Thursday, October 31, 2013

Xs and Os Breakdown: Stafford Vs Cowboys Safeties

There were a number of things we could have selected to study from the Detroit game, but to ignore the aerial show from the Lions that was historic and I imagine something that we really will remember in 20 years seems like it would be folly on our part.

So, let's pick a few plays that were of the highest leverage variety and focus on the real issue that we see going on and moving forward which is the achilles heel of the last decade of Cowboys defensive football - the safeties.

I have written about this quite a bit each offseason - with the latest version here - as we have detailed both the history of how Dallas has not placed significant investment in safeties since Roy Williams blew up on them and the issues that this has caused on the field of play.

Below, please see a rough chart that shows the progression of the safety position over the years since Darren Woodson roamed center field at an All-Pro level so well.  One note is that as the position has morphed over the years, the designation from free to strong safety has almost merged, and therefore this chart is not to claim that one played one position more than the other - but rather a simple rundown of who the two were at the post at the time.

Year F Safety S Safety
2002 Woodson Williams
2003 Woodson Williams
2004 Lynn Scott/Tony Dixon Williams
2005 Keith Davis Williams
2006 Pat Watkins Williams
2007 Ken Hamlin Williams
2008 K Hamlin Davis/Watkins
2009 K Hamlin G Sensabaugh
2010 Alan Ball G Sensabaugh
2011 Abram Elam G Sensabaugh
2012 G Sensabaugh Church/McCray
2013 Allen/Wilcox/Heath Church/Hamilton

Not exactly a list of stars, is it?  I haven't totally understood the idea of just grabbing anyone to play a vital spot league-wide, but it is clear that Jerry/Stephen Jones treat the two safety spots as far down the list of priorities each year.  Even a guy like Gerald Sensabaugh, who might be the most significant addition besides Ken Hamlin over the last decade, was certainly not highly regarded in Jacksonville when the Cowboys brought him in (1 year starter) and the Cowboys signed him to a series of 1-year deals before inexplicably giving him a 5-year deal after 2011 and then cutting him after 2012 (in perfect Cowboys cap management style.

And like I said, that is one of the better ideas.  We haven't even started on Keith Davis and Abram Elam - two guys who were brought back a few times, Pat Watkins, or heaven forbid, the Brodney Pool story (I won't waste your time, but let's just say he makes the Will Allen story look like a book worth reading).

Anyway, fast forward to 2013, where we are starting to think that the Cowboys realize that this needs to be a point of emphasis, and have tried to find the proper fits at safety here for the last few years.  It is a tricky position, because you need a guy who can hit (sorry, Sensabugh), has ball skills (sorry, McCray), and can stay healthy (Matt Johnson, anyone?) as the position requires lots of high-speed collisions from players who are not built like linebackers.

Barry Church has really taken the next step in his development and although he is not close to perfect, he is a candidate for the "best Cowboys safety in years"title these days.  Meanwhile, in small doses, JJ Wilcox has looked the part of a very strong prospect who everyone has high hopes for.  Together, they seem to form a capable duo that tells you that development is making strides.

Well, in Detroit, JJ Wilcox was in street clothes.  And in the final 5 minutes, Barry Church was on the sideline, too, with a hamstring issue that appeared to occur at 4:50 to go when he sprung to action to tackle Reggie Bush.  That leaves centerfield against the scary Lions attack to undrafted rookie Jeff Heath from Saginaw Valley State and after Church left, undrafted rookie Jakar Hamilton from South Carolina state and a guy who was promoted from the practice squad the day before this Detroit game because Wilcox got hurt.

Play #1 - 4Q - 6:45

When the Lions are in 11 personnel, the Cowboys have to figure out how to handle Reggie Bush and Brandon Pettigrew.  By design, both are difficult match ups for linebackers, and therefore whether you play zone or man, the Cowboys and most opponents try to bring a safety up against at least one of them - usually the TE Pettigrew.  Of course, this is what Matt Stafford wants, because hitting home runs over the top is a lot easier if you only show him a single-high safety.  And, you have to imagine that when they see a young safety on the opposite hash from Calvin Johnson, it is meal time.

The above frame shows you exactly what you would expect to see from a QB who knows exactly what he is doing.  Stafford looks to his left and holds the safety over there.  Heath can see that he has plenty of help on both Durham and Ross (the 2 threats to the offensive left), but the eyes of the QB are too much to ignore.  Meanwhile, at the top of the screen, you can see Johnson getting inside leverage on Brandon Carr and nothing but green turf in front of him.  Church has moved up to the 30 and is now looking for someone to cover since Pettigrew is not in a route, but rather in protection.  In this particular zone coverage (except for Carr on Johnson), Church is now going to peel off and look for someone to assist and he sees Ross coming through the middle (also at the 30 yard line on the hash) and switches over to him.

In the above frame, Lee has released his man to Church.  Scandrick and Webb are all over Durham down below, but Stafford sees his 6'5 monster inside Carr and the safety is across the field still.  This is where you imagine it is difficult not to smile if you are Stafford.

Stafford had to slide to his right to buy an extra second and here is the moment of the release of the ball.

Heath does close quickly and it looks like there is nothing wrong with his wheels, but he has no chance in a jump ball situation against Johnson and it is a wonderfully simple gain of 54 yards in one play.  I wonder if Heath tries to hit Johnson in the midsection rather than attempt to compete for the ball has a chance to change the outcome of the play, but it really looks very easy for the Lions.  One editorial note, at this point of the game, I am staying in 2-high no matter what.  If they beat me because Bruce Carter or Ernie Sims can't deal with Pettigrew, then fine.  But, at this point, Megatron already was over 200 yards easily.  Why not have him locked down more?  You could argue that the Cowboys are coaching for that chance at a turnover, and if Church sneaks into the path of a ball, Kiffin is a genius.  But, man, you sure look silly when they kill you for 54 and you only have Jeff Heath trying to deal with Megatron.

Play #2 - 4Q - 0:40 - 2/10/O37

It seems like most people agree that this is maybe the biggest play of the game.  Here the Lions are with no timeouts and the only way they can win this game - down 6 - is to hit on a huge play.  If they have to take several plays of 8-10 yards at a chunk, there is not enough time.  They have to hit on a big one.  And, remember, on the final 2 drives, Jakar Hamilton is now in the game after spending another week as practice squad body until JJ Wilcox hurt himself.  Then, he was promoted to the roster, but still figured he would to have to do anything unless there was another injury.  And what were the odds of that?

