Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kiffin Report: Splash Plays - Week 1 - Giants

Every Wednesday we want to look at the defense and how things went in the previous game.  This is a work in progress, but we will try to make sure after we talk a little game theory that we always dive back into our bread and butter.  Splash plays and tracking the Cowboys use of bringing pressure.

First, this week, I thought I would cover the dangers of a good play-action team on a linebacker crew that is being trained to be aggressive maulers and to be flying around making a play.  What is the enemy of aggressive players?  Fakes.  And a veteran QB can manipulate your movement by a simple run fake.  When he does, you move.  Then, passing lanes go from small to huge and big plays happen behind you.  

Let's look at the most glaring example from Sunday:

Here is the 57 yard pitch and catch from Manning to Hakeem Nicks that caused most of you to yell at your television something along the lines of "That was way too easy!"  Because it was.  

Picture #1 shows us the 4-5 yard depth of the linebackers.  If it is a straight pass, Lee will get his drop to almost 10 yards pretty quickly and close windows across the middle.  But, with a run fake to Wilson, you will see in Picture #2 what happens.

Here is the result of a relatively half-hearted run fake.  Lee is at the 21, Durant is next to him, and Carter is engaged at the 20 and Barry Church is up there in run support, too!  8 Cowboys within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage means Nicks and Cruz have lots of room if protection holds up.  And it does, because the Cowboys aren't rushing their LBs.  They bit on the run fake and now they are trying to peel back (especially Lee).

Now, the ball is to Nicks and you can see that you could actually drive a truck through the gap in the zone and have no issues clearing the space.  Claiborne is playing so soft and with his rear to the sideline which screams that he believes he has middle help in a zone.  Allen is playing deep which a single-high safety must.  That is taking candy from babies, all off a 1st and 10 play where there was a simple run fake with a fullback and tight end in.  The Cowboys were sure it was a run and in an effort to dominate with aggressiveness, they were exposed.

57 yards later, lesson learned.  Careful on the run fakes.  


Starting in 2011, we wanted to make sure the defense was covered in this space every week as well.  It, admittedly, is a far more difficult exercise, but I was interested in taking to defensive players about what they focused on as a defense.  

The same term was mentioned quite a bit inside locker-rooms, and when I heard it on the NFL Network when Davin Joseph was talking about 49ers LB Navarro Bowman, I took note of his quote:

"He's really starting to make a lot of splash plays. We don't like those on offense. But, a splash play is when you have a big hit. Big hit on a running back. Big hit on a wide receiver. Big hit on a quarterback. Or just making a tackle for a loss. Just making that impact play is what they call a splash play. He makes a lot of those."
That interested me quite a bit.  What if I kept splash plays?  What if I was the judge, jury, and executioner and tried to see who made the most "big plays" on the defense on a play by play basis?

So, I did.  

What is a splash play? Well, for purposes of this blog I believe a splash play will include the following: A sack, a pressure that forces a bad throw, and big hit on the QB, and a batted ball that may lead to an interception opportunity. Again, 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 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. 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.

Here are the final results for 2011 and here are the final results for 2012.

Basically, in the last two seasons, DeMarcus Ware has led the way with 69 and Anthony Spencer has had 67.  3-5 in 2011 was Sean Lee, Jay Ratliff and Orlando Scandrick.  In 2012, all 3 of those changed to Jason Hatcher, Mo Claiborne, and Bruce Carter.  But, in both seasons, Ware and Spencer are far and away the top two playmakers on the defense.  The best season to date was Spencer's 2012 when he averaged a splash play every 22.9 snaps.

WEEK 1 vs Giants

If you had George Selvie and Nick Hayden as two of the most impact-ful defenders in Week 1, you should go live in Vegas.  They both look like keepers that were found in the discard bin.  What a start for Hayden, in particular.

