Friday, October 12, 2012

Baltimore Preview and Email Bag

The concept of home field advantage is certainly a fun discussion on a number of levels. What causes it? What can Dallas do to change their mediocre home results? Do fans really make that big of a difference?

Well, we can discuss how a good team usually is the best way to see a home field advantage, and when we discuss how great the Ravens are at home, we must start there.

But, it should also be noted that the last time the Baltimore Ravens lost a home game, it was December 5, 2010 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, the next loss, as you go back down the ledger, was in November of 2009.

Basically, know this: In 2008, the Ravens wanted a new head coach. They tried to hire Jason Garrett, but settled for Eagles' special teams coach John Harbaugh. Then, they hired young QB Joe Flacco, who started immediately. Since then, the Ravens have a home record of 31-5. And they have won 22 of the last 23. That is an awesome home field advantage.

All week, I have had my trusted football people telling me how this isn't the same Ravens team that we have always known, articulating the idea that their defense is not this immovable object it has been at times. And make no mistake - they are not. Ray Lewis is in season #16 and Ed Reed is not quite as elite as he has always been. Terrell Suggs has been out with injury and you can see that the overall ability of the defense has suffered.

But, there is some serious excellence right at the point of attack, as Haloti Ngata, one of the marvels of the NFL still stares your petrified offensive line in the face before the snap. At 6'4, 340, Ngata is a wonder of nature as he certainly does not possess a body that is typical of 340. He carries his weight very well, and moves with quickness that demands a double-team. Along with Ma'ake Kemoeatu, they have 2 players that weigh nearly 700 pounds together and occupy much of your offensive line, keeping their linebackers clean.

The Ravens, if you consider them a new franchise when they moved from Cleveland in 1995, are one of the few teams that the Cowboys have never defeated. Twice they trounced the Cowboys in Baltimore in 2000 (a game best remembered for a Darren Hambrick celebration of a tackle in a game in which the team trailed by 27 points at the time) and 2004, and then a gutting and painful loss in the final game Texas Stadium ever hosted in December of 2008. That game still must annoy those Cowboys who lived through it.

But for the 2012 Ravens, a slow transition has happened with their team that bears itself out in the statistics through 5 weeks. You see, this is a team that has a reputation as being tough as nails, street fighters who are ready to battle as long as it takes to get you to submit. But, they have figured some things out offensively that suggest they are much more than Ray Rice and a care-taking QB in Flacco.

If you want to dazzle your friends with a jaw-dropping number, ask which team has the most big plays on offense this year. We measure explosives to mean plays of 20+ yards. And the most explosive offense in the NFL in 2012? Baltimore. In 5 weeks, they have 30 explosives. Amazing. Mighty New England has 21. The NFL average is 19, and your Cowboys sit at just 15.

But, the aerial attack of the Ravens has sprung deep ball after deep ball from a QB who seems to throw the deep sideline throw as well as just about anyone in the game. Flacco is another QB who is the subject of debates with regard to his personal greatness, but 5 playoff wins in 4 seasons seems to say plenty. He is under-rated among the better QBs in the league, but under-estimate him at your own risk. He would be happy to make you pay with his assortment of weapons Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Jacoby Jones chief amongst them.

The Cowboys should be able to attack right tackle Kelechi Osemele who needs help as a rookie right tackle, but beyond that, this might be another test of the Cowboys strength at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The fact that this is disconcerting is lost on nobody. The way the schedule plays out with the Cowboys playing the AFC North and the NFC South in the schedule rotation, as well as their own division schedule, the Cowboys fate might be dependent on their lines' ability to win in battles of strength. And so far, against Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Chicago, that is a most troubling truth. But, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta, and others await.

The best way to deal with the Ravens offense will be for the Cowboys to win the early downs. The Ravens are amongst the worse at converting 3rd Downs and 6 yards or more. Meanwhile, the Cowboys defense is near the top of the NFL at stopping 3rd and 6 or more. The Cowboys defense has also done a reasonable job at limiting explosives, although the Bears were able to find plenty of them to remind us that the job is not close to done.

Offensively, when the Cowboys have the ball, there are tons of painful stats to consider:

- 31st in the league in 10 play drives (3)
- 26th in the league in average yards to go on 2nd down (8.6)
- 29th in total numbers of 1st Downs (75)
- 31st in number of goal-to-goal situations (2)
- 31st in points (65)
- 29th in run percentage (31% of plays called)
- 23rd in explosives (15)
- 26th in giveaways (11)
- 30th in turnover differential (-7)

 A few of those numbers are the result of having played one fewer game, but the effect is not nearly the story. The story is that this offense has failed on nearly every level to this point of the season. We have discussed at great length what they are struggling with and the fears that the offensive line is broken beyond repair, but the truth is that they have what they have and simply must figure it out or the team will not be able to make anything resembling a playoff run. These next 5 weeks will tell us plenty about the quality and resolve of the Cowboys and I am most interested in how they handle themselves. 

Baltimore 24, Dallas 17



Love your FSSW breakdowns. Know u prob won't answer, but where/how did you learn x's and o's? Would love to learn more. - Ryan

Thanks, Ryan.  The truth is that the Xs and Os of the game of football are a journey and passion of mine for about the last 7 years.  I became sick and tired of not understanding why, so I began investing in a knowledge of the game by reading, studying, and obsessing over the finer points of football.