In the frame above, I want to show what my friend Bryan Broaddus covered on Dallas this week about safety play in this defense.  In late game situations, it is customary to widen your safeties to take away boundary plays (like protecting against doubles by guarding the lines in baseball). If you give up a play to a team with no timeouts, make sure it is not to the sidelines where they can also get out of bounds and stop the clock.  So, we see Jeff Heath on the numbers where you want him, but Hamilton is a few strides inside the numbers.  This will prove to be a big deal in a frame or two.

When Stafford looked right, it again held the safety from going to Durham.  Then, Stafford is flushed right by George Selvie.  This would eliminate a throw to the left sideline for most NFL QBs and every college QB you might guess.  Hamilton - at South Carolina State last fall - likely assumed that Stafford would not attempt this crazy throw.  But, not only did he attempt it, but he made it look easy.  What a cannon.  And what a poor job of safety coverage with no other threat on that side of the field.

Here we circle Hamilto to show how he has no chance on this ball.  Would Barry Church or JJ Wilcox have been on the scene in time?  We will never know.  But, this seems like a text-book rookie mistake from a talented player that was taught a tough lesson by a QB who demonstrated some great skills.  

Play #3 - 0:33 - 1/10/D23

Here is the very next play.  Again, the Cowboys want one safety up on Pettigrew.  Easy for me to say on Thursday, but there is a 0% chance I do that in this spot because I cannot expose my two young safeties anymore to Stafford.  They bring Heath up for Pettigrew because they are playing man-to-man on everyone with Lee in a rover zone in the middle (perhaps partly to spy on Stafford, but with no timeouts I am not sure that can be the plan) and here is Jakar Hamilton all alone up top to clean up any mess.  Remember, he was just burned by Durham for 40 yards, so he isn't thinking that the obvious threat is Megatron on the right numbers.

Stafford sees man coverage above and Hamilton to the top.  Stafford knows that Megatron is on a go route right down the numbers and that Hamilton has no chance to get there now that he sees Heath moving up.  Again, I have Heath and Hamilton high and I ask Sean Lee to run with Pettigrew underneath.  At this point of the game, Pettigrew had 31 yards receiving and Johnson had 307!

Carr's coverage is fine, but that doesn't matter.  Stafford trusts his guy to win a battle even when it looks like he is covered.  Stafford is no dummy.  He has seen this episode many times.

Clinical stuff from Detroit, but the entire time one wonders if the Cowboys would have just gone to the most vanilla settings and attempt to have 2 safeties playing high how much could be prevented.  In fairness, they tried many different schemes all day and nothing was working.  But, to see single-high to the very end with a practice squad safety is really putting a lot on a rookie.

I assume the biggest takeaway here is the requirements for healthy and able safeties soon.  Luckily, Minnesota cannot do this sort of thing with their QB play, but Drew Brees is likely not losing sleep when he studies this film.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sports Movie of The Month History

Sports Movie Of The Month


Jan - The Waterboy - Audio Here
Feb - Die Hard - Audio Here
Mar - Teen Wolf - Audio Here
Apr - Eddie - Audio Here
May - The Sandlot - Audio Here
June - Bye month - no movie reviewed
July - The Natural - Audio Here
Aug - Remember the Titans - Audio Here
Sept - The Program - Audio Here
Oct - Varsity Blues - Audio Here
Nov - Mighty Ducks
Dec -


Jan - Blue Chips - Audio Here
Feb - Any Given Sunday - Audio Here
Mar - Goon - Audio Here
April - Days of Thunder - Audio Here
May - Major League - Audio Here
June - Rocky - Audio Here
July -  Bye month - no movie reviewed
August - North Dallas 40 - Audio Here
September - Brian's Song - Audio Here
October -  Point Break - Audio Here
November - Necessary Roughness - Audio Here
December - Rudy - Audio Here


March - Hoosiers - Audio Here

Kiffin Report - Week 8 - At Detroit

Yards, yards, and more yards.  The 2013 Dallas Cowboys defense is becoming best known for the propensity to give up a ton of yards - and that was before Sunday.

Well, now that they have shattered a team record for conceding the insane number of 623 yards and breaking the 600 yard barrier for the 1st time in Cowboys history and something that has happened only 12 times in professional football in the last 25 years, we are developing a bit of a reputation here.

Matthew Stafford passed for 488 yards on Sunday - also a franchise record allowed - and marched his team up and down the field with shocking ease (aside from the giveaways that almost cost Detroit the game despite these mind numbing fantasy football numbers).

He joins Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers as players to hit 400 yards passing against the Cowboys this season - a year that is only half over, and a year that still features Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning again, and Jay Cutler ahead in the weeks to come.  They are the first team in NFL history to give up 4 400-yard days in one season and the season is merely half over.

If you drop in Drew Brees and his 446 from last Christmas weekend, that would be 5 400-yard passers in the Cowboys last 10 games (once every 2 games) after allowing just 8 in the first 796 games (once every 99.5 games).

Now, there is some good news - and truth be told, that game was won because the Cowboys defense di its job late in the game.  See, here is the thing about playing defense in this modern NFL, you are not expecting to cut off a team's ability to function, you are hoping - like against Washington 3 weeks ago, that at the moment of truth, you will be able to get a key stop and win the game.  It is a very "NBA Mentality", but it seems like this sport is developing into a sport where defense is more about the timely stop than it is about allowing 170 yards in total offense against.

And, as I have said all week, I think the defense should be commended for its stop inside 2 minutes in Detroit that we thought would have been enough to win the game - had the Cowboys simply taken a knee on that 3rd down rather than what they did which ended in a Tyron Smith holding penalty and an extra timeout which saved the game for the Lions altogether.  Jason Hatcher had a sack, followed by passes defended by Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick, and then Jeff Heath nearly coming up with an interception.  If the Cowboys take a knee, we are championing this defense for making that one stand to win the game and gee, isn't Monte Kiffin doing wonders with this anonymous defense?

But, it did not turn out that way, and now we are fearing the ominous skies that are approaching with each passing injury.  In this week alone, the Cowboys lost more personnel in JJ Wilcox, Morris Claiborne and Barry Church, all starters from the secondary leaving their posts.  That means that of the 11 starters projected during camp, they are down to just 5 left - and that overlooks a guy like JJ Wilcox who has risen to his spot and then been hurt as well.

