Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Defending Kiffin: Week 12 - Gashed On The Ground

Often, in sports, after time, people don't want to hear about injuries or "excuses" as to why a team isn't playing very well in certain departments.  My response is generally simplistic, but I believe it to be true: There is a reason that different players can demand different salaries, rather than have some flat fee based on service time like some ways to make a living (military, police), and that clearly is that all players are not close to created equal.  And, if you lose enough highly compensated players, invariably, their absence should either greatly affect the product you can put on the field, or you are paying the missing players too much money.

That is why, despite the easy target that is available wearing the defensive coordinator title up in the press box, it is difficult for me to blame Monte Kiffin for what is going on against the Cowboys recently on the ground.  And, with Oakland landing in Dallas today for the Thanksgiving game, we should prepare for Oakland to attempt to do the same thing the Giants did on Sunday.

And what did the Giants do?  Well, they became the 3rd team this season to run for 200 yards in a game against the Cowboys.  From 2003-2012, the Cowboys had only allowed 7 200 yard rushing games for the entire decade in 160 games (4%), but in 2013 we have moved that to 3 out of 11 games (27%).

And yet, as we look at many of these plays, we are reminded that the Cowboys are not a team that teams run at over the years.  This has not been a festering problem.  In fact, it started getting bad last year, and had roared out of control this season.  Which is why we must consider the absences of fine run stuffers Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff, and Sean Lee - who are all players who have helped make the reputation what it is here - and understand the alternatives who are there in their place.

Most players in the football food chain are not "all situation" players.  They are either strong players in passing situations or running situations.  Those who are excellent in both are those who get paid a ton of cash and also who you cannot afford to lose to injury and be fine.  Because if you have players that are either strong against the pass OR strong against the run, then you get to a spot where your opponent sees what you have decided to try and stop by which players you put on the field.  Then, if they are in a standard down and distance, they simply consider who you have put on the field and then call a play accordingly.  If they see you have put little defensive ends who are good at pass rushing but not very strong anchors against the run, they simply run right at them and then you see what we saw on Sunday.

Which was a textbook example of running game carnage.

Here are the 10 Yard Runs from Sunday:

1Q -
Andre Brown middle for 14 yards
Andre Brown left tackle for 10 yards

2Q -
Andre Brown right guard for 11 yards
Brandon Jacobs right tackle for 37 yards

3Q -
Andre Brown right guard for 11 yards
Andre Brown left guard for 16 yards
Andre Brown right tackle for 12 yards

4Q -
Andre Brown left guard for 11 yards
Brandon Jacobs right guard for 12 yards

If you don't know, the league leaders in not allowing big runs usually allow 35 10-yard runs in a year.  Average is 50, and awful is 65 or so.  So, basically, if you are good you allow 2 a game, average is 3 a game, and awful is 4 a game - or 1 per quarter.

So, if you allow 9 10-yard runs in one game, you are exactly what the Cowboys are right now - a substandard defense that is just trying to survive another week.

Here are a few of those runs:

Here is a zone play to the right with a simple cutback left from Andre Brown after the Cowboys are collapsed - most notably, Everette Brown and Corvey Irvin are washed away there.  Also, the Linebackers can't get off their blocks which is a familiar theme and a reputation that Ernie Sims has had for much of his NFL Career after being a top pick.

Now, a pulling guard runs over Drake Nevis and again, the LBs are unable to get off blocks because they have OL all over them, partly because the defensive line did not occupy them at all.  This one is just a physical show of force.

Above, the Cowboys are just outnumbered to the flank, so, is there an alignment issue?  Also Claiborne ends up getting in Church's way as his man is blocking the safety.  Claiborne cannot then change direction and the LBs are no factor again.  These plays show that Sean Lee is a special player.

Just a simple FB lead play here where Nick Hayden is overpowered and the LBs behind him cannot make any difference, also George Selvie is turned out and cannot recover so you have the FB getting into Ernie Sims again which as you are seeing is a mismatch.  The Cowboys were trying to keep their safeties deep all day and not wanting to concede big pass plays, but the Giants did a nice job of taking what Dallas was giving for most of the day.

And finally, David Diehl pulls into space and runs over Sims again and there is a hole you could drive a truck through as DeMarcus Ware is washed down the line and out of the hole.  Again, I am not sure how many yards any of us could have had on Sunday on these plays, but it is clear that Andre Brown is not having to do much to get his yards aside from running through massive holes.

Here is the last decade or so, showing the Cowboys reputation of never giving up the big runs.  They just don't do it.  But, this year, they have enough retread players in their lineup, that they actually must pick their poison.

Year 10 yd + Runs NFL Rank
2003 33  3rd 
2004 34 5th
2005 36 6th
2006 35 6th
2007 40 13th
2008 36 7th
2009 39 6th
2010 43 10th
2011 41 7th
2012 53 22nd
2013 48 32nd

By the time the Raiders game is over, they likely will eclipse their awful 2012 and still have a month to play.

