays at this point. There are simply too many occasions where we are guessing, and for now, I want to avoid that for this particular idea. A splash play is a play that makes a major difference in the game. And by keeping it all season long, we will see which defenders are play makers and which are simply warm bodies. We already have our thoughts on both categories, but let's see if we can dig a bit deeper and actually have numbers to back up our claims.


Against New York, I found 15 splash plays, with three occasions where there were 2 splash plays on the same play. I now also see that there could be a scenario where we give 2 splashes to the same player on one play. What if the same player gets a sack, strip, recovery, and touchdown? Is that 4? Maybe. Let me know what you think in the comments section.

DeMarcus Ware did plenty of damage as a pass rusher, whereas his often criticized counterpart, Anthony Spencer had just as many splash plays in my estimation. But, he did it against the run and that isn't noticed as much. But, it mattered on that goal-line stand.

Meanwhile, Jason Hatcher's sack might have been the defensive play of the game. It happened in the 4th Quarter and on a 3rd Down, making me wonder if we should sometimes weigh these plays based on when they happen both in the point of a game and the down that gets the team off the field. Here is the full splash log:

1-6:332/8/D29ChurchFumble Recovery
2-10:251/G/D1SpencerRun Stop
2-9:552/G/D3SpearsRun Stuff
2-9:552/G/D3BrentRun Stuff
2-5:111/10/N16CarterTackle No Gain
3-6:312/5/D50SpencerTackle No Gain
4-14:481/10/N38CarterTackle No Gain
4-5:142/1/N30CarrPass Broken Up

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So, now, I wish to keep the standings on a week-by-week basis with the numbers below:

PlayerSplashesSnapsSnaps Per Splash
1. Ware35117
1. Spencer35518.3
3. Carter23015
4. Hatcher14343
4. Lee15656
4. Sensabaugh15656
4. Carr15454
4. Brent12323
4. Spears11818
4. Church15656
10. Claiborne0540
10. Lissemore0270
10. Coleman0240
10. Crawford030
10. Conner040
10. Butler060
10. Silva0220
10. Scandrick0270
10. Butler070

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Snap Count numbers courtesy of



I heard a wonderful description of the joys and pain of blitzing last week. The description was that blitzing is wonderful as a weapon, but not as a necessity. I couldn't agree more. When a team that gets pressure with 4 is able to mix in the ambush of a blitz, it can turn a game. But, if it is the only way you ever get pressure, then it is a tool for the opposition to beat you into submission.

In 2011, the Cowboys were beaten by their own blitz almost as often as they were able to get a big play out of it. To make sure that we are all on the same page, we define blitzing as any time a team rushes more than 4 players on a given play. Sometimes, we can argue whether a player is actually rushing, so again, this will require some subjective decisions, but I am trying to be consistent with the rulings.

The Giants had 3 explosives (plays of 20 yards or more). Only 1 came against a blitz. They were caught in a 5-man fire zone blitz on the Bradshaw run, but otherwise, were able to force Eli to find plays by throwing into a populated secondary.

1-10:503/5/N18Manning to Cruz, +264
3-6:093/4/D49Manning to Hixon, +394
4-5:143/1/N30Bradshaw run, +335

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Meanwhile, the Cowboys had 3 sacks. All 3 came with a blitz.

2-15:001/10/D41Ware Sack5
2-0:482/10/N30Ware Sack #25
4-13:283/4/N44Hatcher Sack5

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Here is how Rob Ryan deployed pass rushers, separated by down. As you can see, Ryan's reputation is to blitz in spots that are not that predictable. It is not at all uncommon to see Ryan with more 1st or 2nd Down blitzes than 3rd Down:

Pass Rushers Against New York - 37 pass rush/blitz situations:
Pass Rushers1st2nd3rd4thTotal

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To play Eli Manning and that Giants offense on the road and to only blitz 6 players on one occasion is certainly ideal. Also, to get 3 sacks is something you will take every time, even though you wish you could get there with 4 once in a while. It should be said that the one time they rushed 6 (with 3:49 left in the game), they were caught in a dangerous spot, but Sean Lee was able to snuff out a WR screen by himself and keep the clock running. Nothing defeats a blitz quite like a screen away from it. We saw that again and again last year.

Much like the offensive reports, this Week 1 report is certainly positive from the defense. Now, their job is to keep it up.


ES said...

Did they really rush 6 only once, and if so, when did it occur? The chart shows the only rush with 6 was in the 2nd quarter, but the commentary says it was with 3:49 left in the game. Maybe I'm just not understanding?

Carlton Jenke said...

Bob, love the Splash plays list, but it seems like this is unfair to a great coverage DB. A shut-down corner may not have many splash plays (QB doesn't even try to throw his direction), but he definitely affects the game of the opposing team. And also, on a "coverage sack" play where the DBs cover the receivers so well that the pressure finally gets there with a sack, I feel the credit really belongs more to the great coverage since the QB had nowhere to throw, but you would give the credit more to the player who gets the sack. I'm sure it is a hard thing to calculate in, but is there a way to recognize this? Thanks Bob, and keep up the great work!

Sturminator said...

Those numbers are for the down, not the quarter. They rushed on 2nd down - not the 2nd Quarter. I will try to make that more clear.

Roger Light, Artist said...

Great stuff, Bob. Glad you are doing this.

Roger Light, Artist said...

Love the splash plays tracking. I think it will be a great way to track Claiborne's progress as well.

Excited about the Seattle game against R. Wilson--kind of a tune up for the Redskins and Eagles offenses, but with out so much talent. Maybe a nice way to ease into dealing with the mobile QB this year.

Anabelle Bailey said...

Really this report is good and I think is a great work but insome perspectivas could change.