Spencer Hatcher Ratliff Ware Scandrick Lee Carter Carr Claiborne Allen/Wilcox Church
Selvie Hatcher Hayden Wilber Scandrick Lee Carter Carr Webb Hamilton Heath

Are injuries a good excuse?  That is a very interesting question, in that it did not appear to be a very good excuse for Rob Ryan as he lost a comparable amount of personnel last year - including Bruce Carter, Sean Lee, and Barry Church for the year - and still was fired as soon as the season ended.  It seemed like a firing that had more to do with a personality fit than a righteous evaluation of his job performance, but now we see that the list of players who have had to take snaps only 8 games into the new year is starting to get scary.  They have already had 29 players play 5 snaps or more which leads the NFL according to a statistic that is being passed around this week.

You don't want the team using that as an excuse - rather you want them to adopt the noble "next man up" philosophy that many teams use.  But, as much as I detail the centerpiece of the Kiffin/Marinelli defense being relentless effort, we must admit that there is a reason that all NFL players are not paid equally.  This is not Nascar, where the cars are all inspected to be identical.  In the NFL, every player is unique and paid for the unique talent accordingly.  So, when your reserve of unique and special players is depleted, you are then understaffed and you should expect your team's performance to fall off considerably.

The very good news is that DeMarcus Ware, JJ Wilcox, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne are all returning and at that point we will be back to just an understaffed defensive line which they have at least grown accustomed to what they are dealing with and have added enough bodies that they might at least have a fighting chance.

And even better, we must also report on the one saving grace of this defense - and that is that they are getting takeaways - the great equalizer.  They now, thought just 8 games, have 19 takeaways - 11 interceptions and 8 fumble recoveries - after only 16 last season all year.  The Cowboys high in takeaways for the last decade has been 30, but Monte Kiffin defenses have been near the 40 takeaway make quite a bit - and if they can continue this run, they will win their division and host a playoff game.

We don't know exactly how one "coaches turnovers" as we assume that every coach emphasizes it, but Kiffin has a trick and it seems to follow him just about everywhere.  That can go a long ways in covering up some issues with the yardage.

Let's check the Splash plays -


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.
For the Detroit report, I always look at these and wonder how in a game that badly, I see so many splash moments, but I assume it is a function of how many snaps the Cowboys are facing this year. As we mentioned in the Decoding Callahan piece, the Cowboys are not good at putting long drives together.  They seem to have the gift of the big play, but not the 12 play meat-grinding drive.  Well, according to Sean Lee leads the defense with 581 snaps while the offense is led by Travis Frederick, Doug Free, and Jason Witten who have all played 521 snaps.  60 extra plays for the defense is about 8 more per game and thus, more opportunity for good plays and bad plays alike.

1-14:223/7/O23CarrPass Defended
1-3:211/10/O10NevisRun Stuff
1-2:281/G/D3LeeRun Stuff
1-1:482/G/D2LeeRun Stuff
1-1:053/G/D2ChurchBig Pressure
2-14:262/3/D42CarrPass Defended
2-11:561/10/O40WynnTackle For Loss
2-4:261/10/O31ClaiborneBig Tackle
2-2:081/15/D37Wynn/ScandrickTackle For Loss
2-0:293/10/O49SelvieBig Pressure
3-9:581/10/D44HeathFumble Caused
3-9:581/10/D44DurantFumble Recovered
3-4:571/10/D47AustinRun Stuff
3-4:162/9/D48ChurchFumble Caused
3-4:162/9/D48Carr Fumble Recovered
4-14:491/3/D3ChurchTackle For Loss
4-1:334/12/D31Carter/ScandrickPressure/Pass Defended


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

Sean Lee had a monster game in Detroit and continues to open his lead on the group.  I have been keeping this stat since 2011 and the record is DeMarcus Ware's 39 in 2011 followed by Anthony Spencer's 38 in 2012.  As you can see, Lee has a good chance to break 40 this season and if he stays healthy - always the key with him - that contract signed in August (6-year, $42million) is going to look like a real bargain.

Selvie       16.5
Scandrick 6
Hayden     3.5
E. Jones3
Durant 2.5
Heath 1          
Austin       1            
Team Totals 139

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.

Clearly, the blitz did not help here, but the explosives put up by Stafford and Megatron are historic in this study.  To break them each down individually would take all day, but the throw chart reveals that they were not even slightly concerned about the safety play of the Cowboys.


1-2:442/10/O10Stafford to C. Johnson, +874
2-3:462/10/O31Stafford to C. Johnson, +214
2-0:461/10/O20Stafford to C. Johnson, +29  4           
3-7:051/10/O13Stafford to Bell, +225
3-4:162/9/O48Stafford to C. Johnson, +214           
4-15:001/10/D29Stafford to C. Johnson, +264
4-6:451/10/O20Stafford to C. Johnson, +54  4           
4-0:402/10/O37Stafford to Durham, +404
4-0:331/10/D23Stafford to C. Johnson, +22  4           


2-14:262/3/D42Lee Interception 4
2-1:51  3/5/D27Lee Interception4
4-2:241/10/O33    Hatcher Sack     4


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

It is clear that the Lions are not one of these horizontal passing game offenses.  They are attacking your safeties and your deep middle on a regular basis.  And obviously, 623 yards says they are pretty good at doing it, too.

Here are just all of the passes to Calvin Johnson.  Again, almost nothing was shallow aside from the slants for 87 yards and the other for a touchdown.

Pass Rushers Against Detroit Lions - 49 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0000
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)11220
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0200

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0300
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)11110
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0300

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)1201
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0312
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0100

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush7
1st Down6 - 3%132 - 83%18 - 11%3 - 1%0
2nd Down2 - 1%104 - 90%9 - 7%00
3rd Down4 - 4%61 - 65%15 - 16%11 - 11%2 - 2%
4th Down1 - 12% 6 - 75%1 -
Totals13 - 3%303 - 80%43 - 11%14 - 3%
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%

2013 Totals:  64/379 - 16.9%
2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%

SUMMARY:  It was clear on Sunday that the Cowboys knew that they needed to double team Calvin Johnson but were scared to do too much because A) it didn't seem to matter and B) with BW Webb, Jeff Heath, and Jakar Hamilton all basically seeing their first NFL action in the same game, they knew they could not take the training wheels off them for the risk of a big mistake (see the 40 yard pass to Kris Durham on the final drive where Hamilton is not wide enough).  You wonder what the final drive might have been like if Wilcox was not lost in practice, Church wasn't lost in the final quarter to a hamstring, or even Will Allen wasn't released 2 weeks ago.  But, to say the Cowboys were caught undermanned at safety is quite an understatement.  

