Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Splash Plays - Week 10 - Cleveland

10 games into the season shows us a Cowboys defense that is starting to feel very good about itself.  They are forging an identity and certainly are enjoying playing nearly every rookie QB in the league it seems.

The test on Thanksgiving will certainly be a different brand of rookie QB from the Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden attacks, and with Robert Griffin, they will get a player who is putting together a historic rookie season from many standpoints.  He is poised and confident in his reads, and as anyone who follows the strategy in the game closely knows, he loves stressing the defense in ways where there are never enough defenders to cover everything.

So, what have we learned from the Cowboys defense?  Well, we have learned that their plans of last spring have not been followed, because of health and issues related to attempting to prevent catastrophe from their defense.  Jason Garrett and his staff have certainly perceived that the offense is causing all sorts of management issues, and it is up to the defense to not add to the problem.

In the spring, they acquired what they felt were elite corners at elite cornerback prices and the word quickly spread that this would allow them to play "press coverage" way more often and to occasionally unleash some of the exotic blitzes that the Ryan family is noted for.  They would attack more and this would lead to more explosive splash plays from the defense without the obvious downside of such a strategy - getting ripped to shreds by big plays that the blitz exposed.  Blitzes are no fun when you are getting badly burned behind them.

But, the spring time plans hit an early iceberg when Sean Lee was injured and lost for the year in Carolina, just a few weeks after starting safety Barry Church was also lost for the year.  These 2 starters in the middle of the defense were replaced by players who were certainly not thought of as particularly strong cover players in Dan Conner and Danny McCray.  Although Conner has been replaced himself by Ernie Sims, it is clear that the aggressive posture of the Cowboys has backed off considerably when it comes to sending extra players in a pass rush to try to bring pressure.

Below, look at the pressure report for the games in weeks 1-5:

Pass Rushers1st
2nd D3rd
4th DTotal
3 Rush5 - 11%7 - 13%13 - 29%025 - 17%
4 Rush22 - 47%27 - 50%18 - 40%269 - 47%
5 Rush16 - 34%17 - 31%10 - 22%043 - 29%
6 Rush4 -
3 -
4 - 8%011 - 7%
7 Rush00000

Now, when they lost Church and Lee for the year, notice how much more conservative the blitzing became.  Also, note that Spencer returned and Ratliff returned, perhaps telling the Cowboys they could get more pressure without bringing more men.

Here are the pressure reports for Games 6-10:

Pass Rushers1st
2nd D3rd
4th DTotal
3 Rush2 - 3%11 - 16%11 - 22%024 - 13%
4 Rush55 - 87%45 - 65%33 - 66%2135 - 73%
5 Rush6 - 9%12 - 17%4 - 8%224 - 13%
6 Rush0 -
1 -
2 - 4%03 -
7 Rush00000

That is a staggering personality change.

Hopefully, those 2 charts are rather easy to see.  Basically, the Cowboys have stopped rushing 5 or 6 (a conventional blitz) and converted almost all of them to a 4 man rush.  What used to be 37% blitzing is now 14% and the explanation that we arrive at appears to be less confidence without Sean Lee and the returns of Ratliff and Spencer.

To the credit to the defense, we have had very little complaints about the defense over the last 5 games, but the personality has changed dramatically.  In fact, we saw a ton of 3 man rushes in on 3rd down on Sunday, making fans even more annoyed about the lack of a pass rush.


Let's take a look at the "Splash Plays" from Week 10 versus the Browns:

Splash Plays are key impact plays from the defense.  Usually, they are obvious, but there are some that blur the line.  I have listed time and play of each one for those who want to double check my work.

For more, read a detailed explanation of this study here:  What is a Splash Play?

WEEK 10 Vs Cleveland

The man who really stole the show this week was Anthony Spencer again.  He missed a handful of games early in the year, but since returning against Carolina, he has been fantastic.  He had 5 splashes in this game - including 3 in one single snap where he sacked the QB, knocked the ball free, and then fell on the ball.  That led us to ask the question of how many would be the maximum number of splashes possible in one play?  I think 4.  Those 3 and then a return to the end zone with the ball to make it 4, although I don't recall having ever seen that in Dallas in the years I have tracked this statistic.

1-12:141/10/O28McCrayTackle For Loss
1-4:462/G/D10HatcherRun Stuff
2-13:391/10/D34CarterTackle For Loss
2-7:362/6/O47SpencerTackle For Loss
2-5:551/10/D21SpencerPass Defended
4-13:451/10/O7WareQB Pressure
4-12:473/5/O12Sensabaugh (2)Hit and Strip
4-5:522/10/O29Spencer (3)Sack, Strip, and Recovery
4-1:493/G/1Brent Run Stuff
5-11:001/10/O10RatliffRun Stuff

Up to date season standings - thru 10 games.  After the Baltimore game, DeMarcus Ware had 13 splashes and Anthony Spencer 8.  Since then, Ware has still be excellent with 11.5, but Spencer has actually exceeded the great Ware, with 13.5 of his own.

Spencer has really been great.  If he can continue that play against Washington, we will really have a story on our hands.

Team Total146



1-0:222/5/O21Weeden to Richardson, +274
4-4:472/8/D46Weeden to Gordon, +234
3-11:512/7/O36Weeden to Little, +223

And, here are their two sacks, neither of which were generated off of the blitz.

3-10:313/8/D41Ware and Hatcher Sack 4
4-5:522/10/O29Spencer Sack, Strip, and Recovery4

Pass Rushers Against Cleveland- 36 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers1st D2nd D3rd D4th DTotal
3 Rush12508
4 Rush9105024
5 Rush02013
6 Rush00101
7 Rush00000

And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Pass Rushers1st
2nd D3rd
4th DTotal
3 Rush7 -
18 - 15%24 - 25%049
4 Rush77 - 70%72 - 59%51 - 54%4 - 67%204
5 Rush22 - 20%29 - 23%14 - 15%2 - 33%67
6 Rush4 -
4 -
6 - 6%014

The game by game pressure numbers:

Wk 1 - NYG: 11/37 - 30%
Wk 2 - SEA: 10/26 - 38%
Wk 3 - TB: 12/32 - 37%
Wk 4 - CHI: 12/27 - 44%
Wk 5 - BAL: 10/27 - 37%
Wk 6 - CAR: 9/39 - 23%
Wk 7 - NYG: 2/31 - 6%
Wk 8 - ATL: 5/37 - 14%
Wk 9 - PHI: 7/43 - 16%
Wk 10 - CLE: 4/36 - 11%

Totals:  82/345 - 24%

We will continue to track these numbers, but as it currently stands, it seems that Ryan and Garrett have a rather sound philosophy which gives them a chance to stay in games while the offense sputters.  It makes plenty of sense to continue down this path since the defense is managing to hold its end of the bargain high.

However, the tests get considerably tougher in the final 6 games with 2 games against RG3, a date with Pittsburgh, another with the Saints, and a few other games where they will need that defense to make a play to save the game.  

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