Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Splash Plays - Week 2 - At Seattle

Against the Seahawks, the Cowboys defense employed a game-plan that they felt pretty good about. It was a rookie QB that was playing in front of his home fans for the very first time and he would have plenty of nerves. Not only that, but a hour before kickoff, word broke that Russell Okung, the giant left tackle, would miss the game as well with an injury. The offensive line of the Seahawks has been a work in progress for quite some time, with countless line combinations since Pete Carroll took the job as head coach. This is just the type of team you enjoy playing against - a likely one-dimensional squad without much explosiveness and seemingly a very limited ability to stretch the field.

Clearly, based on what we saw from the way the Cowboys deployed the troops, the plan was to play coverage all day long. Keep the ball in front of your defenders and make the Seahawks drive the field. While it could certainly be argued amongst many of us that the best way to rattle a young QB is to blitz him from all directions, the 2012 Cowboys have not looked like a team that is interested in doing that just yet in both New York and Seattle. In 63 pass attempts in 2 games, the Cowboys have brought more than 4 pass rushers at the QB on only 21 occasions. In 20 of those 21 occasions, the blitz was with 5. That means there has been just 1 occasion so far where the Cowboys have brought 6. And never have they gone with more than 6.

This tells us that Rob Ryan and his staff want Russell Wilson to beat coverage. Dropping linebackers into zones with both safeties over the top have helped the Cowboys make sure that there are very few explosive passing plays (plays of 20 yards or more). However, we are also seeing that the Cowboys appear to believe that they can get to the QB with just 4 rushers - something they haven't done since the days of Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware. Through 2 weeks, the Cowboys have 5 sacks. 4 of them have happened when they bring a blitz. In the 42 QB drops where the Cowboys do not blitz, they have sacked the QB 1 time, and that was when Anthony Spencer ran from the sideline on to the field and pulled Wilson down by his face mask in the process.

So, the Cowboys philosophy was to make the Seahawks drive the field and eventually bet on the Cowboys stopping the Hawks short of the markers. Trouble is, with the scoreboard affecting the game, and with Marshawn Lynch employing his battering ram style, the Cowboys just couldn't execute the game plan. There were almost no big pass plays, but Dallas could still not get off the field.

Let's take a look at the "Splash Plays" from Week 2 in Seattle:

What is a Splash Play?

This week we are looking at a very odd scenario, one where Anthony Spencer got a sack in the 4th Quarter on a 3rd Down. These are 3 very desirable attributes, but in doing so, he picked up a 15-yard facemask penalty and thus, gave Seattle a very vital 1st Down. I would rather avoid giving this a positive splash review, however, it is scored as a sack, so you will see it on the list. It is just a odd situation that I recognize is frustrating and perhaps undeserved in terms of positive recognition.

1-11:493/G/D3CarterPass Deflected
1-6:181/10/D46ClaibornePass Defended
1-6:122/10/D46HatcherRun Stuffed
2-11:093/7/S29Scandrick3rd D Stop
2-4:131/10/D12CarterTackle for Loss
2-0:233/2/D17WareTackle for Loss
3-12:593/15/S32SpencerHit Pass Breakup
4-7:001/10/S34BrentTackle No Gain
4-3:163/5/D42ButlerPass Batted Down

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It should be noted that Spencer's hit on Sidney Rice was a hit in the secondary which stopped a pass. In all of 2011, there was just 1 hit in the secondary that broke up a pass attempt (performed by Abe Elam in Week 15) so the Cowboys have tied that mark. Only 11 splash plays this week, which is well below the average of about 15 in a normal game.

Here are the team standings kept on a week-by-week basis with the numbers below:


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It is clear that the Cowboys have no desire to blitz in high numbers so far. Are they trying to get new safeties acclimated to the defense before they get carried away, or is it more logical to assume that with better corners, they don't believe they have to blitz as much and that with more players in coverage, eventually they will find more coverage sacks? I assume the latter.

The Seahawks had 3 explosives (plays of 20 yards or more) like the Giants did the week before. Only 1 came against a blitz. They were caught in a 5-man fire zone blitz again like Bradshaw did for the Giants last week, the Cowboys blitzed the left side and Marshawn Lynch found a hole on the right side.

2-7:161/10/D46Wilson to Tate, +204
3-6:372/7/S39Lynch run, +365
3-5:122/7/D22Wilson to McCoy, +22 TD4

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Meanwhile, the Cowboys had 2 sacks, one on the blitz

3-13:322/7/S39Spencer Sack5
4-6:463/6/S38Spencer Sack #24

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Here is how Rob Ryan deployed pass rushers, separated by down.

Pass Rushers Against Seattle - 26 pass rush/blitz situations:
Pass Rushers1st D2nd D3rd D4th DTotal

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Perhaps the lead story of the chart above is that the Seahawks won a game in which they only had to pass on 1st and 2nd down 16 times in an entire game. That is crazy, but in a game that they hardly used wide receivers, they comfortably won by 3 touchdowns. That is football.

Clearly, the defense could have helped the offense with a takeaway or a splash play of significance. But, in this game, offense did not help the defense and the defense did not help the offense. And special teams? Forget it.

On to the next one.

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