They were unable to get enough pressure on Stafford and they were unable to even come close to limiting the damage done by Stafford and Johnson.  They didn't get gashed too severely on the ground by Reggie Bush, but that is tough to say too strongly.  Detroit could have had 48 points if things had happened slightly differently.

Conversely, you could easily argue that in a crazy game like this, the defense did make one valiant final stand but were then asked to make another one because of the coaching staff not having a great grasp of the game situation.  It is silly to defend a defense in a game situation like this, but when you have 3 rookies all playing in your secondary against the greatest pass catcher in the sport today, you certainly don't want to run them back out there again if you can avoid it.  That is likely how I will remember this game, but for the defense in specific, they were asked to do a lot on Sunday.  Help the offense by setting them up with 4 takeaways and get a late game stop.  They did both, but still fell short.

It is clear that they need a bye week and they need their regulars to return.  But, they must play a few more games before they get their break and prepare for their final push.  There is a lot of football to play and the defense's ability to pull themselves back together will be vital.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Decoding Callahan - Week 8 - At Detroit

There has been significant talk out of the Detroit game about the utilization of the Cowboys most important offensive weapon, Dez Bryant, after he tied his season low for targets in a game with just 6 at Ford Field.  It sure seemed that Detroit entered the game with a very logical defensive premise that the Cowboys should be getting used to by now.  Double team Bryant with a press corner in his face who takes away any quick throws and then falls back into inside leverage that takes away Bryant's deep-in (Dig) and always with a safety over the top.

Why certain teams do not employ this strategy is beyond me, as single-teaming Bryant, even with someone like Brandon Flowers or DeAngelo Hall seems like it will eventually burn you badly.  But, you have to ask yourself that if you were playing the Cowboys, what would be your #1 priority?  

Would it be to bring a safety up to stop the vaunted Cowboys rushing attack or would it be to stop Bryant by dedicating any resources to him on most plays - and especially all of the vital ones?  Of course, it would be to do what you can against 88, which is easier in the field of play and more complicated in the redzone, as Bryant demonstrates each week.

When the opponent can do this and supplement it with strong pressure up front, the Cowboys then have to make the opponent pay with others.  This leads us to the constant pounding of the ball in the direction of Terrance Williams, but with only 2 receptions on 10 targets, the Cowboys were playing right into the hands of Detroit.  It was properly mitigated with the slant that went for 60-yards in the 4th Quarter, but for the most part, Romo to Williams was not working out - and the pressure from Detroit's front was forcing Romo to get the ball out quick or to face Nick Fairley from very close quarters on the turf.  

Regardless, a check of the targets by game still ensure those who are angry that the "Cowboys don't use Bryant enough" or that they "aren't creative enough in getting him the ball" are reacting to a very small sample size.  Look at the numbers through 8 games and see that not only is he always getting the ball, but the difference between Bryant's targets and the rest of the offense is growing by the week:

Bryant 8 13 6 9 10 8 16 6 76
Witten 9 8 6 10 10 5 6 2 56
Williams 4 3 0 8 4 2 7 10 38
Austin 12 4 5 DNP DNP 4 3 DNP 28
Beasley DNP DNP 1 3 4 5 7 3 23
Others 16 14 6 7 7 5 7 9 71

This isn't to suggest that there aren't a few spots where Romo needs to trust the protection and get the ball downfield to his playmaker more, but this idea that the team isn't aware of the weapon they have seems a bit crazy to me.  They are designing as sound a strategy as they can, but with no running game to bring up a safety, this gets tricky and the defense is simply taking away your best option to beat them.

The questions become whether or not there is a point where you can use a player enough without being guilty of forcing the ball into coverage.  I would say that overall, the Cowboys have been very good about using him a ton - since Oct 2012 only 7 players have had more balls thrown to them than Dez Bryant in the entire league - and now that the red zone utilization of him has been improved, there is less and less to complain about.  He is averaging over 9.3 targets a game and those who get more than that is a very small class of Calvin Johnson (12.6), Brandon Marshall (11.5), Reggie Wayne (10.6), Wes Welker (10.5), AJ Green (10.2), Andre Johnson (11), and Vincent Jackson (10.4).

Remember, this is not fantasy football and the Cowboys are not trying to force the ball to him to figure out ways to have him set individual records like Detroit was doing with Johnson last December.  They are trying to get down the field in as best a way as possible.  When the defense takes one player out with coverage, they need to make them pay with others.  And with no DeMarco Murray and Miles Austin, this is tougher than it should be, but that isn't because the Cowboys are not aware of Dez Bryant's ability.


Let's stick with the theme of Bryant and this team's offensive frustrations which now have reached a 3rd consecutive week and finally fell into a defeat.  The Cowboys offense has certainly not looked the same since the Denver game and much like Baltimore 2012, we might need to start treating it as the aberration that it was, rather than some level of form that is easy to return to.  This Cowboys before and after that day have had to deal with the idea that their offense is not very strong - all things considered.

They do not sustain drives very well at all.  They sit 26th in the league in 10 play drives and had zero of those on Sunday in Detroit.  And the reason they cannot sustain long drives is that they are 24th in the league in 3rd Down conversion rates.  Understand that they have not ranked in the lower half of the league in years, but this year sit down in 24th with just a 33-93 record this season for a lousy 35.5% on the "money down".  In Detroit it was 3-13, in Philadelphia it was 5-16, and in Kansas City 3-11, and at San Diego it was 3-9.

That means that in the 4 road games, the Cowboys are 14-49 on 3rd Downs!  That ranks 30th in the NFL at 28% when the stadium gets loud and the opposition dials up the blitzes.  You want to know where the biggest issue is for the Cowboys?  Look no further than its inability to deal with pressure and convert 3rd Downs.  By the way, Dez Bryant leads the Cowboys in 3rd Down targets with 19 this season, but only 8 have been converted into 1st Downs.  Bryant is 8-19, Witten 7-16, Williams 3-12, Beasley 5-9, and Miles 2-6.  Only 1 other player has converted a 3rd Down on a pass this season, and that is a swing out to Tanner on Sunday.

