Thursday, January 02, 2014

Kiffin Report: Week 17 - Philadelphia - Takeaways Dried Up In December

There are a number of reasons why I don't gamble, not the least of which being that I realize from simple tracking of old predictions that I wouldn't be very good at it.  Clearly, most gamblers don't run this simple self-experiment to authorize their own practices, but that is not my business.

Regardless, an easy prediction going into Sunday is that we were due for yet another game where the Cowboys concede over 400 yards (8 times this year) and over 30 points (7 times this year).  Injuries, fatigue, and opponent combined with past performance to say that they were likely to lose the Philadelphia game simply because nobody could forecast a scenario where the defense could hold firm enough for a backup QB like Kyle Orton to put them in a winnable position.

And yet, the defense did a fantastic job.  They surely did not duplicate the work of Week 7 in Philadelphia when they held the mighty Chip Kelly offense to 278 yards, 3 points, and 3 turnovers, but to keep the Eagles to 366 and 24 points said that this bruised and battered defense at least gave you all it had in the final 2 "must win" games of the season at Washington and home to Philadelphia.

They played admirably well as a unit and forced many punts and even had a heroic goal-line stand that almost won the division.  But, despite 5 sacks, and maybe because the offense did not pull its weight in the final drive of the season, the unit came up short.

One of the big issues of having the 2013 Cowboys defense (and there were many, was the simple reliance on takeaways.  This was a defense that did a fine job of taking the ball from its opponent for most of the year, despite lacking a dominant posture over its opponents (like Seattle or San Francisco often do), but it did fade as the season went to its ultimate climax.


Games 1-4 Games 5-8 Games 9-12 Games 13-16
8 11 6 3
16.6% blitz 17.1% blitz 23% blitz 27% blitz

As you can see, I added another column at the bottom to show the correlation (or lack, thereof) between blitzing and takeaways.  We spent a lot of time previously demonstrating that despite Jerry's belief, the Cowboys are horrendous at blitzing and actually force fewer takeaways by bringing more and weakening your coverage behind it.  And, as predicted, this wasn't going to have the effects he desired.

There are plenty of cliches in sports that would summarize statistical breakdowns, and I believe the one that is most fitting would have to be "live by the takeaway, die by the takeaway."  They were doing great all season with takeaways and at one point sat on top of the league with Seattle for having as 18 after 8 games and on pace for the highest total a Cowboys defense has seen in ages.  However, that pace did not sustain, and by the time December ended, what was once #2 in the NFC had dropped all the way to #10 and with 28 takeaways on the year.  And the average takeaway total for the 16 NFC teams?  27.1.

So, a team that was bottom of the league in yards allowed per game (32nd), in explosive plays allowed (tied for 31st), and points allowed (26th), also ended up middle of the pack in takeaways and thus left the defense without anything to hang their hats on.

Here are the last 12 seasons by Takeaways and Differential:

YearTakeawaysTurnover +/-
2003 ***25-4
2006 ***30+4
2007 ***29+5
2009 ***21+2
*** = Denotes Years Dallas Made the Playoffs

As you can see, +10 almost always gets you in the playoffs, but 28 takeaways - while better than 2012 by quite a bit - was not by any stretch a huge number by even Cowboys standards of the last decade.

Here is the record over the last 6 seasons for how important the turnover battle remains - so much so that they are able to overcome a number of other obvious weaknesses and still win games.

2008-2013Win-LossWin %
When Cowboys win Turnovers 30-878.9%
When Cowboys lose Turnovers10-3223.8%
Winner of Turnover Battle in Dallas Games 62-1877.5%

The Cowboys only lost the turnover battle in 4 games all season.  Unfortunately, aside from Kansas City, the other 3 games were games #14, #15, and #16.  That is not ideal timing.

WEEK 17 Against Philadelphia

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.
SPLASHES vs Philadelphia

What a year and what a game for George Selvie.  He certainly had weeks where he faded out of sight, but to finish as strong as he did really has to make people feel reasonably strong about his future here.

1-9:211/10/D36Selvie/WareQB Stop
1-8:452/10/D36SelvieHolding Drawn
1-3:191/10/O29SelvieTackle For Loss
1-0:451/10/D36Carter/WynnGrounding Drawn
2-12:202/4/O24Wynn/WareTackle For Loss
2-11:353/5/O23HatcherQB Sack
2-8:161/10/O20ScandrickTackle For Loss
2-6:251/10/O39HaydenBig QB Pressure
2-5:481/10/D45WynnQB Sack
3-15:001/10/O20HollomanQB Sack
3-14:083/3/O27HaydenBig QB Pressure
3-8:301/10/O34Hatcher/WareTackle For Loss
3-7:523/11/O33Hatcher (2)QB Sack and Strip
3-7:523/11/O33WareFumble Recovery
3-5:381/10/O20HollomanRun Stuff
3-5:113/10/O20HatcherBig QB Pressure
3-1:063/G/D6ScandrickBig Stop
3-0:384/G/D1Hayden/CarterGoal-line Stop
4-11:461/10/O40HollomanRun Stuff
4-10:082/2/D33HaydenRun Stuff
4-2:193/4/O22HollomanQB Sack


