Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Defending Dez - Week 3 v. St. Louis

   I’ve always taken issue with the use of the phrase “take what the defense gives you.” Certainly there are times when it is more applicable than others, but it implies a reactive posture that does not accurately capture the nature of playing “offense.” Instead, I prefer the idea of “taking what you make the defense give you.” Often, the mere presence of your biggest known threat is enough to force the strategic hand of the defense into their initial counter. This sets things in motion, prompting a smart offense to now take what is theirs.
   Such was the case in Week 3 for the Cowboys. This was a marked change from Week 2, when Dallas allowed Kansas City to cover Dez Bryant without safety help far too often despite displaying for them early that was a failed plan. The Chiefs dared Dallas to beat their one-on-one coverage early, and when they did, they doubled down and dared them to keep doing it. Dallas relented, and lost control of any semblance of flow on offense. This week, the Rams made it clear from the start that they wanted no part of Bryant singled up in between the twenties. St. Louis has a potentially dominant front four, but their secondary is mostly inexperienced and only marginally talented. Janoris Jenkins may end up a stud, but it appears Cortland Finnegan is slipping. The charts below indicate that Jeff Fisher is well aware of this fact.


Route Against Help Targets Comp. Yards
Fade 7 0 0 0
Slant/Drag 2 1 1 11
Back Should Fade 0 0 0 0
10-12 Yard Out 00 0 0
Square In 4 2 1 9
Dig 4 1 1 16
13-15 Yd. Comeback 10 0 0
Stop And Go 1 1 0 0
19 5 3 36


Route Against No Help Targets Comp. Yards
Fade 3 1 1 2 (TD)
Slant/Drag 00 0 0
Back Should Fade 0 0 0 0
10-12 Yard Out 0 0 0 0
Square In 0 0 0 0
Dig 1 0 0 0
13-15 Yd. Comeback 0 0
Stop and Go 1 0 0 0

5 1 1 2

   Last week, Kansas City provided no safety help on 45% of the routes Bryant ran. This allowed their already stout front seven to load up the box and shut down a Dallas ground game that needs all the help it can get. By contrast, the Rams elected to give the corner covering Dez safety help on 79% of the routes he ran. The performance of the Cowboys O-Line should not be overlooked in this game, but I think this shift in coverage is the primary reason Dallas was able to run the ball so effectively (other than the Kansas City defense probably being a little bit better than the unit from St. Louis).
   As we discussed last week, a straight fade into 2-man or cover 2 is a very low percentage play. One of the concerning notes from last week was Dallas’ inability to vary the alignments and routes of Dez when a safety was present. This week, however, the Cowboys dialed up four digs and four square-ins, designed to get the weakness of a 2-safety look. Romo targeted Dez on three of these types of routes, completing two for 25 yards. It is likely that the brash approach of Kansas City last week will be the anomaly, not the norm, so 2-safety shells will probably be commonplace for Dez. If Dallas plans to still attempt to get Dez involved against these coverages, these routes will have to be reliable options. Callahan actually called three plays in one drive that involved Bryant running a square-in, which gives us a chance to check out some of the different concepts Dallas will use in conjunction with this route.

2nd Q - 6:23 - DAL 22 - 2-9

   Here we see Bryant lined up at the bottom of the screen with Miles Austin in the slot next to him. This is a basic levels concept, with Austin running the dig at 12 and Bryant running the square-in at 6.

   Bryant presses the outside shoulder of Janoris Jenkins, who clearly respects him as a deep threat (despite seeing no deep targets in this game) even with safety help behind him. Dez gets to the top of his route and then drives away from Jenkns off of a hard plant. Austin is covered by Finnegan who carries him seven yards before looking back at Romo. This leaves a sizable hole for Bryant to throttle down into and make the catch. He fights an overmatched Finnegan for a few extra yards and a first down. This is a great example of how Dallas can use Bryant's skill set to move the chains even when a defense commits defenders to limiting his impact.

NEXT PLAY 2nd Q - 5:39 - DAL 31 - 1-10
   On the next play, we have Dez on the bottom of our screen with Witten tight left. Save for the difference in formation and alignment, this is the same play. Witten runs the dig while Dez runs the square-in underneath.

   It's a shame this play couldn't have been protected better because the Rams D, again, didn't do a very good job of defending the Hi-Lo. It looked like Romo very briefly had a lane to hit Bryant.  Alec Ogletree is covering Witten, but he never really takes his eyes off of Bryant. This means he leaves Witten a little bit early, leaving him open with the safety seven yards away. However, this was one of the few times all game Romo has pressure in his face, and he took the sack. Regardless of the result, this play illustrates what happens when teams are worried about Bryant underneath.

2nd Q - 4:11 - DAL 22 - 3-19

   After the sack and a stuffed run play, the Cowboys face a 3rd and long. We see the same formation, and the same route from Dez on the bottom of our screen.

   Again, we see that Ogletree is watching Brant from the snap, and he collapses down on him as soon as Dez makes his break. He turns Witten loose very quickly, allowing an easy hot completion. This may have something to do with the down and distance, but it still demonstrates that Dez can be used to alter the spacing of a defense when running shorter routes as well.
      Coming into the season, it was my opinion that the only way this Dallas offense would reach its potential was with more deep targets and red zone targets for Bryant. Although the Cowboys did not target Bryant on any deep balls this week (an element of their offense that I would like to see a more consistent commitment to), the game on the field made this understandable. The looks those deep threats generate were already being given. However, Garrett/Callahan did find it in their heart to give Dez one target inside the 20, which he scored on. That’s Bryant’s fourth red zone target in 11 trips this season. Last year, he was targeted 14 times in 50 trips. Think about that. They ran 123 plays in the red zone last year, and felt it appropriate to target Bryant on just 11 percent of those snaps. So early returns on Dez’s red zone usage are relatively promising, but the fact is he is their best option near the goal line and the number should reflect that.
   The Rams defense was committed to taking Bryant out of this game, and the Cowboys offense did a good job of exploiting the softness that commitment created. They did this while also getting the ball in Bryant's hands a few time by varying his routes and allowing him to use his physicality in the red zone. The Chargers do not have anyone who can even publicly speak about the prospects of covering Dez without help, so I expect to see much of the same this week in San Diego. What will Dallas do with what they make the defense give them?

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