Here is one example of how they are a tick off.  My radio pre game show colleague David Newbury brought this 1st Quarter 3rd Down to my attention.  This is 3rd and 8 and the Cowboys are in empty.  This is a great way to unwind the secondary issues, but it requires protection from your line.  If there is something that is disconcerting right now, it is that we don't see Romo waiting in the pocket right now, because he is not getting great protection.  Remember, empty means that it is usually going to be just the offensive line against the Detroit front.  So, if anyone breaks down, there is no help to protect the passer.

The design of the play above is that Hanna will go shallow and Bryant will run an out route beyond the sticks.  If they get the coverage in man, Hanna might be able to beat the LB to the corner, but Detroit runs zone which allows Bryant an opportunity.

Mathis switches to Hanna and the LB (Levy?) and the Safety try to close on Bryant, but this will be a great opportunity down the field.  Trouble is, Nick Fairley is devouring Ronald Leary here (and many other times during the day).  Remember, with 5 vs 4, one of the two guards is going to handle their own business, and with Waters' health issues which saw Bernadeau in plenty, Frederick was doubling Suh to the right much of the day.  And this exposed Leary.

Ball is gone to Hanna here and Fairley is on Romo.  If Romo waits another half-second, can he get the ball to Bryant?  I think so, but then you are getting your QB trucked again by a DT.  So, Romo understands that he needs to pick his spots and in the 1st Quarter take the safer throw to Hanna and hope he can break a tackle.  He cannot.  And it is time to punt.

Again, can Romo keep this play alive and make a better decision or is he understanding that he needs to play 16 games and taking punishment needs to be rare?

So, there you see the quandary.  Empty backfield means that the front 5 have to be perfect and while they are improved, they are not close to elite.  Detroit says, fine, go empty.  Let's see if you can block our front.  And too many times, the clock in Romo's head is getting the ball out quickly.

No playmakers, not enough protection, and Romo perhaps playing too conservatively.  These are issues to sort, because 24th in 3rd Down conversions is not going to cut it.


Starting Field PositionD38
1st Down Run-Pass14-9
2nd Down Avg Distance to Go7.10
2nd Down Run-Pass9-10
3rd Down Avg Distance to Go7.00
3rd/4th Down Run-Pass2-11
3rd Down Conversions3-13, 23%

Lots more 2nd Down running in Detroit, but very little success.


Here are the passing charts to see what was being accomplished on Sunday.  Intern Tim has made some pleasing to the eye charts for us to see.

Blue is a completion. Red is incomplete. Yellow is a touchdown, and Black is an interception. The passes are lines from where Romo released the pass to where the pass was caught. This shows you his release point and where he likes to throw when he slides in the pocket.

1ST HALF PASSING CHART -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)

Did they take shots?  yes.  Did they find even the slightest success in the 1st half?  Not at all.  

2ND HALF PASSING CHART -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)

Dez Bryant Passing Chart -  (Red incomplete, Blue Completion, Yellow TD, Black INT)

Drive Starters - The 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. How committed is he to the run or pass when the team comes off the sideline? We track it each week here -

In Detroit, they really wanted to run the ball and open coverage up.  Didn't work, but the idea is sound and the commitment was there as they started drive after drive with a running play and showed faith in the OL.  A season high 9 drives started with a run.

Wk 1 - New York Giants: 5 Run/7 Pass - 42% Run
Wk 2 - Kansas City Chiefs: 3 Run/9 Pass - 25% Run
Wk 3 - St. Louis Rams: 8 Run/2 Pass - 80% Run
Wk 4 - San Diego Chargers: 6 Run/4 Pass - 60% Run
Wk 5 - Denver Broncos: 3 Run/8 Pass - 37% Run
Wk 6 - Washington Redskins: 5 Run/4 Pass - 55% Run
Wk 7 - Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Run/9 Pass - 35% Run
Wk 8 - Detroit Lions: 9 Run/5 Pass - 64% Run

2013 Totals: 78 Drives - 44 Run/48 Pass - 47% Run
* This statistic doesn't count the 1-play kneel down drives.

2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run/102 Pass - 44% Run
2012 Total: 173 Drives - 76 Run/97 Pass - 44% Run


Shotgun snaps are fine on 3rd Down and in the 2 minute drill. But, we track this stat from week to week to make sure the Cowboys aren't getting too lazy in using it. They are not efficient enough to run it as their base, and with a 15%/85% run/pass split across the league, there is no way the defense respects your running game. When shotgun totals are high, the Cowboys are generally behind, scared of their offensive line, or frustrated.

Wk 1 - NYG: 44 Shotgun/71 Total Plays - 61.9%
Wk 2 - at KC: 46 Shotgun/60 Total Plays - 76.6%
Wk 3 - STL: 28 Shotgun/59 Total Plays - 47.4%
Wk 4 - at SD: 33 Shotgun/56 Total Plays - 58.9%
Wk 5 - DEN: 39 Shotgun/54 Total Plays - 72.2%
Wk 6 - WASH: 23 Shotgun/50 Total Plays - 46%
Wk 7 - at PHI: 53 Shotgun/73 Total Plays - 72.6%
Wk 8 - at DET: 33 Shotgun/55 Total Plays - 60%

Season Total - 299 Shotgun/478 Total Plays - 62.5%

2011 Total - 445/1012 43.9%
2012 Total - 565/1038 54%

Here is the breakdown by groupings:

And now, a look at the efficiency of each personnel grouping.

Before you study the data below, I would recommend that if the numbers for the groupings are unfamiliar, that you spend some time reading a more expanded definition of the Personnel Groupings here.

OK, below you will see the issues of being "too predictable".  22 plays from under center, 18 runs/4 passes.  33 plays from shotgun, 26 passes/7 runs with several of the runs being scrambles.

Totals by Personnel Groups:

PackagePlays RunYardsRunPass
231-11- -10-0

* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.