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

DE George Selvie28
DT Jason Hatcher26
LB Sean Lee      22.5
CB Brandon Carr20.5
S Barry Church19.5
DE DeMarcus Ware19
CB Orlando Scandrick18
LB Bruce Carter16
DT Nick Hayden14.5
DE Kyle Wilber11
S Jeff Heath8
DT Drake Nevis7.5
CB Morris Claiborne7
DE Jarius Wynn7
LB Justin Durant 5.5
LB Davonte Holloman4
S Will Allen3.5
DE Everette Brown3
CB Sterling Moore3
DE Edgar Jones3
S JJ Wilcox2         
CB BW Webb1.5          
LB Ernie Sims       1.5          
DE Caesar Rayford 1
DT Marvin Austin1
Team Totals                       253.5

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.

What happened in the final game was much less about having blitzes burned rather than just having coverage confusion and mismatches that were exploited by a scheme that tries to focus on that exact strategy.


1-10:023/3/O30Foles to Polk, +344
1-1:221/10/O44McCoy Run, +203
1-0:372/20/D46Foles to Jackson, +204
2-15:002/9/D25Foles to Avant, +225
2-1:531/10/D49Foles to Celek, +353
3-1:51  1/10/D28Foles to Celek, +22  5            


2-11:353/5/O23Hatcher Sack5
2-5:481/10/D45Wynn Sack4
3-15:001/10/O20Holloman Sack5
3-7:52  3/11/O33Hatcher Sack    4           
4-2:193/4/O22Holloman Sack4       


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

Pass Rushers Against Philadelphia - 29 pass rush/blitz situations:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0000
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0560
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0000

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0000
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0210
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0310

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush
Short (0-5 Yds To Go)0300
Second Level (5-10 Yds To Go)0111
Open Field (10+ Yds To Go)0310

7 Rush (1) - Second Level

And, here are the full season numbers to date:

Pass Rushers3 Rush4 Rush5 Rush6 Rush7
1st Down10 - 3%216 - 78%40 - 14%10 - 3%0
2nd Down7 - 3%171 - 84%22 - 10%3 -
3rd Down11 - 6%110 - 61%29 - 16%25 - 14%3 - 1%
4th Down1 - 7% 9 - 69%2 -
01 -
Totals29 - 4%506 - 75%93 - 13%38 - 5%
4 - 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%
Wk12 - NY: 6/33 - 18%
Wk13 - OAK: 11/29 - 38%
Wk14 - CHI 6/39 - 15%
Wk15 - GB 10/41 - 24%
Wk16 - WASH 12/39 - 31%
Wk17 - PHI 12/29 - 41%

2013 Totals:  140/673 - 20.8%
2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%

SUMMARY:  Well, that settles it.  The defense, which has not been a strength of this team since 2009, might have bottomed out in many respects in 2013.  To blame injuries as a whole is absurd, given that this defense - even at full strength - was ill-conceived from jump as we said back in April, May, June, and July in this very space.  They did not fortify their scheme change with personnel additions and were dangerously old and thin at too many key spots.  

Then, the injuries came and made a bad situation worse.  The final analysis will likely lay all of this at the ideas and scheme of Monte Kiffin, but I wouldn't be in that camp at all.  They tried, as Jerry Jones does year after year, to fix problems with smoke and mirrors, and yet again, a silly idea to change schemes but not add significant personnel was doomed from the start and while some might actually buy that it was simply the bad luck of the medical room, that would not be doing this story justice.  To blame Kiffin, who a year ago today wasn't even here, for a problem that existed long before his arrival is falling for the ridiculous shell game that is perpetrated on a fan base annually from the highest offices at Valley Ranch.  

Regardless, the Cowboys defense brought as much to the table as they could in Game #15 at Washington and Game #16 at Philadelphia and did exactly what you had hoped, which was at least offer some resistance (unlike New Orleans, Chicago, and the 2nd half of Green Bay) and give the offense a chance to keep up.

Perhaps everything is different if Kyle Orton can string a drive together late or if Tony Romo's back holds up, but we all know that overall the defense of 2012 - which was bad - was actually made worse with the schematic changes and personnel adjustments of 2013.  

We assume the return to full health of Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass, and perhaps a few more longshot names like Matt Johnson could factor back into the mix in 2014, but we must also assume we have seen the last of Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer and the contract of DeMarcus Ware is a discussion worth having.  

These discussions and many more will continue to happen starting next week and throughout the off-season.  However, for now, expect changes to be announced soon and this 2013 to finally be put to bed.  

1 comment:

David Morgan said...

Holloman really showed up in the Splash Plays, & to the untrained eye seemed to have a nice game. Do you foresee Holloman overtaking Durant next year? Or is Carter's job the one on the chopping block?