1-15:001/10/O20WareInterception of Manning
1-12:242/10/D23AllenPass Broken Up
1-11:411/G/D8ChurchFumble Caused
1-11:411/G/D8SelvieFumble Recovered
1-9:481/10/O31HaydenRun Stuff
1-8:583/10/D49AllenInterception of Manning
1-4:001/G/D1Hayden/DurantRun Stuff
3-12:422/15/O24HaydenFumble Caused
3-12:422/15/O24Church (2)Recovery and Return for TD
3-11:522/7/O23CohenRun Stuff
3-9:153/1/O48CarterRun Stuff
3-2:031/10/D18ScandrickPass Broken Up
3-1:532/10/D18SelviePressure/Tipped Pass
4-2:001/10/O46Carr (2)Interception and Return for TD
4-0:182/1/D4LeePass Broken Up

Here are the game totals - and thus the season totals - for 2013:

Selvie 3
Team Total18


Pass Rush/Blitzing REPORT

This segment of the defensive study is simply to find out how well the Cowboys are doing at getting pressure on the opposing QB.  We have spent a good part of the offseason talking about Monte Kiffin's philosophy that, like so many of the great 4-3 schemes, is based on using blitz as a weapon, not a necessity.  If you use the blitz as an ambush weapon that is always threatened but only used at the perfect times, you can often get free runs at the QB.  If, on the other hand, you must use the blitz because your normal pressure is not getting it done, then the offense usually is waiting for you and prepared - so even 6 rushers don't accomplish much.

Here, we look at the big plays for (Explosives are plays 20 yards and longer) and the big plays against each week (Sacks and Interceptions) and see what role (if any) was played by the defensive coordinator.

1-13:041/10/O20Manning to Nicks, +574
2-2:011/10/O30Manning to Cruz, TD +705
4-12:101/10/O10Manning to Randle, +204
4-10:491/10/O47Manning to Randle, +223
4-2:143/5/O22Manning to Randle, +265
4-0:482/10/D36Manning dump off to Scott, +234

Above, we visited about the effects of play action and how it led to the big Hakeem Nicks pass, but the Cowboys will have to clean that up.  Also, in the 4th Quarter, and the Cowboys were up 30-17, there clearly was an adjustment to soften up coverage (I resist the urge to use prevent), but Manning picked that apart as you see most of his passing work and the big plays came in the 4th Quarter.  There were several more over 15 yards that also were issues.

But, with the exception of the long touchdown to Cruz - which we will deconstruct tomorrow in our Xs and Os blog, it was a reasonable night for getting pressure without the blitz and the Cowboys did not get stuck with their hand in the cookie jar too much - aside from the huge play.  And as we know, that 1 70 yard Touchdown bust could lose a lot of games.

1-15:001/10/O20Ware Interception of Manning  5
1-8:583/10/D49Allen Interception of Manning4
1-1:352/G/2Selvie Sack4
3-13:131/10/O29Carter Sack on big blitz6
4-5:383/10/O45Hatcher sack4
4-2:001/10/O46Carr Interception4

Want to see something cool?  Here is what a 6-man blitz looks like - the only time they used it in the game - when almost everyone is winning their match-up.  Bruce Carter is winning the easiest (against Chris Snee), and he will be rewarded with a big sack here early in the 3rd Quarter.

As the game went along, Eli did a ton of damage - much down the seams.  In this scheme, your corners force to the safeties and the middle of the field.  All through the preseason, we saw giant gaps in the middle of the field - something that will certainly not work in the long run.

Here is Eli's game chart for the Full game:

Pass Rushers Against New York Giants - 49 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)2000
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)11821
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0200

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)1310
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0710
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0000

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)1010
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0110
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0600

And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 RushTotal
1st Down3 - 11%20 - 76%2 - 7%1 - 3%26 - 53%
2nd Down1 - 7%10 - 76%2 - 15%013 - 26%
3rd Down1 - 10%7 - 70%2 - 20%010 - 20%
4th Down00000
Totals5 - 10%37 - 75%6 - 12%1 - 2%49 

The game by game pressure numbers:

Wk 1 - NYG: 7/49 - 14%

2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%

We are just learning what Monte Kiffin is all about here in Dallas.  But, there is plenty for you to chew on after Week 1.

Tomorrow, we shorten things up with some Xs and Os.  The Cruz home-run and the blitz that almost knocked Tony Romo out.  

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