Totals by Personnel Groups on 3rd/4th Down:


Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 48 pass rush/blitz situations in Week 7:

Wk 1: NY Blitzed 13/49: 26%
Wk 2: KC Blitzed 19/46: 41%
Wk 3: STL Blitzed 10/25: 40%
Wk 4: SD Blitzed 8/41: 19%
Wk 5: DEN Blitzed 10/40 25%
Wk 6: WAS Blitzed 17/31 55%
Wk 7: PHI Blitzed  22/48 46%
Wk 8: DET Blitzed 9/31  29%

Season Blitz rate vs Dallas 108/311: 34.7%

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0211
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0611
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0000

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0400
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0330
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0000


11 -
75 -
33 -
4 -
6 -
70 -
29 -
7 -
5 -
38 -
29 -
3 -
1 -
Totals22 -
183 -
91 -
14 -
1 -

Thanks to John Daigle and Tim Krajewski for their work on the charts and graphs.


SUMMARY:  Lots of things at work here that are keeping the Cowboys from efficiency.  You see now how many balls are being juggled in the air by a coaching staff, and very little of it is the simplistic nonsense about "you gotta get Dez the ball!"

There are 11 players who have to carry out their responsibilities and very few are on point at this juncture.  The 3rd Down issue is becoming very problematic and needs to improve, but that is going to require better protection and more faith in the QB to keep a play alive and risk a hit or two that might be unpleasant to sustain.  The running game has to function, but to do so, they are going to need to get DeMarco Murray back and performing.

Detroit showed us something very revealing, which is that a team that hardly ever blitzes decided to blitz as much as they can because the Cowboys do not handle it well.  Yes, they were burned a time or two, but overall, the Lions felt that they were in Romo's face enough to get the entire offense frustrated.

You have to look at the evidence and look ahead.  If you were playing the Cowboys, you would have to bring more and more pressure until the QB decides to hang in there and trust his protection - or burns the opposition on quick throws.  The empty package is getting mixed results.  It is opening up more opportunities in coverage, but it is also making Romo face more pressure.  Nobody knows his injury status or pain threshold, but we are not seeing him stay alive that extra half-tick (especially in these road games) and it is making me wonder where this is heading.

One would hope that the return of his weapons will fix this.  We shall see.  But, I am not sure Minnesota is in a position to test these theories next Sunday.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Morning After: Lions 31, Cowboys 30 (4-4)

In the context of discussing the 2013 Dallas Cowboys, there seems to be two factions of observers throughout the area that the Cowboys call home.

The very large majority seem to consider this team as "the Same Old Cowboys" who can't close the deal on games they should win, often make silly mistakes that make their demise all the easier, and then because of this chronic generosity to their opponent, stay stuck in a rut of mediocrity that keeps them from ever being good enough to contend or bad enough to rebuild.  Some weeks it is the quarterback, some weeks it is the coach, and some weeks it is a new player who just joined the team.  But, too often there is sabotage that brings an otherwise acceptable performance to its knees at just the wrong time.

And then there is a much smaller group that believes that this season is different from all of the others; and that progress is being made under Jason Garrett and lessons are being learned.  They believe that to paint all Cowboys teams of the last decade with the same brush is lazy and reckless and misses out on the nuance of growth and maturity.  This group believes that with the help of a personnel department that has found its footing, the turnover in this squad is such that this is a completely new group that is capable of new and lofty destinations and is not at all tied to teams that insist on self-inflicted torture that will in the end leave them stuck in the middle of mediocrity.

But, unfortunately for the particular group that attempts to perceive that organizational progress is being made, there are days like yesterday in Detroit that put far more people in the larger group.

The "Same Old Cowboys"narrative gains plenty of steam when you lose a game that you had won, most notably because you didn't seem to fully grasp the game's situations and the specifics surrounding the final sequence that allowed Detroit to pull of a miracle at your expense.  For this team to be unique and different from other Jason Garrett-coached teams, you would be required to handle late-game tactics differently and make sure that if your team is in a position to win a game at the end, that the decisions made put the team where it needs to be.

In this particular case, with Detroit holding 2 timeouts when you stop them at 1:24 to play, I am having a hard time seeing a scenario where this loss isn't placed heavily on Garrett fully grasping the percentages of how to close the deal.

On first and second downs, the Cowboys ran two running plays that both lost yardage, but it accomplished its goal of burning through Detroit's remaining timeouts.  So now, with a 3rd and 14 from the Detroit 35 with 1:14 to play, I figured that the call would be for Tony Romo to either feed another middle dive play to his running back or he would take a knee on his own.  The idea would be to waste a few more ticks and then to start the :40 play clock with roughly 1:10 to play, bringing the 4th down snap inside :30 left, at which point the safest bet is to simply punt the ball and hope to down it around :20 left or so inside the 10 yard line - or at worst, a touchback that puts the Lions at their own 20.

This is a rather simplistic strategy, not that I have ever coached at any level, and leaves the Lions time for 3 plays if they run it perfectly to the sidelines, but more than likely just one tackle inbounds would end the game.  A field goal would tie, but needing 45-50 yards to get to field goal range and :20 to do it seems the higher percentage play.

Instead, the Cowboys run an inside play that Phillip Tanner attempted to bounce outside in an effort to find a few more precious yards - as the team seemed intent on helping Dan Bailey kick another field goal rather than trying to take the remaining time off the clock.  One of the reasons that trying to take as much time off the clock as possible seemed vital - especially in retrospect, but indeed, at the time this was known to the coaching staff - was that the defense was down to reserves at 3 of the 5 spots in the secondary (BW Webb, Jeff Heath, and Jakar Hamilton - all 3 rookies and all 3 playing their first extended NFL action in this game) and that the Lions were working on an offensive performance that would ultimately break the 600 yard barrier (623, to be exact) and would be the most yards ever gained against a Dallas Cowboys team.  EVER.

So, when Tanner bounced the play outside, Tyron Smith committed one of the very few holding penalties in his very impressive Cowboys career against Lions' DE Devin Taylor - and despite it being declined - it ended up being as costly as a penalty could possibly be.  The Cowboys did preserve their field goal range and Tanner did stay in bounds, but by rule, once the flag is thrown, the clock properly stopped on an offensive foul.  Tyron made a blunder that simply cannot be made.  He didn't want Tanner to get tackled for another loss and get knocked out of field goal range, because we can assume in the huddle and on the sideline during the previous timeout that the main objective of field goal range was likely being preached.  In a parallel universe, where perhaps expiring the clock is the sole objective, I wonder if the play turns out much differently.  But, it wasn't being preached and the holding certainly happened.  The clock stopped at 1:07, meaning that even when Dan Bailey made another long-range field goal, the lead would still just be 30-24 and a Lions' touchdown would beat them.

