Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kiffin Report - Week 10 - New Orleans - Attack of the 600 Yard Games

Yesterday, in studying the offense's pathetic performance in New Orleans, we had to summons the memories of Anthony Wright, Dave Campo, and some of the darkest days in Cowboys history to find similar performances from decades gone by.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the defense, we don't have to dig very far to find historic lows like these.  In fact, our archives only require us to dig into October 2013 or sometimes as far back as September 2013.

Now, before you say that this is the state of professional football and remind us that more passes are attempted, more yards are accumulated, and more points are scored than ever before, just know that we are aware of this.

We are aware that numbers from eras cannot be compared as apples to apples and because of rule changes and the evolution of the sport, a defense cannot defend itself like it once could.  All of that is duly noted and on the record.

But, the Cowboys, in an era where yards are stacked up in much higher piles than ever before, are setting the outer limits for what this sport has ever seen a defense surrender.

There have been 15 games this season in which a team has rolled up 500 yards (out of 294 league games) and the Dallas Cowboys defense (despite playing in just 3% of league games) is the proud owner of surrendering 4 of the 15 (27%).   I am sorry, that is beyond disproportionate.  That is insane.

There  have been 3 games this season in the NFL in which a team has accumulated 600 yards of offense, and yes, the Cowboys have been the victim on 2 of the 3 occasions (67%).  The Steelers were run over by the Patriots for 610, as well, but the Cowboys 625 versus New Orleans and 623 versus Detroit just 14 days apart represent 2 of the 13 occasions since 1960 this has happened anywhere by any team.  So, to suggest that this goes on more in the NFL is true, and if you can find some solace in the fact that yards are up, then great.  But, for the Dallas Cowboys 2013 defense, they are going to extremes that are only found at the very end of the spectrum.

Here is the damage from those 4 amazing 500 yard days that Monte Kiffin has seen from the press box:

Date Result Yards Plays Yards Per Play
9-29-2013 L SD 30, Dal 21 506 70 7.23 ypp
10-6-2013 L Den 51, Dal 48 517 73 7.08 ypp
10-27-2013 L Det 31, Dal 30 623 78 7.98 ypp
11-10-2013 L NO 49, Dal 17 625 80 7.81 ypp

I admit the eras are changing, but do we all realize that Wade Phillips never gave up a 500 yard day here?  Rob Ryan's defense did it twice in 32 games - Giants in 2011, Saints in 2012 - and now Kiffin has 4 already in 10 games?  Bill Parcells' defenses surrendered 2 500 yard games in 64 games in power, including, yes, the Saints again in 2006 on that memorable night at Texas Stadium.

So, what can be done about it?  Well, there is the real issue.  As my friend Rafael Vela wrote on Tuesday, they are down to a lineup that is preseason quality:

In the 4th quarter of the Saints blowout, the Cowboys put this lineup on the field: 
George Selvie, Drake Nevis, Jarius Wynn, Kyle Wilber, Justin Durant, Bruce Carter, Ernie Sims, Brandon Carr, Barry Church, Jeff Heath, Orlando Scandrick. 
How many of those eleven played like capable NFL starters?  To my eyes, the corners Carr and Scandrick passed the test.  The others looked like the guys you see in the 3rd quarter of the first pre-season game. 
Take a hard look at that bunch and compare them to the '89 1-15 defense:
Tony Tolbert, Dean Hamel, Willie Broughton,, Jim Jeffcoat, Jack Del Rio, Eugene Lockhart, Ken Norton, Everson Walls, Robert Williams, Vince Albritton, Ray Horton, 
A couple of kids years away from the big time, a few old timers past their prime and a bunch of guys holding down spots.  
Was Sunday's crew the worst of the Jerry Jones era?  I wonder. It certainly ranks among the worst.
It is a spot right now that the Cowboys are in that reminds us quite a bit of last November and December.  Depth is an issue and has been and will be around here.  That is why we treasure every George Selvie that can be found, but also realize that if you ask too much out of a guy like Jeff Heath, Drew Brees is going to enjoy your decision and attack the kid repeatedly.  You can hide a defensive tackle for a while, but you cannot hide a single high safety.

Heath was supposed to be here for special teams and emergency safety situations.  Then, they cut Will Allen (who must be having a laugh about all of this) on October 8 after the Denver game, meaning that their safety position was Barry Church, JJ Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Danny McCray (who they clearly would rather not play under any circumstances), Jakar Hamilton, and I guess, Micah Pellerin.

So, sometimes you say, "gee whiz, the Cowboys have no luck with injuries" and other times you say, "should the Cowboys be cutting the only veteran safety they have?  What if Church or Wilcox get hurt?"  Then, you are running out a guy who is not prepared to deal with Matthew Stafford (Jakar Hamilton and Jeff Heath) or Drew Brees (Heath repeatedly).

On top of all of that, I have to ask what the concept here was that the Cowboys came up with on the Colston touchdown in the 1st Quarter.  So, they want to blitz Barry Church.  Ok.  How are we defending Marques Colston?

