Thursday, October 24, 2013

Xs and Os: Tanner and Wilcox

Let's close the books on Week 7 in Philadelphia with a film breakdown of two of the more significant plays from the game.  There was a lot to choose from, but the interception of DeMeco Ryans was talked about all week at great length - especially when the announcers seemed to miss the call - and I also wanted to highlight the ability of young JJ Wilcox on a play he made - on the very next snap.  So, basically, we are going to break down 2 consecutive plays from a game that had 150 different plays.

Let's get started:

3Q - 2:58 - 3/3/P35 

This is the new 3rd Down package, with Beasley in the slot right, on top of Witten.  I absolutely love this idea, because it forces the Eagles into a 3 over 2 concept, where they have a nickel CB, a LB, and a safety trying to handle those 2 extremely different receivers with 3 players.  Meanwhile, the 2 outside receivers - Bryant and Williams - against 2 corners and a single-high safety.  And protection-wise, the Eagles have 5 potential rushers against the Cowboys OL plus Tanner.

Now, look at this frame above and the concept with Witten and Beasley.  They put Cole behind Witten, and therefore he has protection coming off the line.  No corner can jam him up and he gets a release right behind Witten.  Now, Witten heads down the seam right at the safety and this forces the nickel corner to go with as he surely has the responsibility of the "deepest threat", meaning he has to determine which of 82 and 11 is going down the field and stick with him (due to his speed).

Once Witten takes 2 with him, this leaves the amazing opportunity of Beasley one on one with a LB in 95-Mychal Kendricks, the 2nd round pick in 2012 from California.  Beasley versus a LB is something that the offensive coaching staff is dreaming of, especially when he has the entire field to himself.  Beasley gets past the 3rd Down sticks and now can likely run an option route to either the outside or inside, depending on the positioning of Kendricks.  Beasley sets the cut perfectly by releasing on his stem directly straight.  Once Kendricks adjusts to him, he cuts right across the face and is easily open within a moment.  It is textbook "taking candy from a baby".

Here, a moment later, is where Phillip Tanner gets into trouble.  His job is a called "check/release", which means he checks the pass protection to see if he is needed (that means, check for blitzers - LBs and DBs who may be rushing) and then if no blitz is there, he releases into the flat.  If you scroll up to the previous frame, you can see that 59-DeMeco Ryans is outside Tanner, inviting Tanner to release to the inside with his outside leverage.   This is where things get a bit fuzzy without the benefit of the coaches specifically detailing Tanner's mistake.  Everyone admits that Tanner should be inside this blue circle, but they haven't detailed if he had an option to cut it back inside, if he was supposed to know to leave that area open for Beasley, or what specifically was his mistake.  But, it is clear that the coaches and the QB wanted Tanner to take his man far from where they had Beasley isolated at the sticks, and Tanner, who had only played 12 offensive snaps the whole season before this game, made a mental bust.

Here is the moment of truth, and you can see by the blue line how the intersecting routes could not have worked out better for Ryans who is 5 yards in front of Beasley, but coming from the opposite direction.  I have heard many argue Romo should have known he was going to be there, but it would appear those people are suggesting that Romo should know not only the play, but also the play that Tanner is running without anyone else being notified - which certainly isn't the actual play.  That is an unreasonable request of a QB who is trying to avoid a pass rush and make a play to the opposite side of the field.

Here is the end zone look.  Here, we also need to discuss something that gave the Cowboys fits on Sunday, and that is the End-Tackle stunt on the left side of the Cowboys' line that crossed up Tyron Smith, Ron Leary, and Tanner on several occasions.  You can also get a good look at the Witten/Beasley combo here, too, from Romo's perspective.

The DT - 75-Vinny Curry hits the B-gap (between Leary and Smith) and 58-Trent Cole shoots across and goes for the A-gap to Leary's right where Travis Frederick has gone to help the right side.  90% of the time or more, the RB side does not get center help on protection.  So, if you see Tanner to the left, know that it is very likely Frederick is going to his right.  Well, the defense knows this, too.  And this stunt is going to make Smith get Curry and Leary take Cole.  Sounds easy, but at full speed, this is quite tricky.  Look at Beasley squared perfectly and setting Kendricks up for the inside cut.

Boom.  Beasley is now wide open.  But, in Romo's face, Cole is winning and Curry has Tyron in a bad spot, too.  Protection is breaking down and Romo has to slide left to stay alive.  Look at Romo and ask yourself if he can see Tanner or whether the Curry/Smith battle in his lap keeps that walled off.  Still, a slide step from the QB will allow an easy throw to Beasley and he should have room to run for another 20 yards.

The throw is away in this picture, and you can see that Tanner thinks it is for him.  Ryans thinks it is for him, too.  Beasley knows the ball is for him, but what looked like the jackpot a moment ago now looks like it is being thrown into a mess.  What might have been a gigantic conversion and a nail in the Eagles coffin, now turns into a huge play that can turn the game, just because the RB broke right instead of left.  Amazing.  Meanwhile, the announcers - including the normally spot-on Troy Aikman - tell the audience that this is a poor throw to Tanner.  Which, of course, is absolutely wrong.  But, the misinformation have most fans believing that Romo made a major mistake.  And, as we have detailed, any blame he takes for this is simply trying to protect a well-meaning RB from the onslaught of a week in the spot-light.  Luckily, it didn't lead to a disastrous loss.