This is perhaps a good time to stop the discussion about the game itself and take a moment to consider the Fox booth of Dick Stockton and Brian Billick and their discussion points all around these events where they had the Cowboys winning and the speculation of how Lions coach Jim Schwartz would handle the disappointment of such a loss in his post-game press conference.  Evidently, they thought the game was done and dusted long before the game was actually over, and having awarded the Cowboys the game with all of that time left was in and of itself, disconcerting.  A 6-point lead with a reasonable amount of time to play, against an offensive attack that was seemingly unstoppable all day as Calvin Johnson looked as perfectly suited for the nickname, Megatron, as humanly possible, is not in the books before the clock has fully expired.  Billick, having coached in the NFL for a very long time, should have as firm a handle on what happens in the 60th minute of games as anyone, but nevertheless, they seemed as shocked as Jason Garrett that 1:02 might be too much time to give the Lions the ball back.

Back to the game, where facing a 6-point deficit and having 62 seconds to travel 80 yards and punch in a touchdown was now what faced Dallas-raised QB Matt Stafford against a Cowboys defense that was going to back up the linebackers and play everything to the middle of the field if possible.  2 plays gained the Lions 17 yards, but also required :22 of the clock down to :40 and the Lions were still well within their own territory.  This is the portion of the story where we must acknowledge being impressed with the play that Stafford made next.

His day was spotty and his career has certainly shown us that yards don't mean much in the win column, but on this day, Stafford battled his rear end off and kept his head in the game.  This was on full display on the play where he hits his college roommate Kris Durham down the sideline from the opposite hash mark in a demonstration of a big-time arm.  The ball beat Orlando Scandrick vertically and Jakar Hamilton in that window that beats Cover-2.  It is a small window that requires a bazooka for an arm - especially from the opposite side of the field, but Stafford hit Durham in stride after looking Hamilton away.  Would Barry Church have made a difference if he had not exited the game a few minutes earlier with a hamstring issue?  I think that is rather likely, but certainly not a given. If anyone knew that the two safeties that the Cowboys would attempt to use to limit the attack in Detroit that would include a career day for Megatron (among others) would be undrafted rookie Jeff Heath and undrafted rookie Jakar Hamilton, then perhaps we now see attrition playing a major role in Dallas.

The play gained 40 yards down to the Cowboys 23 and now with :33 left, the ominous feelings were loud and clear for all to see.  On the next play, it is back to Calvin Johnson for Stafford on another beautiful throw over the shoulder of Brandon Carr and right to the goal-line, with the safety, Hamilton, again seeming to arrive late on the scene.

And finally, the death blow, with the chaos of the clock ticking down and no Lions' timeouts, Stafford had to try to spike the ball and set up what was surely a situation where they had 1-2 shots at a fade to Megatron again in the end zone.  But, Stafford saw that Dallas was not fully prepared to stop him, so he did what we have seen many alert QBs do at this moment, get that last yard with a simple dive over the goal-line himself.  Risky?  It is being painted that way, but it seems like if it did not work, they surely would have had a chance to clock the ball, but it might have been close.

After the Denver game, we must be careful about how we label the historical significance on certain games, but this one in Detroit is amazing from all sorts of angles.

*  The Cowboys gave up a franchise record 623 yards, shattering the 583 they coughed up to Houston back on November 10, 1991 in a 26-23 overtime loss to the Oilers.  It was the 18th time in franchise history they have given up 500 yards in total offense and the 3rd time this season.  In those games they are 3-15 and now 0-1 when they give up an absurd 600 yards.

*  Dallas lost the game despite winning the turnover battle with a +4.  In franchise history, there have been 46 games in which the Cowboys were a +4 or better, and they are now 44-2 with the other loss being November 28, 1965 against Washington when they lost 34-31.

*  Calvin Johnson caught an absurd 14 passes on 16 targets for 329 yards at 23.5 yards per reception and 1 touchdown.  Only one player in NFL history has had a bigger day and that is when Willie "Flipper" Anderson had 15 catches for 336 yards.  7 yards short of the all-time single-game record.

Much of the aftermath will center around the petulance of Dez Bryant, who was caught again on camera helping everyone on the Cowboys sideline understand that he has all of the answers to all of the questions, but I hesitate to spend much time spinning wheels trying to convince anyone that petulance is uncommon or damaging on NFL sidelines.  He certainly doesn't have the gift of communication in a non-confrontational manner, but again, in this league where we champion heroes of past generations because their temper tantrums seemed to work out, and on this franchise where Bryant was handed the keys to the franchise when he was picked, complaining that Dez acts like the world revolves around him is hardly a good use of internet column space.

More than anything, this game is another frustrating chapter that links the Cowboys to the teams that came before them.  To much of the sporting world, all Dallas teams since the Super Bowls are the same mediocre group that can't get out of its own way.

Now, since the final gun in Tempe at the end of Super Bowl 30, when Jerry and Barry were having a laugh and holding the trophy, the Cowboys are 144-145 in the 289 games (regular season and playoffs combined).  This team is 4-4 and should not be attached to teams that featured Clay Shiver and Eric Bjornson, but they invariably are.  They have to prove - with play in games like this - that this team is of different quality to those that helped fashion this reputation of mediocrity over the last 18 seasons.

And on Sunday in Detroit, they did not.  They played well enough to win and yet found a way to lose.

They will be picked apart this week and have their manhood questioned again.  It is a place they are all too familiar with and then they become the self-fulfilling prophecy of what Dallas Cowboys football is all about.  8-8.

They maybe didn't make this bed, but they sleep in it routinely.  And surviving games like yesterday with a victory is the best way to quiet that lazy narrative.

But, they didn't quiet the narrative yesterday.  They reinforced it.  And that is the burden they carry with them until that day when it changes.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Defending Dez Week 7 - PHI

Our weekly look at how the Cowboys took advantage (or, often, didn’t take advantage) of their best offensive weapon. The whole series can be found here.