As you can see above, and Drew Brees is looking right at BW Webb in the frame to see how they plan on covering the slot WR and the TE with only Webb?  Well, Brees figures that Webb is really covering the TE and not Colston and that will leave the Saints largest, and best target to run down the middle of the field with nobody near him.  Is Heath unaware of his assignment or is this the actual concept?

I don't want to act like I could play QB with these coverages, but the second Webb releases Colston to get the TE, this is a simple pitch and catch as long as the blitz is picked up.  And since it is a Dallas blitz, it is almost always picked up properly.

Look at Colston all alone.  Heath will try to tackle him at the 3, but if this was how the coaches planned this blitz, then they were taken to school with ease by a veteran QB.  For Kiffin's sake, you would certainly hope that Heath just took a wrong turn and isn't supposed to be standing on the goal-line when this throw is made.  If you blame it on the rookie, it at least allows you to fall back on injuries being the reason they are giving up 8 yards a snap.  


WEEK 10 at New Orleans

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.

I can't remember the last time we only had 10 splash plays (especially in 80 snaps), but it was slim pickings for sure on Sunday.

2-7:111/10/D15ScandrickRun Stuff
2-5:522/2/D2Selvie/HaydenRun Stuff
2-2:001/10/D20DurantTackle For Loss
3-9:092/7/D31WarePass Batted Down
3-7:502/4/D13HeathPass Broken Up
4-12:562/6/D49WynnPass Batted Down
4-7:212/1/D8CarrRun Stuff
4-2:592/2/D39NevisRun Stuff
4-2:153/4/D41Nevis/WynnRun Stuff


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

LB Sean Lee22.5
DE George Selvie       18
DT Jason Hatcher16.5
CB Brandon Carr15.5
S Barry Church15
DE DeMarcus Ware12
LB Bruce Carter10
CB Orlando Scandrick9
CB Morris Claiborne 7
DT Nick Hayden6
DT Drake Nevis  5.5
DE Kyle Wilber5
LB Justin Durant4.5
S Will Allen 3.5
DE Jarius Wynn3.5
DE Edgar Jones3
S JJ Wilcox2
DE Everette Brown2
S Jeff Heath2
DT Ceasar Rayford1          
DT Marvin Austin       1            
CB BW Webb 1
LB Ernie Sims1         
Team Totals 166.5

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.

Above, you saw the Cowboys get burnt on their rare blitz attempt, and that made them put that back on the shelf.  Otherwise, they were gashed with enough in coverage on a repeated basis.


1-5:143/1/O42Brees to Colston, +214
1-3:301/10/D22Brees to Colston, +226
2-0:132/10/D28Brees to Sproles, +284
3-10:131/10/O32Ingram Run, +343
3-4:551/10/O8Brees to Graham, +264
4-12:513/6/O48Brees to Stills, +524
4-9:431/10/O42Ingram Run, +313


2-2:452/3/D25Ware Sack 4


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

He passes where he wants when he wants to get what he wants.  He is Drew Brees against the Cowboys on Sunday night.

Pass Rushers Against New Orleans Saints - 44 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)01500
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)1031
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)1000

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)1511
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0510
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0000

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0210
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0400
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0200

And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush7
1st Down8 - 4%159 - 81%25 - 12%4 - 2%0
2nd Down3 - 2%124 - 87%14 - 9%1 -
3rd Down5 - 4%75 - 66%16 - 14%15 - 13%2 - 1%
4th Down1 - 11% 7 - 77%1 -
Totals17 - 3%365 - 79%56 - 12%20 - 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%

2013 Totals:  83/463 - 17.9%
2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%

SUMMARY:  This defense is a real mess right now and they should get Mo Claiborne, JJ Wilcox, and DeMarcus Ware back to help soon, with Sean Lee and Justin Durant back for the Chicago game (I am guessing).  That gives them a chance to keep the boat afloat to some extent, but the clear message here is that next spring they must continue to improve and perhaps to get the proper depth to sustain some injuries along the way - because they happen every year.  

As for now, you can see that morale is dropping and while it is a human emotion after you give up 8 yards a snap for 80 snaps, you still wish you you didn't think that a few of the veterans that remained on the field had quit on the game.  But, in watching that 4th Quarter, it is awful difficult to defend the posture and effort level of 2 or 3 players in particular.  In fact, it is a rather low number of players that A) had secure jobs and B) looked like they played hard until the end.  I think that list might be Brandon Carr and Barry Church.  

But, too many times on defense, it simply looks like once again, we have a horrible combination of faulty coverage ideas and replacement level personnel trying to run them.  Some weeks, you might get away with that (Hello: Oakland!) and other weeks, you will give up half-a-hundred.  

We could have broken down several more plays and pointed many more fingers, but you get the picture.  It was a failing grade for anyone having anything to do with this defense right now and the only hope is that reinforcements and rest can prepare them for what lies ahead.  They absolutely need 3-4 wins in their final 6 to salvage this season and that means this defense must deal with Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Robert Griffin, and Chip Kelly down the stretch with some level of resistance and keep getting takeaways (something that dried up in New Orleans).  

In a league that gives up more yards than ever before, one defense is leading the pack in the wrong direction.  And we are running out of ways to describe the generosity each week.

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