3Q - 2:46 - 1/10/D30

Here is the very next play.  Sudden change is a very well-discussed coaching concept where teams seem to enjoy going for a quick score after a turnover as they feel like being forced back onto the field by an offensive giveaway might have the defense dragging their feet and maybe not perfect focus for that first snap.  So, the Eagles are going to attempt this trick and see if they can go right for the jugular on snap #1 after the Ryans pick.

S11 personnel for Philadelphia and the Cowboys are in their nickel that they played almost all day.  This means TE Brent Celek and RB LeSean McCoy are linebacker problems shallow and safety issues deep.  Meanwhile, with the Cowboys playing a zone on this play, we see that Church is cheating up and Wilcox is going to have center-field all to himself.  Riley is wide right, Avant is wide left, but they are going to go for DeSean Jackson deep, from the right slot and cutting across the field to try to split the safeties deep.

You don't think targeting a rookie safety with a deep ball across the field was an objective of Chip Kelly at the right moment, do you?  It looks like the Cowboys use Church early to discourage any middle routes, but then they seem to drop back into a zone that is resembling quarters (as Church is quick to peel back to the deep hash marks).  But, as you can imagine, with Jackson about to be released by Scandrick to the safeties, that this all has to happen very quickly.

Foles is looking and sees that Jackson and Church are even, but Jackson has a clear path to the end zone unless Wilcox can handle this.  Foles loves this option and will take DeSean against a safety every day of the week.

The ball is in the air and now we check Wilcox's range and ball skills.  And, of course, can he do all of this without giving up the most costly of sins in the NFL, the defensive pass interference which, of course, is a spot foul and 1st and goal at the 1 - something most offenses are happy to settle for over a touchdown, and an argument on why you should always look for deep ball opportunities.  Remember where Wilcox started at the snap and who he is running with here.

And then here is the amazing result.  Wilcox saves a touchdown that would have made Philadelphia's stadium erupt.  This play and a few others caused the Eagles to settle for a Field Goal and the victory was safe.  But, there is no question that this demonstrates the skills and talent of the Cowboys' young safety.  This is not an easy play and one that I think gets made last year against those sub-standard safeties that the Cowboys had for most of the year.

I very much appreciate the job that Pro Football Focus attempts to do and I am a subscriber of their service.  However, I disagree with their methodology and I recognize it for what it is - a subjective grading system by football enthusiasts off the TV copy of a game.  They are doing a great job getting their name out there and the media is using it as a tool to study the game and even quoting it in stories as some sort of proof of performance.

I have heard some refer to it as a scouting service (it is not) and as the basis of proving a debate point.  You should know that Sunday, one Cowboys defensive back was given a negative grade and it was JJ Wilcox.  He did miss one tackle on Riley Cooper and was called for a penalty of defensive holding against Brent Celek, but I thought it might have been Wilcox's best game of his career (even without the interception that was reversed by replay).  I realize I am being subjective, too, but they claim it is his worst game of his career if you go by their grades and I strongly disagree.

Wilcox was graded harshly for his pass defense, despite playing against a team that barely completed a pass all day.  I couldn't disagree more with their assessment after studying the film, but I am hearing people quoting their numbers again, so I just wanted to add this to the end of this study.  Use your own eyeballs, media, and decide for yourself - and use PFF as perhaps a reference tool to compare or cross-reference if you wish.  They are not infallible - especially without using coach's film to see the entire picture.


pjenson said...

Bob, your posts are gold. Pure gold.

scottmaui said...

Bob, I totally agree with your thoughts at PFF, they are useful as part of an overall analysis but they are only one methodology and they are not gospel.

But, I wanted to mention that I'm pretty sure PFF does use coaches film. Their "How We Grade" page says they don't, but I think they just forgot to update it for a while, as I have seen references to the fact that they put out initial grades based on broadcast video, but then they update their grades once the coaches film is available later in the week.

scottmaui said...


From: "Neil Hornsby"
Subject: RE: Do you use coaches film?
Date: October 24, 2013 at 6:06:56 PM HST
To: "'Scott Crawford'"

Yes, thanks scott it's the latter, we need to update the page.

Neil Hornsby
Founder/Owner |
skype: pff.neil | twitter: @pff_neil

-----Original Message-----
From: Scott Crawford []
Sent: Thursday, October 24, 2013 5:35 PM
Subject: Do you use coaches film?

From: Scott Crawford
Subject: Do you use coaches film?

Message Body:
In your "How We Grade" section 8) you say "There are exceptions and limitations with regards to positions such as wide receiver and defensive backs, where our grading is limited by what the television broadcasters show. Unfortunately, we will continue to be at their mercy until we are able to gain access to coach’s game film."

But coaches film is available to everyone now, so I'm assuming that you do use coaches film, and just haven't updated your page on how you grade. Is this correct, or do you really grade without coaches film? If not, then you might want to update that page!

Tim O'Brien said...

Bob, I tweeted about this as well but the RSS feed for your blog has not been working since week four. Thanks for all your great work.