Coming into their Week 7 matchup with Dallas, the Eagles were averaging nearly 28 points a game and 6.6 yards a play, both good for Top 5 in the league status. So it was not foolish to assume that Dallas would have to bring their "A" game offensively to get above .500 and go to 4-3. I tend to bristle at the seemingly weekly statements of "Well, I guess this just shows none of us really know what we're talking about." I believe that if you listen to the proper sources and value the proper information, the fan or media member can actually get a pretty good feeling for the pulse of a game. Usually. This...was not one of those times.
In Week 6, the Redskins made it a point to blitz Tony Romo like crazy (55% of passing downs, the highest percentage Dallas had faced to date). This, of course, made it tough to allow for the receiver's routes to develop downfield. The Dallas offense was forced to be efficient in the short-passing game, which they were. DeAngelo Hall was tasked with covering Dez Bryant, which he did without safety help 40% of the time. Special teams obviously had a massive impact on that game, so it is tough to really know how much more Dallas may have decided to attack that single coverage had they needed more points from the offense. In any case, many of us surmised that this may be the type of defense the Cowboys will begin to see more of. At least for Week 7, it appears that hypothesis was correct.


RouteAgainst HelpTargetsComp.Yards
Fade61 (Hail Mary)00
Back Shoulder Fade1100
Square In 21119
5-7 Yd. Stop00 00
13-15 Yd. Comeback4000



RouteAgainst No HelpTargetsComp.Yards
Back Shoulder Fade2200
Square In110 (+1 PI on DB)0 (PI 1st D)
5-7 Yd. Stop321 (+1 PI on DB)9
13-15 Yd. Comeback4000

25135 (+2 PI)56

So after seeing single coverage last week 40% of the time, Bryant ended up with only one man assigned to him on 50% of passing downs this week (one tactic Philadelphia did make use of was regularly disguising the intentions of their safeties, with a safety lined up near Dez who would often jet back to the middle of the field at the snap). And just like Washington, Philadelphia blitzed a ton. They sent an extra man at Romo 45% of the time, which is second only to the Redskins clip of 55%.

Early in this game, this aggressive posture befuddled the Dallas O, as they managed just a field goal on seven drives in the first half (excluding the short drive at the end of the half). Romo was able to connect on a couple of deep throws, but on the whole, the offense was just unable to find any rhythm. The QB was 10-23, and he was sacked twice. He targeted Bryant 7 times in the first two quarters, connecting just twice (once on a dig, once on a square in) for 34 yards. Romo did not look his best in this game, missing several throws. However, some of this also falls to Bryant. The referees were allowing the DBs a little more leash than average, but if Bryant wants the "Dez Or Megatron Debate" to be a serious one, he's going to have make a few more plays against physical single coverage. Especially if opposing defenses are going to keep up with this commitment to the blitz.

In the second half, he was able to do just that. After getting low returns on Bryant targets in the first half, Callahan and Romo could have gone away from Dez. Instead, they doubled down, targeting him 11 times in the 3rd and 4th quarters. He rewarded them with six catches for 76 yards and two plays where the defender covering him was flagged for pass interference.

In addition to the 50/50 split on help vs. no help, the other aspect of our route chart that jumps out is the heavy usage of inward breaking routes. Without the time in the pocket to let deep routes develop, slants, drags, and square-ins are a good way to utilize Bryant's playmaking skills when the long ball is not an option. Factoring in dig routes as well, inward-breaking routes accounted for 11 of his 18 targets on the day, and 101 of his 110 yards on the day. For the first of our visuals this week, we will focus on one such route.

3Q - 10:23 - 2ND & 2 - BALL ON PHI 20

This is the seventh play of the Cowboys first drive of the second half. Bryant had already been targeted twice for two catches and 24 yards on the possession.

Dez Bryant in the slot? Dez Bryant in the slot! As we have detailed in previous weeks, Bryant is not in the slot near enough, relative to other top flight "outside" receivers. Philadelphia is in man coverage, with an extra man stacked over Dez to make sure he can't get free. Bryant and Witten team up on a textbook "mesh" concept which serves as a pick for Bryant's defender. The second defender has to wait for the traffic to clear his face before he can break on the ball, at which time it is too late. Here's the end zone view, just to further illustrate how perfectly this is executed.

For our second visual, we will stay with the inward-breaking routes that worked so well Sunday. But this time, let's take a look at one of the second half targets where Dez was targeted but did not come up with the catch or a PI call. Again, slants and drags were a perfect antidote to what the Eagles were dialing up Sunday. But, of course, there is a danger to going across the middle. Below, see the danger.

3Q - 3:36 - 1ST & 10 - BALL ON PHI 42

This is the play right after Bryant caught a slant and took a big shot. Dez is in the left slot again, and headed for the heart of the defense again. Except this time, the Eagles' LBs have just about had enough. Bryant gets put on his butt right at five yards. The intention here, clearly, is to gain the mental edge and force the receiver to think twice about entering this territory. Interestingly, Dallas sent Bryant on the exact same route on the next play (three inward-breaking routes in a row), and although they targeted Randle out of the backfield this time, it speaks to the fact that this offense wants Dez to feel comfortable owning the middle of the field.

For our final visual this week, we will focus on a pair of catches made by Cole Beasley. As we highlighted after the Denver game, putting Beasley in the slot next to Bryant has the potential to be a lethal combination.

4Q - 10:44 - 2ND & 10 - BALL ON PHI 22

This is the eighth play of the drive, and with a 10-3 lead, Dallas needs a touchdown to put this game out of reach. Beasley has already been targeted five times for four catches. From the right slot, Cole runs a quick out, whole Bryant runs the fade. Although it is maybe the most basic route concept in the book, this combination with these two players is quickly becoming the Cowboys most effective passing play.

In fact, it's so effective, they go right back to it.

4Q - 9:28 - 3RD & 2 - BALL ON PHI 14

This time, there is no safety on their side of the play, but the results are the same. If the defender over Beasley in the slot plays his inside shoulder, he will plant his foot and drive to the outside every time, and he will be open every time. Pitch and catch.

All in all, despite his early struggles against physical man coverage, Bryant recovered in the second half and made enough plays to put the Cowboys in position to get an important road division win. In Week 8, it will be interesting to see how a Detroit defense who usually doesn't rely on the blitz chooses to defend Dallas. Although my prognostications about how the Philadelphia game would play out were quite inaccurate, I will go ahead and make the prediction that this is a week where we see Dez targeted deep multiple times. What he does with those targets may ultimately decide the outcome.