Let's check the Splash plays -

WEEK 11 AT New York Giants

First, a reminder of what a splash play is: 

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.

1-4:331/10/O45ScandrickFumble Strip
1-4:331/10/O45Heath (2)Recovery and TD Return
1-3:362/5/O28WilberRun Stuff
1-1:242/8/D44Webb/SimsRun Stuff
2-14:551/9/D9CarrBig Tackle
2-14:112/8/D8CarterRun Stuff
2-6:491/G/D4WilberTackle For Loss
2-2:001/20/O34CarterTackle For Loss
3-13:351/10/D39ScandrickPass Defended
4-11:013/1/O25NevisRun Stuff


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

To this point, just a year that DeMarcus Ware would like to forget.  Jason Hatcher has passed George Selvie into 2nd place and Orlando Scandrick is rising up the charts, too.

LB Sean Lee22.5
DT Jason Hatcher18.5
DE George Selvie       18
CB Brandon Carr16.5
S Barry Church15
DE DeMarcus Ware12
LB Bruce Carter12
CB Orlando Scandrick11
CB Morris Claiborne 7
DE Kyle Wilber7
DT Drake Nevis  6.5
DT Nick Hayden6
LB Justin Durant4.5
S Jeff Heath4
S Will Allen 3.5
DE Jarius Wynn3.5
DE Edgar Jones3
S JJ Wilcox2
DE Everette Brown2
CB BW Webb 1.5
LB Ernie Sims1.5         
DT Ceasar Rayford1          
DT Marvin Austin       1            
Team Totals 179.5

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.

This week, the Cowboys got caught a few times on the blitz and then seemed to back off.


1-2:451/10/O33Manning to Randle, +215
1-0:183/13/D49Manning to Randle, +226
2-7:241/10/D41Jacobs Run, +374
3-6:191/10/O45Manning to Randle, +216
3-4:414/3/D27Manning to Myers, +274
4-6:173/8/D27Manning to Cruz, +224


1-7:273/11/O11Hatcher Sack 4
3-0:232/7/O23    Hatcher Sack     4


Red (Incomplete), Black (Interception), Blue (Complete), and Yellow (Touchdown)

As you can see, Eli Manning is playing a real mediocre brand of football right now and just never got anything going.  Outside the numbers, he had almost exclusively missed throws shown in red.  I have never seen him this erratic over the course of the game, so from this standpoint, the Cowboys did just the right thing.

Pass Rushers Against New York Giants - 32 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0000
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)1730
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0100

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0400
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0400
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0100

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0220
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0300
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0201

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0200
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0000
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0000

And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush7
1st Down7 - 3%152 - 81%25 - 13%3 - 1%0
2nd Down2 - 1%123 - 89%12 - 8%00
3rd Down5 - 4%74 - 64%17 - 14%16 - 14%2 - 1%
4th Down1 - 9% 9 - 81%1 -
Totals15 - 3%358 - 79%55 - 12%19 - 4%
2 - 1%

The game by game pressure numbers sent by the Cowboys:

Wk 1 - NYG: 7/49 - 14%
Wk 2 - KC:   10/43 - 23%
Wk 3 - STL: 11/57 - 19%
Wk 4 - SD:  4/43 - 9%
Wk 5 - DEN: 6/42 - 14%
Wk 6 - WAS: 8/45 - 18%
Wk 7 - PHI:  10/51 - 19%
Wk 8 - DET: 8/49 - 16%
Wk 9 - MIN: 11/41 - 27%
Wk10- NO: 8/43 - 19%
Wk11 - NY: 6/33 - 18%

2013 Totals:  89/496 - 17.9%

2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%

SUMMARY:  As demoralizing as 9 runs of 10 yards or more can be, it does beat the alternative of allowing 400 yards of passing to Eli Manning.  In the end, yards are yards - regardless of how you give them up.  So, Kiffin/Garrett/Marinelli had a choice to make - do we accept that we cannot stop the run and keep our safeties high all game long to keep the passing opportunities to a minimum or do we stop the run by bringing the 8th man down, but risk the pass behind him?

That is a very sound decision they made that hurt in watching the game, but kept them alive.  Eli Manning has killed the Cowboys over the years, so why play with fire?  Make them beat you without huge pass plays.  The Giants had a ton of runs, but over the course of an 80-yard drive, it only takes one stop to end all momentum.  One big pass play could end up in the end zone.

Now, what keeps Oakland from running the ball the whole game?  Well, I assume the Cowboys will bring a safety down on a regular basis to deal with Matt McGloin, and risk that he won't routinely burn them over the top.

We shall see what that does to slow things down.  But, Oakland will be counting on their ability as a running team to find success in Dallas on the ground.  And we are not about to doubt them.

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