I have purchased coaching clinic DVDs, books, and anything I could get my hands on, as well as getting to know enough people in the sport who are willing to visit with me on the topics that I feel like I have learned quite a bit.

I have written about the topic a few times in the past, and here is my latest essay on how it has worked for me.  Give that a read if you would like.

The truth is that there has never been a better time to learn the strategies and concepts of the game at a level much deeper than fantasy football or watching the ball.  There are full programs about this topic and one I highly recommend is "Moving the Chains" on Sirius NFL Radio which is a radio show hosted by Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan on Sirius/XM satellite radio.  They spend a big part of their show each afternoon explaining football concepts in a way that we can understand.  Pat has a book out which is fantastic called, Take Your Eyes off the Ball which I recommend as a great place to start.

Also, Chris Brown's awesome website known as Smart Football is worth bookmarking.

Now, offers "All-22" coaches film for all of us to consume (if we pay the $69) and it has really helped, but it may only help those who have some understanding of what is going on to begin with.  In other words, it might not be a great place to start your education of the game.

Regardless, you may not wish to go quite as crazy as I have, but I recommend learning more about why things happen in the NFL.  It is truly a sport that the more you know, the more you enjoy it.


Reader Mark Lane sends me facts about each Cowboys game that I enjoy checking out.  Here are some of what he sent this week:

John Harbaugh was the Eagles secondary coach in 2007. The last time we faced an Eagles secondary coach-turned-head coach was Steve Spagnoulo with the St. Louis Rams last season, when the Cowboys beat the Rams 34-7.

This is the first time our head coach was interviewed for a head coaching position by a team we're about to face.

Romo is 11-8 against the AFC. The last AFC team he beat was the Dolphins at home. The last time he beat an AFC team on the road was in Houston. The last time he beat an AFC North team was the Bengals in 2008.

The last AFC team the Cowboys have beaten on the road in October was Kansas City.

The last time the Cowboys won in Baltimore was in 1981 in Week 14 when they beat the Colts 37-13. The last time the Cowboys beat an Art Modell-owned franchise was in 1991 when they beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14. Interestingly enough, that was Bill Belichick's first game as a head coach.

Ray Lewis is the Ravens' first ever draft pick and it's his 17th season (1996-present). Compare that to Bob Lilly being the Cowboys' first draft pick and playing 14 seasons with the Cowboys (1961-1974).
Great stuff, Mark.


Intern Tim used the bye week to put together passing charts for each receiver that has offered major contributions to this point.  It is really good information below:

Blue is a completion. Red is incomplete. Yellow is a touchdown, and Black is an interception. The passes are lines from where Romo released the pass to where the pass was caught.
Dez Bryant2126912.8380
Going into his third year we all hoped Dez Bryant would finally live up to his potential.  Hearing good things about him in camp and hearing him say himself that he is done being a distraction had all signs pointing to this would be the season for Bryant.  Then one phone call to the police later showed everyone that nothing has changed or most likely won't ever.  Even so he is having a slower start than seasons of the past, why might this be?  My theory is the Jerry Rules are holding him back.  Dez is the type of player that feeds of his own ego.  He needs the spot light to make the spot light.  I think all the stress on him on just being well behaved is taking more of a hit than what is believed.  In short you need to let Bryant be his dinosaur.  Looking at his chart its obvious on which side of the field number 88 favors and who Romo is going for if he needs a deep pass.
Jason Witten211689.0231
Jason Witten had us all in a scare during the preseason with his spleen injury.  Then putting us all in shock to see him back on the field for the Giants game so soon after an injury that for some would miss half the season.  It looked as if maybe the doctors were right when saying he should sit with his first few games being less than note worthy.  Scoring his first touchdown and not having a single drop though against the Bears showed that he may have gotten over them.  Only time will really tell though.  What I gather from Witten's chart is that his long game isn't anything to write home about, but then again so far this season neither is the Cowboy's.
Miles Austin1830016.7493
Out of the top four I'm willing to say Miles Austin is having the better start.  You may not hear his name very often, but it seems like when you do it matters.  Leading the team with receiving touchdowns 3 and yards 300 he is already half way to meeting last season (keep in mind his season was cut short to 10 games due to injury).  What I think is the most spread out of the charts so far, lots of cross patterns help that out.
Kevin Ogletree1722113.0402
Kevin Ogletree entered his fourth season as a Dallas Cowboy in what feels like his rookie year.  His "break out" game helps this argument.  With what looked like to be a convincing fourth receiver is slowly turning into another one game wonder.  Fingers cross right now, but I see him getting lost in the shuffle if the others figure their game out.

Great data, Tim.  Thanks for that hard work.

Beyond that, I have to more links for you to enjoy before Sunday that I think are worth reading.

The first is from the Baltimore Sun and it focuses on Ray Lewis' year and the issues Baltimore is now working with on Defense.

And then, this one.  Which I would count amongst the most interesting stories I have read in a long time.  Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe breaks down the New England offense with respect to their play calling language and how Chip Kelly may be changing everything.

Check both of those out and enjoy the game Sunday.

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